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James Mitchell Leaves Charlotte City Council Due To Conflict At Construction Firm

James Mitchell, left, seen in 2018, is resigning from Charlotte City Council.
David Boraks
James Mitchell, left, seen in 2018, is resigning from Charlotte City Council.

Charlotte Democratic City Council at-large member James Mitchell is resigning on Monday afternoon.

Mitchell, the council’s longest-serving member, announced his departure on Monday morning during the council’s strategy session.

He’s stepping down because he will become a 25% owner in R.J. Leeper Construction, a firm that does business with the city. With his ownership stake being more than 10%, state law says that Mitchell’s new company can’t do any business with the city — even if Mitchell recuses himself from a council vote.

"This was a tough decision to make because serving the citizens of Charlotte for more than 25 years has been my greatest honor," Mitchell said. "But given my new role as president and leader of RJ Leeper Construction, I have determined this is the best interests of me, my company and the city that I step aside."

Mitchell met with City Attorney Patrick Baker Friday to discuss possible conflicts. Their meeting came after WFAE and the Charlotte Ledger raised questions about whether it would be legal for the new firm to do business with the city.

R.J. Leeper is working on a $115 million renovation of the Charlotte Convention Center and a $600 million expansion of the main terminal at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl is leading an investment fund that plans to invest in minority-owned businesses, including R.J. Leeper Construction.

Mitchell was first elected to the District 2 seat in 1999. He ran for mayor in 2013 but lost to Patrick Cannon in the Democratic primary. He returned to the council in 2015 as an at-large member.

City Council will appoint someone to finish his term. Council members will have to pick a registered Democrat to replace Mitchell.

After Mitchell announced his resignation, he received a standing ovation from his colleagues during Monday's meeting.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.