Ron Carlee, who was Charlotte city manager when Patrick Cannon was arrested, said the former mayor’s 44-month sentence on federal corruption charges may have been too harsh, especially when compared with the sentence of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
“Was it fair? I have real concerns about equity within the criminal justice system,” Carlee said in an interview Friday on his last day at work.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned McDonnell’s conviction, saying McDonnell only did routine work for the businessman. It wasn’t enough to meet the standards of corruption, justices said.
He said the city is working to ensure Charlotteans aren’t victims of what Carlee said is “implicit bias.”
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“(The city) is trying to make adjustments in inherent biases based on race,” he said. “The question came to my mind when I watched the Cannon case and the McDonnell case. I am concerned about that. Obviously what (Cannon did) was extraordinarily wrong and he deserved to pay a price for that.”
McDonnell, who is white, was convicted in 2014 on federal bribery charges for accepting $175,000 in money and luxury goods from a Virginia businessman in exchange for using his office to help him. He was sentenced to 24 months in prison.
Cannon, who is black, pleaded guilty in 2014 to accepting more than $50,000 in bribes from undercover federal agents in exchange for giving them access to city officials.
Cannon began serving his sentence in November 2014. He is still in prison.
When Cannon was arrested in March 2014, the city was in shock. Carlee, who had been manager a year, rallied city employees in a news conference a day later. He said Cannon was an outlier and that Charlotte city government was clean.
The FBI never charged anyone else in the Cannon case.
Carlee said he hasn’t communicated with Cannon since he has been in prison.
Carlee’s last day as manager was Friday. In February, he told City Council members he wouldn’t seek a contract extension, and the city is now conducting a national search for his replacement. Carlee’s decision to step down came after a number of council members had reservations about keeping him on.
Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble is the new interim manager. Carlee said he hopes to work in academia and would like to stay in Charlotte.
Besides the Cannon scandal, Carlee’s tenure was marked by other significant events: The legislature’s attempt to take control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the city and legislators’ passage of House Bill 2, which nullified the city’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.
Carlee was perhaps one of the city’s most liberal managers, or at least the most outwardly so.
Along with council members, he initiated a “Ban the Box” policy in which people applying for city jobs would not be initially asked about their criminal record. He brought an anti-profiling civil rights resolution for Charlotte police. And he helped enact a new $15 an hour minimum for city employees, which will go into effect in 2019. (That effort earned him praise for low-wage city workers who had lobbied the city for years for higher pay.)
Carlee said Friday the city was “on the right side of history” in expanding its nondiscrimination ordinance. He didn’t speak much on the issue during the debate, in part because council members had rebuked him for being out front on several issues.
Carlee also defended in the fall of 2014 the firing of a fire investigator for what the city said was an offensive Facebook post about the Ferguson, Mo., protests.
But a year later, the city looked the other way when several Fire Department employees appeared to post far more inflammatory and racist material.
Carlee said he would not discuss those cases.
“Each case is an individual,” he said. “I’m not going into the specifics of any of them.”
Carlee said one of the biggest challenges for his successor will be a planned rewriting of the city’s zoning ordinance. He said that will impact how the city tries to build more affordable housing.