Mayoral candidate didn't recuse vote approving son's company to upgrade convention center

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Charlotte mayoral candidate is defending her vote for convention center upgrades despite her son working for one of the contractors performing the service.

The city of Charlotte is planning to dramatically change the Charlotte Convention Center.

Last month, Charlotte City Council unanimously approved a $110 million budget to add a new walkway, more meeting space and conference rooms.

One of the companies getting a cut is uptown-based R.J. Leeper Construction.

Councilmember Vi Lyles’ son serves as a project manager for the company and she has accepted at least $3,000 in donations from him and the company's founder.

Lyles didn’t recuse herself from the vote approving the contract.

“You just can't recuse yourself from a vote just because you want to,” Lyles said. “You have an obligation to speak up and vote on the issues the city has.”

The mayor pro tem insists her vote was ethical and said despite working for the company, her son will not personally benefit.

In a statement released after Channel 9’s questioning, Lyles said she consulted with the city attorney about her vote.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann met with Lyles Wednesday after Channel 9’s inquiries.

“The best interest of the community is my most important consideration and priority,” Lyles said in a statement. “I knew, and have verified with the city attorney, that there is no conflict of interest in my vote on the convention center expansion project.”

Hagemann confirmed to Channel 9 there was nothing illegal about Vi Lyles’ vote.

State law mandates councilmembers recuse themselves from votes benefiting their own financial interest.

Political expert Eric Heberlig said Lyles would have been wise to recuse herself from the vote.

“If you can raise the question of whether it is ethical or not, you should go the extra length to avoid the appearance of misconduct,” Heberlig said.

Lyles told Channel 9 she can’t recall a time she has recused herself from a vote.

Republican candidate for mayor Kenny Smith criticized Lyles and called her vote “disturbing.” Smith said he has recused himself from at least six votes while serving on council.

“I would have recused myself,” Smith said. “I think the facts behind this are troubling. And I think elected officials ought to be held to the highest ethical standards.”

The founder of R.J. Leeper told Channel 9 that Lyles’ son will have no role in the Convention Center project and his campaign donations weren’t meant to influence Lyles’ decision.

The NCGOP Chairman Robin Hayes released this statement about Lyles:

"Vi Lyles voted for multi-million dollar project that benefitted her family. It is now not only fair, but a duty to question her ethics and honesty."