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Decision 2013

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Decision 2013: Background checks on city council candidates

A week after filing for Charlotte City Council last month, Justin Stewart couldn’t go on the campaign trail. He was in the Mecklenburg County jail, charged with robbery.

Stewart, a Democrat, is still behind bars. He isn’t the only candidate to spend time in jail.

Republican Eric Netter, also running for council, was locked up four times for driving offenses, including driving while impaired.

They’re among more than a dozen Charlotte candidates who have had run-ins with the law, financial problems or tax issues that have landed in court.

Others have spotty voting records. One was billed by the city for failing to keep up his rental property.

Those are the results of an Observer check of criminal, civil and voting records of Charlotte’s 43 mayoral and City Council candidates. The checks covered more than a decade.

City ordinance violations were reviewed for the last two years.

Early voting begins Thursday. Most candidates face primaries on Sept. 10.

City government is guaranteed to see big turnover this fall.

Voters will elect a new mayor and put new faces in at least five of the 11 City Council seats. That’s because no incumbents are running in four of seven council districts. And at least one of four at-large seats will be open.

Here are the findings. (Issues involving some incumbents have been previously reported.)

Mayoral candidates

• Patrick Cannon (D)

Cannon, 46, owns a parking business in uptown Charlotte. As previously reported, he faced a total of $193,553 in IRS liens between 2003 and 2008.

He satisfied all the liens, which were eventually canceled.

The liens were the subject of a 2009 Observer article on the current mayor pro tem.

• Gary Dunn (D)

A few years ago, Dunn walked into a Myers Park clinic for treatment of a medical condition. He didn’t pay. In 2008 Carolinas Health Care System obtained a $5,000 judgment which is still unpaid.

Dunn claims it was a “free clinic.” CHS spokesman Kevin McCarthy said community clinics like the one Dunn went to charge on a sliding scale depending on a patient’s income. Some uninsured residents can qualify for free or discounted care.

“They said they’d do it for free,” says Dunn, 59. “I said, ‘Well I’m not going to pay for it.’ They said, ‘We’ll still service you.’”

When he ran for mayor 20 years ago, the Observer reported several driving offenses.

One occurred in 1990 when, to protest rising insurance rates, he sent his license to U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. He then arranged to get ticketed by driving alongside a police car until an officer spotted his outdated tag sticker. Dunn said at the time that his protest fizzled when a Superior Court judge found him in contempt.

• James Mitchell (D)

Mitchell, 51, and his wife divorced in 2010, which contributed to financial problems for both.

Their home off Sunset Road was foreclosed on. Court records show SunTrust Bank is still owed $2,300.

Mitchell, a current council member, says that debt is still in dispute between him and his ex-wife. It was first reported in 2011.

• Lucille Puckett (D)

Puckett was a Charlotte Housing Authority commissioner in 2011 when she was evicted from a public housing complex.

Puckett, 45, was evicted from Dillehay Courts near uptown after a lengthy fight that began when the Housing Authority said she violated rules by meeting repeatedly with a man who’d been banned from CHA property.

The trouble began, Puckett says, when she tried to help a man who felt he was being wronged by authority rules. She says the Housing Authority, together with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, “used my lease as a form of suppression.”

“I didn’t turn him away … CHA served me with a lease violation and later a termination,” she says. “…That eviction did not and (does) not define who I am.”

• David Michael Rice (R)

The TV minister with his own cable access show filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2000.

He also had a string of liens against his Grier Heights property after that, though all were paid as the Observer reported when he ran for council in 2011.

Rice, 64, faced foreclosure in 2009. The city demolished the house in 2010.

Rice acknowledges financial issues. “Just problems like anybody else would have,” he says.

But, he adds, “it wouldn’t affect my ability to manage budgets.”

City Council, at-large

• Nancy Wiggins (D)

In 2009, serious medical problems left Wiggins in a financial bind, and she fell behind on dues she owed to her southeast Charlotte homeowners association.

She says she negotiated with the HOA to pay the back dues and made a good faith offer to do so. At the time she owed $2,400. She says the HOA rejected her offer and the dues mounted to $5,700.

“I had to choose between my homeowners’ dues and my health insurance and my mortgage,” says Wiggins, 64, a semi-retired real estate broker.

She chose the insurance and the mortgage. So the homeowners association won two judgments and foreclosed on the townhome. Then, she says, she stopped paying her mortgage.

“I was forced into that by the homeowners association,” she says.

Wiggins says the debts were paid when the home was sold at auction.

• Vanessa Faura (R)

The first-time candidate will be a first-time voter, at least in a local election.

Faura, 34, has voted only three times, according to records with the state board of elections.

That was in the presidential elections of 2004, 2008 and 2012.

“I didn’t even know what City Council did until a few years back,” she says. “I’ve never been interested in voting, didn’t have enough information.…

“One of the reasons I’m running is because of that. Like me there are a lot of people who don’t know or realize what City Council does and how they serve the people. I’m guilty of that.”

• Mark Frietch (R)

In 2010 lenders foreclosed on his home in Cornelius, something he blames on financial problems stemming from a divorce that left his life “in a swirl.”

