Former mayor Patrick Cannon’s arrest for public corruption nearly a year ago also sparked a re-evaluation for the Charlotte City Council of its ethics policy, including what gifts members can accept and what relationships they have to disclose. The council adopted a new ethics code Monday night, after debate about how far it should go.
Council member David Howard led the development of the new code, and he acknowledged former mayor Patrick Cannon’s contribution.
“To be honest, it was not something that I think we would have dealt with were it not for the actions of one of our own last year,” said Howard.
Cannon took money and gifts in exchange for promise of his influence, acts already against council policy and illegal under federal law. The new policy spells out when the council can accept gifts, rather than when they cannot. Mayor Dan Clodfelter said it was based primarily off of the ethics code used by the state legislature.
“You can accept gifts from your extended family and members of your own household,” city attorney Bob Hagemann explained. “The intent here is not to kill Christmas and birthdays for each of you.”
Another exception allows gifts that a “reasonable person would conclude is not influence,” as well as anything under $50, items the city would reimburse anyway, or food, drinks or tickets to a public event where the member is representing the city.
Councilman Kenny Smith tried to amend the new code and bar tickets.
“I can think of no reason I need to do business at Panthers stadium that I can’t do here on the fifteenth floor at the government center,” said Smith.
Several councilmembers objected to Smiths’ amendment. In a nearly seven minute speech, Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield said it would hurt the visibility of less wealthy councilmembers in the community.
“I think there’s a unrealistic expectation that is longstanding, that only certain people should be able to serve, and those are those who are in a certain financial demographic window,” said Mayfield.
Smith’s motion didn’t gain traction, but council members had other qualms about the gift policy—mostly that it could impact their other day jobs, since city council is part-time. Councilman Al Austin, for instance, is the major gifts officer at Johnson C. Smith University.
The ethics policy also requires members to disclose if they own $10,000 in stock or other stake in a company or organization, but only those with business with the city. Complaints against council members for violating the ethics policy would be vetted by the city attorney, but passed along to outside investigators.