Fayetteville City Council Reverses Actions in 'Ticketgate'
Posted December 6, 2007 5:17 p.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2008 5:28 p.m. EST
Fayetteville, N.C. — After a warning from a district attorney, the Fayetteville City Council reversed its decisions in an ongoing political controversy in which the mayor and city manager are accused of fixing a ticket for the wife of a former Fort Bragg deputy commander.
Not wholly satisfied, however, some council members pledged to keep open the possibility of an independent review.
Council members quickly cast two unanimous votes Thursday night in a five-minute open meeting that contrasted with the rambling and raucous meetings of recent weeks. The votes followed a 45-minute, closed-door meeting with Fayetteville City Attorney Karen McDonald.
The council members – four of whom were installed this week – overturned a decision made on Friday to issue a ticket to Diana Knight in connection with a three-car wreck on Oct. 25. On Monday, Cumberland District Attorney Ed Grannis had challenged the council's authority to do that and said any effort to press the matter could result in charges the council was obstructing justice.
"I think we all better understand that that action was inappropriate, and we rescinded that," Mayor Tony Chavonne, who voted against both resolutions on Friday, said. "That was an important thing to do."
The City Council also took back a request for the state Attorney General's Office to investigate the conduct of Chavonne, City Manager Dale Iman and Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine. No such request will be made while Grannis investigates the wreck.
On Monday, council members Valencia Applewhite, Bill Crisp, Bobby Hurst and Theodore Mohn took office. None of the four have spoken publicly about the issue.
Six weeks ago, a Fayetteville police officer, who had received conflicting reports from witnesses to the accident, gave Knight a ticket for running a red light at the intersection of Stoney Point and Gillis Hill roads.
Knight's husband, Gary Knight, a former deputy garrison commander at Fort Bragg, called Chavonne that evening to complain, saying he thought police were rushing to judgment. Chavonne contacted Iman, who called Police Chief Tom Bergamine.
Police voided the ticket shortly after Chavonne and Iman visited Diana Knight in the hospital. Officers later charged another driver involved in the wreck, Jamell Rashad Jones, 21, with running the red light.
Grannis said in a letter to McDonald and Tiffany Snead, the legal adviser to the Fayetteville Police Department, that he would appoint a team of four investigators to review the crash – but only if the city abandoned its efforts for a state probe of the political controversy.
Chavonne stopped short of saying whether he thought a review of the actions by him, Iman and Bergiman was necessary. On Friday, Chavonne joined two other council members to vote against an independent investigation.
“It’s been looked at upside down and sideways and every other way,” he said, but he welcomed an investigation by Grannis' office: “I think it’s important that we build that public trust and revisit what happened and make sure everything was done the appropriate way."
Other council members pledged to keep open the possibility of having the state Attorney General’s Office review whether the mayor, city manager and police chief acted properly.
Councilman Charles Evans said he will support such a review "if the district attorney's investigation doesn't answer the questions we wanted answered. There’s no telling what an internal investigation will reveal, but what I do hope is that it will ease the minds of the citizens here in Fayetteville so that we can move forward.
"There's a cloud hanging over the council's head with the mayor and the city manager," Evans continued. "And we want to [assure] our citizens that we have done everything aboveboard."