Last month he faced eviction proceedings from the uptown Charlotte condo he’s lived in for more than two years. He said that’s been settled.

“I’ve been trying to make ends meet the best I can and got behind on the rent,” says Frietch, a contract recruiter. “Sometimes bad things happen. You have to pick up and move forward and that’s what I’ve done.”

City Council, District 2

• Rocky Bailey (D)

Since 2003, the IRS has filed six liens against Bailey totaling $40,148. Court records show none of the six liens has been paid.

Bailey, 47, says the financial problems stemmed from a divorce. Then the owner of a hair salon, he’s now an employment consultant for the N.C. Department of Commerce.

“It was kind of rough then,” he says.

• Justin J. Stewart (D)

In the dark early morning of July 27, police say Stewart pushed a man off his bike in east Charlotte, flashed a .22-caliber pistol and made off with $11 cash, a brown lighter and the victim’s bike.

He was caught and charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery and possession of marijuana. The arrest came just over a week after the 21-year-old Stewart had filed for election to the City Council.

Now he’s in the Mecklenburg County jail awaiting trial.

Court records show it wasn’t his first brush with the law.

In 2010 he was found guilty of misdemeanor larceny and spent 36 days in jail. He was also banned from SouthPark and Northlake malls.

Records also show that he’s still awaiting trial on another larceny change that levied in June.

There’s a question of his residency.

At the time of his recent arrest, police listed his address as an extended-stay hotel on East Independence Boulevard. That’s not in District 2.

The address on his voter registration is Dundeen Street in west Charlotte, which is in District 2.

City Council, District 3

• LaWana Mayfield, D

Mayfield, as reported in 2011, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2004, two years after her house was foreclosed on.

The current incumbent said at the time the trouble stemmed from an attempt to buy a house. Looking at two homes, she said, she inadvertently signed papers for both. She blames the agent and bad advice.

“At the end of the day,” she says, “it was me not knowing as much as I do today.”

• C. Travis Wheat (L)

In May, Wheat was billed $185 for nuisance abatement on a vacant rental property he owns in west Charlotte.

Wheat, 39, says he has since mowed several times and cleaned the property up. City records show the bill is unpaid.

The fine, he says, was “pretty steep for mowing a lawn and removing a chair I didn’t put there, but I will still be paying it soon, as that will likely be easier than arguing it.”

• Eric Netter (R)

Netter, 47, has a troubled legal history, including four trips to prison.

In 2002, records show he spent two months in prison for driving while intoxicated. In 2007, he was charged with a probation violation and spent five more months behind bars.

According to the state Department of Correction, he also served behind bars in 2001 and 1994. Both times followed driving convictions.

Netter denies drinking and driving. “Drinking yes, driving no,” he says.

Criminal court records show he’s awaiting trial on charges stemming from two other incidents: one last November and one in March. Both involved charges of driving with a revoked license and operating a vehicle without insurance. Records show he was found guilty of the same offense in 2009 and 2011.

Netter says the more recent charges came not while he was driving but while he was a passenger in a friend’s van. He doesn’t expect to get his driver’s license back until September.

In May, records show he was found guilty in Craven County on a worthless check charge and ordered to pay court costs of $480.

He disputes the record but says the check stemmed from a bill for car repairs more than a decade ago.

Now the Los Angeles native is being driven to campaign appearances. He’s also finishing writing a self-help book titled “Who’s That Masked Man?”

“Just taking my own challenges and helping other men,” he says.

City Council, District 5

• John Autry (D)

In 2005 he filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and paid off his debts three years later.

Autry, first elected in 2011, says he filed bankruptcy in order not to lose his house. He says he’d been unemployed at the time and doing freelance work.

He’s now the chief technology officer for a company that specializes in emergency warning response.

“I resolved that and put it behind me,” he says of the bankruptcy.

• Mitchell Smith-Bey (D)

In 2006, Smith-Bey filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Now 49, he declines to talk about the circumstances that led to it.

“There’s no sense talking about it,” he says. “That’s history. I’m dealing with my present and my future.”

Smith-Bey, who in May changed his surname from “Smith,” is a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer.

He’s on the ballot as Mitchell (Aerobo Cop) Smith-Bey. He hosts a wellness program for kids called “Aerobo Cop,” in which he wears a costume with a stylized “A” on his chest.

City Council, District 6

• Ken Lindholm (R)

As a real estate developer, Lindholm felt the weight of the recession.

A few years ago he was developing multiple projects in High Point. In 2008 and 2009, lenders foreclosed against some of them. In 2010, one of the lenders also won a $6 million judgment against him involving one of the foreclosed properties.

Also in 2010, a lender foreclosed against him and his wife in Mecklenburg County. And in 2011, a Guilford County lender won a $12,000 judgment against Lindholm, his wife and their company, Faith Properties.

“No bank held a gun to my head to borrow,” says Lindholm, 50. “The music stopped and I didn’t have a chair.”

Lindholm is out of the development business. This month he starts a new career as a world history teacher at Independence High.

“You can wallow up and sit in a cave or learn some things,” he says of his setbacks. “I’m a stronger person for it.”

Morrill: 704-358-5059
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