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The Kirby File: Despite censure fail, councilwoman says she did what was right

Councilwoman Courtney Banks-McLaughlin says she believes former Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins was subjected to a hostile working environment, and the councilwoman believes she was right to call for censure of Mayor Mitch Colvin and Councilman Mario Benavente.


A three-term Fayetteville City Councilwoman found herself in a quagmire of rejection Tuesday night in Courtney Banks-McLaughlin’s failed efforts to hold the mayor and a fellow councilman responsible for a $200,000 financial settlement to the former chief of police.

Hawkins, the police chief from August 2017 to January 2023, claimed through an August letter via her Wake County attorney that she worked in a hostile environment because she is a Black/Hispanic woman, that she was berated by Mayor Mitch Colvin of during the civil unrest of the George Floyd death in the summer of 2020 and that Councilman Mario Benavente threatened to have her banished as chief in 2020. She also, through her lawyer, claimed that former Councilman Johnny Dawkins once screamed at her in front of the entire council.

Colvin, Benavente and Dawkins have denied Hawkins’ allegations, but Banks-McLaughlin told City View Today on Tuesday night she does indeed believe Hawkins was subject to a hostile working environment.

“Both the mayor and the councilman should be held accountable,” Banks-McLaughlin told fellow council members Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Keefe Jensen, Malik Davis, D.J. Haire, Lynne Bissette Greene, Derrick Thompson, Brenda McNair and Deno Hondros before all dismissed her effort, the result of an 8-0 vote for consensus at the City Council work session at City Hall. 

Apparently, Banks-McLaughlin did not raise her hand in support of her censure request, according to the city, and her vote was recorded as a “nay.”

Colvin said prior to the vote that he and Benavente had been advised by legal counsel they would not be allowed to vote, but they would be allowed to take part in discussion of the proposed censure.

Colvin was adamant in defending himself and the council’s 8-2 vote on Dec. 11 to settle out of court with the former police chief.

“The previous City Council was brought with the allegation back on August of 2023 by the former chief, and they had to make a decision, which did not admit guilt,” Colvin, 50, said Tuesday. “They hired attorneys, which came in and interviewed staff members, and chased each allegation, and they were unsubstantiated, and they made a decision at the time that the cost of litigation would exceed defending this. And, so, they made a decision as a board to close this.”

The previous council included Shakeyla Ingram and Dawkins, both of whom lost their re-election bids in the Nov. 7 municipal election — the two-term Ingram losing to Davis and Dawkins to Greene.

The mayor said he was disappointed that Banks-McLaughlin had nothing to say about Hawkins’ allegations “in August or September or October or November, but until she starts to run for office” — referencing Banks-McLaughlin’s bid for the N.C. House Dist. 42 seat, where Colvin’s brother, Michael Colvin, also is running for the seat of the retiring Rep. Marvin Lucas.

“This is a waste of our time and resources tonight,” the mayor said at the work session.

The worst outcome of a censure, Benavente said, would be that it could impede efforts for the council to work together, and particularly where Benavente and Banks-McLaughlin are “on the same page” when it comes to addressing homelessness, youth gun violence and funding an Office of Community Safety.

“So, regardless of my feelings, I want to be intentional about repairing any harm, actual or otherwise, that you may feel like has occurred so that we can do the necessary work for our city, because this term has just started,” the two-term councilman told Banks-McLaughlin. “And we’ve got to be able to work better together.”

Banks-McLaughlin wasn’t backing down.

The mayor and the councilman were a part of the former police chief’s complaints, she said, and part of why the council approved $140,000 for Hawkins and $60,000 for Hawkins’ lawyer in the $200,000 settlement.  

Freshman Councilman Malik Davis made his position about a censure clear to Banks-McLaughlin before the vote. 

“I can’t support it,” he told the councilwoman.

“But you voted to spend $200,000,” Banks-McLaughlin countered.

The councilman did not respond.

About that vote

Davis, 28, said after the vote he supported the settlement based on recommendation of the interim city attorney.

“But I will not support a censure,” he said.

Councilwoman Brenda McNair, 62, told City View Today on Wednesday she has respect for all involved.

“However, I would have preferred Councilwoman Banks-McLaughlin explain the details of her proposal to censure the mayor and Council member Benavente before our council meeting,” she said. “I needed to be armed with adequate information to make an informed decision, which resulted in my vote to take no action in the matter.”

Councilman D.J. Haire is the dean of the council, and now in his 12th term.

"Only council member Banks-McLaughlin knows her reasons for her agenda item,” Haire, 64, said. “It's difficult for me to support items from unproven allegations, whomever proposes them. I made my thoughts perfectly clear during our closed session to all my colleagues” Tuesday night.   

Councilman Deno Hondros said Wednesday he was perplexed by Banks-McLaughlin’s willingness to vote for the $200,000 settlement “which clearly states no admission of any wrongdoing,” and then want to censure the mayor and Benavente.

“Based on guidance from our staff legal counsel, and findings from the investigation and interviews conducted by our contracted (outside) counsel, the claims against the mayor and Councilman Benavente were unable to be substantiated,” Hondros, 47, said. “Council collectively supported settling the claim out of court. Based on comments during those deliberations, the decision to settle was in large part based on the desire of council wanting to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, as it could potentially have cost the city much more to defend the allegations in court.

“The dissenting members of council who did not support the settlement likely felt that there was a good chance the baseless allegations would have simply been thrown out or not heard by the courts. Therefore, if there is no substantiative evidence of any wrongdoing, what would the cause be for censure? It is true for those of us who were on council in August (2023) that we could have moved to censure the accused when the matter was discussed in August, September, October and November

“So, as to the timing and what it may or may not suggest, I prefer to believe that we all operate with a pure heart based on our personal beliefs and convictions,” Hondros said, “and I’ll therefore leave the suggestive implications for others to decide.” 

