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Charlotte Will Hire Investigator To Review Allegations Against 2 City Council Members

Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center

Charlotte's city attorney will hire an independent investigator to review an ethics complaint made by the state Republican Party against Democratic City Council members Dimple Ajmera and James Mitchell.

At the same time, the attorney, Patrick Baker, told council members in an email Saturday night that - as of now - he will not hire an outside firm to review ethics complaints against Republican council member Tariq Bokhari. 

Three people filed ethics complaints against Bokhari in early August, saying, among other things that he was improperly using his official position for personal gain.

Bokhari’s company, Carolina Fintech Hub, was to receive $1.5 million in federal coronavirus relief money to conduct job training for people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Bokhari said he would have not profited from the contract and that he did nothing wrong. But council members voted 9-1 in late July against awarding the contract to Carolina Fintech Hub.

Baker wrote that one reason for not moving forward with any review of the allegations against Bokhari is that, “a portion of my inability to forward those particular complaints to an independent investigator relates to the practical impact of the City Council’s actions … not to proceed with Councilmember Bokhari’s firm on some of the complainant’s allegations." 

He said that he will "immediately inform" the people who made complaints against Bokhari about his decision. Baker said he will give those people the opportunity to bring forward more specific information, and based on that, he will inform council whether any investigation is warranted.

On Sunday evening, Baker sent council members a second e-mail . He wrote that he has received two new ethics complaints against Bokhari, which he will review. 

Soon after the Fintech vote, the state Republican party filed ethics complaints against Mitchell and Ajmera. The GOP said council members retaliated against Bokhari because he is an outspoken supporter of the police and bringing the Republican National Convention to the city.

The complaint against Mitchell focused on a November 2018 taxpayer-funded trip he made to Detroit.

That trip was reported on by WBTV.

Mitchell went to Detroit to see the city’s professional sports stadiums. WBTV reported that Mitchell communicated directly with the Carolina Panthers and then forward emails from him and the team to the construction firm Barton Malow, where Mitchell used to work. Mitchell now works for another construction firm, JE Dunn.

The GOP complaint said that JE Dunn and Barton Malow have been in partnerships, but Mitchell said Sunday the two firms haven't worked together.

"I took a lot of trips on the interest of City Council, and that was my job as economic development chair," Mitchell said.

The state GOP’s ethics complaint against Ajmera focuses on campaign contributions she received that the party says coincided with votes on rezoning petitions. The GOP said that Ajmera “has used her official position, particularly in rezoning cases, to directly engage with those from the real estate community who have a business in front of the council to solicit campaign contributions.”

Ajmera said she welcomes the investigation and that the real estate industry made up less than 10 percent of her campaign contributions in the last election. She said it's "absurd" that campaign contributions influence her vote.

She pointed to a 2019 article in the Charlotte Ledger that said she had the lowest percentage of campaign contributions from the real estate and building industry among council incumbents.

In his email to council members, Baker wrote that his initial review of the allegations against the three council members “is in no way an attempt to assess the veracity of the complaints.”

He said it’s merely to determine whether the complaints meet "minimum technical requirements identified by the ethics policy to warrant further investigation.”

Baker told council members on Sunday that he thinks the city's ethics policy is flawed. He wrote that it doesn't provide the city attorney an opportunity to conduct a "substantive review" of a complaint before deciding whether or not to hire an outside firm to investigate.

He said that if an allegation meets minimum standards, he is required to investigate.

"I am not aware of any jurisdiction in North Carolina (or anywhere else) with an ethics policy that would yield a similar result," he wrote.

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