Local Politics

Embattled Fayetteville councilman resigns

Posted May 3, 2018 12:24 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:42 p.m. EDT

— Saying perception appears to matter more than the facts, Fayetteville City Councilman Tyrone Williams, who has been the target of a concerted effort to oust him from office, resigned his seat on the council Thursday.

"I don't do this lightly, as I have been committed to providing a voice for those who often get shut out of the conversation in City government," Williams wrote in his three-page resignation letter. "But the people of District 2 deserve someone who can speak without being obscured by negative perceptions."

Williams was caught on tape asking for money from a developer during a December meeting. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but Mayor Mitch Colvin and the other eight City Council members last week launched a formal process to remove him from office.

Colvin said there was nothing in Williams' resignation letter that changed his mind regarding the need for Williams to step down, although he noted that he was unaware of some of the details Williams provided.

"I always wanted to say that we needed to find the facts," Colvin said.

The mayor thanked Williams for sparing Fayetteville the cost and disruption of carrying out the amotion procedure.

"It definitely means that we can start to move forward," Colvin said of the resignation. "I thank council member Williams for making the right decision and putting the people first and kind of putting all this behind us. You know, it's been a huge undertaking for the council, for the staff, for the legal team, and I'm sure for him and his family. So, today kind of helps us turn the page."

Because of the controversy, District 2 resident Gerard Falls said, he and his neighbors haven't felt like they had a trusted voice to represent them.

"While everyone is innocent until proven guilty, he wasn't able to carry out the work of District 2 as long as he wasn't able vote on anything, especially with the baseball stadium, which is a major investment downtown, which this whole controversy kind of circles around," Falls said.

The council is expected to formally end the amotion process and an investigation by the city's Ethics Commission into Williams' conduct at its Monday meeting.

No decision has been made on whether the council will appoint someone to serve the remainder of Williams' term or will hold a special election for local voters to select a new council member.

Hotel project at center of dispute

Jordan Jones, the project manager handling the redevelopment of the former Prince Charles Hotel, recorded a Dec. 21 meeting he had with Williams and businessman T.J. Jenkins over a purported "cloud on the title" to the downtown property.

Williams had invested in a previous attempt to redevelop the hotel, but the New York developer behind that effort eventually filed for bankruptcy.

"I don’t know if there is any kind of way I can make it a smooth transition for you and what you’re trying to do, because I want the project to go, and I don’t want there to be no hiccups down the road," Williams said at the meeting.

"I think I would just feel good if we just worked together some way to make it all go away," he said. "I’m not looking for a large amount of money. I’m just looking for a smooth transition, you know what I mean?"

He then suggested $15,000 to "sign off" on the deal.

Jones said last month that he recorded interactions with Williams as part of a federal investigation.

Although the FBI refused to confirm any investigation, Colvin has said that an investigation did take place.

Williams used his resignation letter to get his side of the story out, saying he had never met Jones before the Dec. 21 meeting and was surprised the developer hadn't investigated potential problems with the title to the Prince Charles Hotel. Williams said he had learned of his connection to the title issue from a local attorney three days earlier.

Williams said he expected a formal offer from Jones and his investors that he planned to run through his attorney and City Attorney Karen McDonald.

"I knew that any release or removal of a cloud on title would have to be in the form of a legal document that would be filed at the courthouse and available to the public," he said. "As such, I expected that any agreement would be publicly known and had to comply with the law."

Jones called Williams on Feb. 13, saying he had "$15,000 cash in a brief case," Williams said, adding that he was "shocked" by that. He said he wrote Jones the following day requesting a formal settlement proposal that could be run through the attorneys.

In March, McDonald met with Williams and said the December meeting with Jones raised concerns about a possible conflict of interest in the hotel redevelopment, so he decided to recuse himself from any council votes connected to the project.

A few weeks later, he said, he changed that stance after his attorney said any claims he had on the hotel property ended when the previous developer went bankrupt.

"I believe that City Council Members must ... be vigilant stewards of taxpayer money, and that includes public funds going to the baseball stadium, Prince Charles Hotel and related projects," he wrote. "It must be done the right way. Questions should be asked, and I know I asked some hard questions about those projects. In doing so, it may have made me a desirable target.

"It is now clear to me that the facts of what happen don't matter as much as perception," he continued. "The facts are that I did not violate any law, ordinance, or other legal authority. But the inaccurate perception of wrongdoing has been fueled by false and misleading accusations in the local media. There appears to be an agenda to obscure the actual facts of what happened between me and Mr. Jones through media attacks on my character. I don't understand their motivation, but it is certainly impacting the good governance of the City of Fayetteville.

"The debate over this matter has created a great conflict that has affected our spirit," he concluded. "I hope that this resignation can help us go forward to build our future with love, understanding, and clear purpose."