Politics & Government

Charlotte refuses to release details of tentative RNC deals before Monday vote

Mayor Vi Lyles defends city’s bid for the RNC

Mayor Vi Lyles speaks about the possibility of the Republican National Convention coming to Charlotte at a meeting of the Democratic Women of Mecklenburg Wednesday at AME Little Rock Mount Zion church in First Ward.
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Mayor Vi Lyles speaks about the possibility of the Republican National Convention coming to Charlotte at a meeting of the Democratic Women of Mecklenburg Wednesday at AME Little Rock Mount Zion church in First Ward.

As the City Council prepares for a contentious meeting Monday on the Republican National Convention, the city declined to release the proposed convention contracts Friday, saying they are exempt from public inspection under state law.

Council members are scheduled to vote Monday afternoon on contracts with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the Republican National Committee and the local host committee.

Council Member Dimple Ajmera said Friday she plans to vote no Monday on bringing the GOP convention to Charlotte in 2020, becoming the third council member to publicly oppose the RNC.

Ajmera, a Democrat, said she’s concerned that the convention could cost taxpayers money. But another council member, Republican Tariq Bokhari said that’s not true, and that the proposed contract with the Republican National Committee protects taxpayers. The city has refused the Observer’s request to review the contracts.

The city contends that it does not need to release the contracts. It cites a provision of state law that allows governments to withhold certain documents related to competitive bids and economic development projects while the project is still under consideration.

Those contracts are contingent upon the Republican National Committee picking Charlotte for the convention. That could come late next week at the RNC’s summer meeting in Austin, Texas, July 17-20.

“After reviewing the contract I will not support it,” Ajmera said Friday afternoon. “This is not a political stance — it’s an economic risk. Taxpayers will be on the hook for the potential liability, unknown risk and exposure .... I must look after interests of all residents.”

Bokhari said that he met with Ajmera and attorneys from the city Friday around noon, and Bokhari said the attorneys told her the city is not at risk financially.

“(The attorneys) said, ‘No, no, no, the taxpayers are not liable,’ ” Bokhari said.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann sent council members a memo Friday about the tentative contracts. Hagemann said if the city’s law enforcement costs exceed a $50 million federal convention security grant, the local host committee would be responsible for the extra costs.

As of 4 p.m. Friday, 126 people had signed up to speak about the convention at the Monday meeting, both for and against. It will likely be the most contentious council meeting since council members approved a nondiscrimination ordinance for LGBT individuals in early 2016.

Council members are scheduled to discuss whether to host the RNC. They are also likely to vote on tentative contracts with the Republican National Committee and the local host committee.

For the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, the original contract called for the city to pick up any fundraising shortfalls by the host committee.

But the city took out that language, and taxpayers did not have to cover a roughly $10 million shortfall. Bokhari said the RNC contract has similar language to protect taxpayers.

City Council member Dimple Ajmera became engaged to be married at the end of Monday's council meeting. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

As opposition has increased on the council to hosting, Mayor Vi Lyles called the special meeting to mollify the GOP. National Republicans did not want to award the convention to Charlotte, only to have the City Council reject it.

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Democratic Council Member LaWana Mayfield was the first to say she would vote against hosting. Democrat Justin Harlow also said this week he would vote no.

At-large Democrat Braxton Winston has also been skeptical about hosting, but has not announced his position.

But just as opposition has been hardening, other council members have remained firm in their support.

Republicans Ed Driggs and Bokhari support the convention. Democrat Greg Phipps has said he supports hosting, as does Democratic Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt. Democratic at-large Council Member James Mitchell told WFAE he also is in favor of bringing the GOP to Charlotte.

Charlotte Democratic City Council member Braxton Winston said the city needs to slow down and have a dialogue about the merits of hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention, which could be awarded to Charlotte this month.

Eiselt has said she opposes President Donald Trump, but that she believes the city needs to be inclusive, especially after hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

First-term Democrats Larken Egleston and Matt Newton have not announced how they will vote.

Lyles does not vote.

Last summer, Ajmera said that Trump voters should have no place on City Council or in the mayor’s race. She initially supported bringing the RNC to Charlotte.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs