Fayetteville, N.C. — Days after defending his actions in a ticket-fixing case, Mayor Tony Chavonne issued a public apology on Friday, saying the perception of wrongdoing damaged the public's trust in local government.
"The primary responsibility for the public trust rests on my desk as mayor. This trust was damaged in the handling of this matter, and that is my responsibility," Chavonne wrote in an e-mail sent to members of the Fayetteville City Council and published on the opinion page of The Fayetteville Observer. "I apologize to the citizens that took my actions to be wrong and to those that these actions may have caused mistrust in me or our city government."
Three cars were involved in an Oct. 25 wreck at the intersection of Stoney Point and Gillis Hill roads, and a Fayetteville police officer cited driver Diana Knight, who was injured in the wreck, for running a red light after receiving conflicting reports from witnesses.
Knight's husband, Gary Knight, who was deputy garrison commander at Fort Bragg before he retired, called Chavonne that evening to complain, saying he thought police were rushing to judgment. Police voided the ticket shortly after Chavonne and Fayetteville City Manager Dale Iman visited Diana Knight in the hospital.
Police later charged the driver of another car involved i the wreck, Jamell Rashad Jones, 21, with running the red light.
Local residents began calling the incident "Ticketgate," and the City Council unanimously agreed to call for an independent investigation of the matter.
Chavonne defended his actions Tuesday night during a City Council meeting at which area residents and council members criticized his involvement in the case. He said he followed city policy and never told Iman how to handle the situation.
The political firestorm over the case extended to Chavonne's vote against an effort by the council to censure him for his involvement in "Ticketgate."
By Friday, Chavonne said he had learned a lesson from the whole episode.
"I lost sight of the importance of the perceptions of my actions when faced with dealing with the accident and injury of a good friend. I did not fully consider that the actions I might take with a citizen could be viewed differently if they were for a friend," he wrote in his e-mail.
In an interview with WRAL, he said hindsight provided him a clearer view of where he went wrong.
"If there's one thing I were to do differently, I think in all probabability I would not have gone to the hospital to be with my friend and his wife in the emergency room," he said.
But he said he did nothing wrong in voting against the censure motion.
"It was my responsibility to vote, and I voted the way I feel it should have been voted, and I stand by that," he said, adding that he had no way of knowing the vote would end in a 5-5 tie, effectively killing it.
City Councilman Charles Evans said he had no issue with the mayor voting.
“I think if it was me, I probably would have voted as well,” Evans said, adding that he was "very proud" that Chavonne apologized.
Chavonne has asked Iman to review policies related to elected officials dealing with citizen complaints, especially those involving police investigations.
"When it's a police matter, is even going to the city manager the right policy? And that, the council has agreed to revisit, and we will," he said. “I think where we have the real risk would be if we started taking one phone call and handling it one way and taking another phone call and handling it a different way.”
City Councilwoman Lois Kirby called Chavonne's statement "a beautiful letter."
"I don't know why he waited so long, but I'm glad he did it," Kirby said. "I'm sure he knew he had to do some damage control."