BREAKING: Council member resigns after taking construction job

Democrat James Mitchell, first elected in 1999, steps down after being named to head a construction company with city contracts

Good morning! Today is Monday, January 11, 2021, and we’re coming to you with HOT BREAKING NEWS.

One of Charlotte’s longest-serving and best-known City Council members announced he is resigning on Monday, after questions were raised about potential conflicts of interest stemming from his new construction job.

James Mitchell, who was first elected to the City Council in 1999 and chairs its workforce and business development committee, said that he is resigning at 5 p.m. today “after careful consideration and prayer”:

This was a tough decision to make, because serving the citizens of Charlotte for 20 years has been my greatest honor. But given my new role as minority owner and president of R.J. Leeper Construction Company, I have determined this is in the best interest of me, the company and the city that I step aside from my position today.

Council members gave him a round of applause after this morning’s announcement, which he made during a City Council strategy session that was shown online.

Last week, a news article published by WFAE and The Ledger (🔓) pointed out that state law does not allow council members to profit from city contracts with their businesses — even if they recuse themselves from voting on those contracts. R.J. Leeper holds two major contracts with the city, joint venture projects to renovate and expand the Charlotte Convention Center and to renovate the airport’s main terminal. Mitchell had earlier said he planned not to vote on any contracts involving Leeper and that other construction executives would supervise the company’s work on city projects.

The Ledger reported earlier last week that R.J. Leeper Construction, one of the city’s largest minority-owned construction companies, was being sold to a new investment fund whose backers include former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl. It will remain a minority-owned business because Mitchell was named a part-owner, and two of the partners in the investment fund are Black executives. The new investment fund, Bright Hope Capital, is designed to help minority-owned Charlotte businesses grow by investing money and offering expertise.

Mitchell’s resignation means R.J. Leeper Construction will continue to be able to bid on city work.

In his announcement on Monday, Mitchell said he was proud of the work he and the city had accomplished over the years, citing Northlake Mall, the Charlotte Knights and the CIAA basketball tournament. His term was to expire at the end of this year, and the City Council will appoint a replacement. Mitchell is an at-large member, elected citywide, and is one of 9 Democrats on the 11-member City Council.

“I am sad to say goodbye, but I leave today with joy and satisfaction knowing how much we accomplished together on this journey,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to contribute to this great city of ours as a private citizen in many positive ways.”

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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire; Reporting intern: David Griffith