Charlotte to launch investigation into complaints against 3 councilmembers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In an email to Charlotte City Councilmembers, City Attorney Patrick Baker said complaints against Democratic Councilmembers Dimple Ajmera and James Mitchell meet the minimum standards for an independent investigation.

Baker had originally said that three complaints against Republican Councilman Tariq Bokhari did not meet the minimum standards for an independent investigation. In a follow-up email from Baker, he said he discovered a previously filed complaint against Bokhari, and a new one has also been filed.

On Monday morning, Channel 9′s Joe Bruno reported that the complaints against Bokhari now also mee the minimum standards for an independent investigation.

The complaints against Ajmera and Mitchell were filed by the North Carolina GOP. Both complaints accuse the councilmembers of using their positions for personal gain. Both councilmembers deny the accusations. NCGOP accuses Ajmera of using her officiating position, “particularly in rezoning cases to directly engage with those from the real estate community who have business in front of the council to solicit campaign contributions.”

Ajmera has called the complaint “a racist, sexist and political attack.”

NCGOP stated Mitchell’s economic development trip to Detroit to tour sports facilities was inappropriate because of “its direct financial connection to businesses that would financially gain from this sports facility construction project that employs him. Mitchell said the complaint has no merit.

The Bokhari complaints concern a proposal for Carolina Fintech to receive CARES Act funding, the government’s coronavirus relief bill, for a job training program. The city attorney concluded Carolina Fintech’s proposal was not illegal. Bokhari later recused himself from the vote, and Charlotte City Council chose not to provide Carolina Fintech with the funding.

Under Charlotte City Council’s ethics policy, anyone can file a complaint alleging a violation to the city clerk. The complainants are required to identify themselves, state with specificity the facts that form the basis for the alleged violation and cite the provision that has been violated. If the city attorney determines that the complainants provided the required information, they would be referred to an independent investigator selected by the city attorney.

While the complaints against Ajmera and Mitchell are proceeding to an independent investigation, Baker told councilmembers three complaints filed against Bokhari do not meet the minimum standards for an independent investigation.

“In addition to a reliance on conclusory statements and generalizations of ethical violations, 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 on August 10, 2020 not to proceed with Councilmember Bokhari’s firm on some of the complainant’s allegations,” Baker wrote.

“On one hand, I feel a sense of vindication, but I’m also disappointed that with so many people suffering in our community, we spend our time dealing with baseless, political attacks instead of helping those in need,” Bokhari said of the three complaints not proceeding to an independent investigation.

Baker is contacting the three complainants to offer them an opportunity to provide more information. Baker is also reviewing two other complaints since filed or discovered against Bokhari. The two new complaints under review were filed by NAACP President Corine Mack and Brandon Forbes.

Baker informed councilmembers he is in the process of identifying and selecting an independent investigator.

"It is my intention to look for an individual or firm that has experience in investigating ethics complaints and has no business connection whatsoever to the City of Charlotte," he wrote.

There is no guidance on funding the independent investigator, Baker wrote in a follow-up email. He also encouraged the Charlotte City Council to revisit its ethics policy.

“The policy provides absolutely no opportunity for a thorough substantive review of an allegation by the City Attorney prior to effectively requiring the City Attorney without any consideration by the City Council to launch an independent investigation,” he wrote. “I am not aware of any jurisdiction in North Carolina (or anywhere else) with an ethics policy that would yield a similar result.”