Legislator, attorney see no conflict in votes

State Sen. David Hoyle didn't violate state ethics laws when he voted to fund an expressway in Gaston County even though the road could benefit him financially, a legislative attorney said last week.

Hoyle, a Gaston Democrat, invested in 327 acres two years ago near a proposed exit for the planned Garden Parkway. He then took at least three votes in the General Assembly to advance the road and lobbied colleagues to fund it.

Hoyle told the Observer he didn't think about the road when he bought the land two years ago, and he didn't realize a proposed exit was so close. Some advocates of open government said they didn't think Hoyle should have voted for the parkway after the land purchase.

Walker Reagan, an attorney with the General Assembly who advises legislators on ethics, was quoted in an Observer story saying he didn't think Hoyle broke state ethics laws.

Reagan wrote a letter Wednesday that said Hoyle didn't receive a special benefit because other landowners could profit from the parkway. He also wrote that he didn't think Hoyle's judgment was impaired by his real estate holdings. Hoyle had requested Reagan's opinion.

The N.C. State Ethics Commission would make a formal decision on whether Hoyle's votes violated ethics laws. Perry Newson, the commission's executive director, couldn't be reached for comment.

Hoyle said he was happy with Reagan's interpretation. He said he didn't buy the land because of the parkway, but because people are already moving to southeast Gaston.

“I'm in a growth corridor,” Hoyle said. “That's where I wanted to be.”

Reagan said that if Hoyle hadn't voted on the bills, he could have violated his legislator's constitutional oath, which is to act on legislation.

Two other politicians recently recused themselves from voting on legislation that could impact real estate holdings, however.

Republican lieutenant governor candidate Robert Pittenger, a former state senator, owns 2,000 acres along proposed parkway routes. Pittenger, of Charlotte, recused himself from voting on two bills relating to the N.C. Turnpike Authority because he said he was worried about a conflict.

This legislative session, State Rep. Skip Stam, a Wake County Republican, recused himself from voting on the state budget bill because it contained money for a toll road south of Raleigh. Stam, an attorney, said he has relatives and clients that own land along the road's route.

Hoyle's opponent for re-election, Kathy Harrington, said she wouldn't have voted for turnpike bills if she owned land near a proposed exit.

“It appears it would have benefited him financially,” said Harrington, a Republican. “It was unethical of him to have done so.”