Local News

Criticism of Fayetteville Mayor Mounts

Posted November 14, 2007 5:25 p.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2008 5:32 p.m. EST

— Already under fire for his role in fixing a traffic ticket for the wife of a friend, Mayor Tony Chavonne came under new criticism Wednesday after he thwarted a City Council effort to censure him.

Chavonne participated in a City Council vote Tuesday night that would have officially reprimanded him for the so-called "Ticketgate" incident. His vote against a censure created a 5-5 tie on the council, which killed the proposal.

Councilwoman Lois Kirby called Chavonne's vote unethical.

"If there's any indication that you're voting for something that's going to be in your favor or that stands to benefit you, you should recuse yourself," Kirby said Wednesday. “It’s all about ethics, and I don’t know if the city has a code of ethics, so to speak, but it’s a code among people who are in the public eye."

Chavonne said he was busy Wednesday and didn't have time to discuss the matter.

The censure vote was the latest chapter in "Ticketgate," which began with an Oct. 25 wreck at the intersection of Stoney Point and Gillis Hill roads.

Three cars were involved in the wreck, 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, the deputy garrison commander at Fort Bragg before he retired, called Chavonne that evening to complain, saying he thought police were rushing to judgment. The ticket was voided shortly after Chavonne and Fayetteville City Manager Dale Iman visited Diana Knight in the hospital.

The driver of one of the other cars involved, Jamell Rashad Jones, 21, was later charged with running the red light.

Iman told the City Council on Tuesday that he thought his actions were "completely appropriate," and Chavonne maintained he didn't  tell Iman how to handle the situation.

The incident sparked a public outcry over perceived favoritism, and Kirby told Chavonne at the council meeting that he owes the city an apology for what many see as poor judgment.

"I'm sure it was innocent, and I'm sure the mayor acted with emotion and I understand that," she said Wednesday. "But he is the mayor, and he sends a message to everyone and he has to rise above that."

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to have an independent agency investigate the incident. The city attorney will look into whether the State Bureau of Investigation should be called in to conduct the probe.

Diana Knight declined to comment Wednesday on the brouhaha, but Jones, the driver eventually charged in the wreck, said he believes the mayor and city manager acted inappropriately.

“I really wasn’t buying what they were saying,” said Jones, who suffered the most extensive injuries of anyone involved in the wreck and was using a walker Wednesday.

"They never came to my (hospital) room. They never tried to contact me," he said, comparing his situation with Diana Knight's.

His mother, Wanda Jones, said Chavonne and Iman should have been more upfront about the situation.

“I wanted them to be honest about the situation, and to me, they just weren’t honest,” she said.