Freshman Councilwoman Lynne Bissette Greene said she voted against censure of Colvin and Benavente because she is new to the council and was not privy to all conversations previously discussed.

“The censure of a fellow council member is a serious action, one I don’t take lightly,” Greene, 61, said Wednesday. “I did not have enough information to determine if a censure was actually appropriate.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Keefe Jensen, 58, said Wednesday it was time to turn the page on the matter.

“I look forward to us moving past this,” she said, “and getting on with the business of the city.”

Councilman Derrick Thompson did not respond to an email request from City View Today about why he voted against the proposed censure.

Politically motivated?

As for suggestion by the mayor that Banks-McLaughlin wanted him censured because she is a candidate for the N.C. House Dist. 42 seat that includes his brother, Michael Colvin, Mitch Colvin said Wednesday it could have been.

“Unfortunately, it certainly raises the question of being politically motivated,” the mayor said. “Looking back at her bizarre state House campaign speech on the night of her City Council swearing in and this incident last night certainly suggests her intention to use the City Council as a political platform. Hopefully, we can redirect our efforts to taking care of the needs of the city over the next two years.”

Greene says she does not believe Banks-McLaughlin brought up censure for political reason.

“I believe she felt her constituents wanted a response,” Greene said as to why the $200,000 was spent on a settlement.

McNair said she had no opinion and has had no discussions with Banks-McLaughlin about the councilwoman’s bid for the state House Dist. 42 seat.

“I can’t answer to her political motivations,” Haire said. “My tenure on council, especially during election seasons, I’ve seen my share of just about everything.”

Benavente extends olive branch

Once Tuesday’s work session had concluded, Benavente, 33, approached Banks-McLaughlin, extending his hand as an olive branch of no hard feelings.

The councilwoman declined, calling his gesture disingenuous.  

“No,” she said, “I’m not going to shake his hand.”

Banks-McLaughlin said despite her feelings that Colvin and Benavente should be held accountable for their conduct regarding the former police chief’s allegations, the 7-1 decision not to censure would not interfere with her relationship with either or other council members on city issues.

Benavente said outside the council chamber he hopes to continue working with Banks-McLaughlin on issues they have in common to include homelessness, youth gun violence and the Office of Community Safety.

“I don’t want harsh feelings,” he said.

Defender of the police chief

If there was a toxic environment on the part of the mayor, as the former police chief claims, there certainly was not one of May 31, 2020, the day after the downtown siege on the Market House.

Every council member at the emergency meeting, from Shakeyla Ingram, Larry Wright, D.J. Haire, Chris Davis, Tisha Waddell, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin, Yvonne Kinston, Kathy Keefe Jensen, Johnny Dawkins and the mayor, expressed a gratefulness to Gina Hawkins for her department’s response to the riots that escalated to Cross Creek Mall and into north Fayetteville.

Damage to the Market House, according to the city, was about $84,000.

The mayor would reiterate his support of Hawkins’s decision to hold back police officers at the Market House, when Colvin was challenged about the decision by opponent Efrain “Freddy” de la Cruz at a June 12, 2022, NAACP Fayetteville Chapter political forum at the downtown library.

The mayor countered by saying neither he nor the council can override the police chief. 

“This is not the 1960s where we turn dogs and water hoses and unleash fury on citizens who are behaving or misbehaving,” Colvin said “There’s a process. Our police officers came home safe that night. We didn’t have any police funerals to attend and nor did we have any citizens’ funerals to attend. But we did have 62 indictments to hold people accountable who acted outside the bounds of the law ... We were commended by people across this country, Republican and Democrat, for how we handled it with no lives lost.”

The civil unrest of 2020 was a volatile time in the city. If somewhere along the way a mayor or a council member raised his or her voice in those turbulent days and nights of fear and unrest, so be it. Community emotions were at what some may say was an all-time high in the city.

“Yes, I supported former Chief Hawkins after the riots,” Colvin told City View Today on Wednesday. “After all, we had the same goals for making the city a safer place.” 

Judge this four-term mayor as you wish, but I’ve never seen Mitch Colvin rude or disrespectful. Firm, perhaps, when necessary, but never rude. Then again, most of us never know what goes on behind closed doors down at City Hall.


Councilwoman Banks-McLaughlin says she was disappointed that her fellow council members did not support her call for censure of Mayor Mitch Colvin and Councilman Mario Benavente, and she said Tuesday they are as guilty as the mayor and the councilman for not speaking out. But Banks-McLaughlin says she can sleep at night knowing she did what was right.

You, city taxpayers, will have to decide if the councilwoman did what was right.

Some in the community believe Hawkins’ claims of a hostile working environment cut both ways within and beyond the Police Department.

“I am sorry to say this, but our city chief of police has to go,” downtown businessman Michael Pinkston said at a Greater Fayetteville Chamber candidate forum in July of 2022, when he was challenging Banks-McLaughlin for the council Dist. 8 seat. “Not only has she failed the city, she has single-handily destroyed a once-fine Police Department… It's time to start over with new leadership from the top on down.” 

There was a brief exchange Tuesday after the council decision not to censure Mayor Colvin and Councilman Benavente, where Banks-McLaughlin again stood by her call for censure.

The mayor would have the last word.

“Meeting adjourned,” Mitch Colvin would say. “The item, Councilwoman Banks-McLaughlin, is over.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.