Mecklenburg County officials: Patrick Cannon arrest won’t impede trust-building

In January, Dena Diorio announced that all Mecklenburg County employees were required to take a training class on “fraud awareness” as one of her first acts as county manager.

The deadline for that training – and another on information privacy – was last Thursday, the day after former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon was arrested on federal corruption charges and resigned hours later.

Tuesday, Diorio said the intersection of those two events was coincidental, but she used them to email the class’s last lesson to her staff.

“This is a good time to remind ourselves that we are all public officials and must promote a spirit of honesty and forthrightness in our service to the citizens of Mecklenburg County, in order to continue to uphold their trust and to obey the law,” Diorio wrote.

She reminded staffers of “outlets” to report fraud and “any other ethical issues you may face” and encouraged them to discuss any suspected fraud or unethical behavior with their supervisors.

Diorio said Tuesday that she simply wanted to “highlight” for county employees Mecklenburg’s “commitment toward ethical behavior.”

“It just so happened that the deadline fell a day after the events of last week,” she added. “We have a pretty robust compliance program. I was looking for the opportunity to make sure staff understands what it means to be compliant.”

For months, commissioners and Diorio have been trust-building after a tumultuous year when some commissioners felt like county government had lost public trust.

Last year saw the board fire a long-time county manager and state legislators force Mecklenburg to review its 2011 property tax revaluation. The review came after a countywide revolt of property owners complaining of inflated prices and a deaf county ear to those complaints.

Diorio, the former county finance director, in part won her new job because she’s adamant about continuing the work to restore trust.

She has begun to do that, overseeing the revaluation review and a study of the code enforcement and permitting process by county inspectors after developers, realtors and homeowners complained it was too slow and often cumbersome.

She said she’s unconcerned that Cannon’s arrest will erode the early results of the county’s work to repair trust.

“We are a manager form of government and we manage our services with the highest ethical standards,” Diorio said. “That has not changed for the county or the city.

“I don’t think people judge all of us based on the actions of one person.”

Commissioner Pat Cotham said officials will have to work harder at “being transparent” with residents.

“We cannot let last week’s event set us back,” she said. “We’ve got to be more proactive, more visible to let them know who we are and how we’re trying to make their lives better.”

Board Chair Trevor Fuller said commissioners can’t ignore Cannon’s arrest. But “it should have no impact as long as we are trying to be as transparent as we can be. Certainly we are conscious of the need to continue to earn the public’s trust – that we are doing their business in a forthright, honest and transparent way.”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer