With Mayor Vi Lyles acting as a tiebreaker, Charlotte City Council voted Monday night to appoint former council member Greg Phipps to fill James “Smuggie” Mitchell’s vacant at-large seat. He will serve the rest of Mitchell’s term, which expires on Dec. 6, 2021.
Mitchell, who resigned from his seat in early January due to a conflict of interest related to his new job as president of a local development company, endorsed Jessica Davis to fill his seat. Monday’s vote marked the first time council did not vote in line with the outgoing council member’s endorsement.
After the call for applicants to fill the seat, 143 people applied, and that was narrowed down to 103 eligible candidates based on requirements (lots of those deemed ineligible were registered unaffiliated instead of Democrat, which one needed to be to fill Democrat Mitchell’s seat). Sixty-eight of those candidates addressed council at a special meeting on Friday.
At Monday’s meeting, council members disagreed over the process to vote in one candidate out of such a large pool. District 3 rep Victoria Watlington and at-large rep Braxton Winston voiced their concerns with what they thought was a rushed process, stating that not enough time was taken to thoroughly discuss the candidates’ qualifications.
With no true process written into the city’s charter, Charlotte City Council decided on allowing current members to nominate candidates from the list. A motion from District 5 rep Matt Newton made it so each nominee had to be seconded in order to be voted on. In the end, only Jessica Davis and Greg Phipps were nominated.
Winston stated he would not be participating in any vote on Monday, pointing out that the two frontrunners did not meet his principles because Phipps did not bother to address council on Friday and Davis had lost a primary race to District 2 rep Malcolm Graham in the 2019 city council election.
In the last minute, council agreed to use a “favorable vote” in which members would declare their support for either Phipps or Davis. Five members — Julie Eiselt, Larken Egleston, Tariq Bokhari, Ed Driggs and Malcolm Graham — voted for Phipps. Four members — Matt Newton, Victoria Watlington, Dimple Ajmera and Renee Johnson — voted for Davis. Winston did not vote.
After the favorable vote, a motion had to be made to approve the results. Because Winston voted No, the vote was tied at 5-5. Mayor Vi Lyles broke the tie by voting for Phipps, who will be sworn in on Tuesday. Phipps has already stated he has no intention of running in the upcoming election.
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