When City Council returned from closed session on July 8, 2015, prior to voting to peruse the lawsuit, the newly appointed Councilman Justin Outling made a speech urging the City Council to sue the Guilford County Board of Elections. This can be seen at 3:20 into this video from the City of Greensboro: http://greensboro.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=2461
As seen on the video, City Attorney Tom Carruthers quickly tries to cover for Mr Outling saying there is no conflict of interest because the previous contract with Brooks Pierce has expired.
Justin Outling not only got to make a speech but he was also allowed to attend the closed door session. Was he allowed to speak during the closed door session? Judging from the fact that Greensboro Mayor Nancy Barakat Vaughan introduced him before he addressed the audience one might assume she already knew what he was about to say.
In a previous decision by former Greensboro Interim City Attorney Jamiah Waterman concerning conflicts of interest involving real estate listings involving former Mayor Robbie Perkins and downtown developer Roy Carroll:
"... interim City Attorney Jamiah Waterman to rule during the April 3 city council meeting that Perkins had no con„ ict of interest. Three days later Waterman was eating his opinion: “Upon further re„ ection, it can reasonably be argued that Mayor Perkins was subjected to a potential Š nancial detriment, e.g. the potential loss of his real estate listings with Park View Development LLC. As such, I am revising my prior opinion to re„ ect that Mayor Perkins appears to have an impermissible con„ ict of interest in this matter. While the item passed unanimously, I am recommending that: (1) on April 16th the city council votes to excuse Mayor Perkins from this item; and (2) the remaining disinterested council members vote on the amendment to the general fund budget.” -Jordan Green, Yes-Weekly http://yesweekly.com/article-13963-white-noise.html
In another instance involving
"Mayor and Council:
...What must be considered is if a conflict of interest exists either under N.C.G.S. §§160A-75 or 14-234, or the City of Greensboro’s Charter, or the City’s Conflict of Interest Policy.
...Direct or indirect benefits are considered under the City’s conflict of interest policy and typically involve financial interests for the Councilmember, his or her immediate family, their partner, or an organization which employs or is about to employ the member, family member or partner...
S. Mujeeb Shah-Khan
OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY"
Here's some state law:
"NC § 14-234. Public officers or employees benefiting from public contracts;
No public officer or employee who is involved in making or administering a contract on behalf of a public agency may derive a direct benefit from the contract...
"NC § 138A-36
...no public servant...authorized to perform an official action requiring the exercise of discretion, shall participate in an official action by the employing entity if the public servant ...may incur a reasonably foreseeable financial benefit ...which financial benefit would impair the public servant's independence of judgment or from which it could reasonably be inferred that the financial benefit would influence the public servant's participation in the official action.
A public servant described in subsection (a) of this section shall abstain from taking any verbal or written action in furtherance of the official action. The public servant shall submit in writing to the employing entity the reasons for the abstention. When the employing entity is a board, the abstention shall be recorded in the employing entity's minutes.
(c) A public servant shall take appropriate steps, under the particular circumstances and considering the type of proceeding involved, to remove himself or herself to the extent necessary, to protect the public interest and comply with this Chapter, from any proceeding in which the public servant's impartiality might reasonably be questioned due to the public servant's familial, personal, or financial relationship with a participant in the proceeding. A participant includes (i) an owner, shareholder, partner, member or manager of a limited liability company, employee, agent, officer, or director of a business, organization, or group involved in the proceeding, or (ii) an organization or group that has petitioned for rule making or has some specific, unique, and substantial interest in the proceeding. "
"shall abstain from taking any verbal or written action in furtherance of the official action." How was making a speech abstaining from taking any verbal action?
Answer: it isn't.
"To the extent necessary." How was attending a closed door session and making a speech in favor of a decision that ultimately passed by an overwhelming majority removing one's self to the extent necessary?"
Answer: it isn't. It isn't removing one's self at all.
Greensboro City Councilman Justin Outling, an employee of the very law firm chosen by the City Council to handle the law suit attended the July 8, 2015 closed door session along with coworkers of said law firm and members of the Greensboro City Council as was broadcast on the City television channel and is archived on the Internet.
We saw Mr Outling speak in favor of the City of Greensboro persuing a lawsuit that has already earned his employer tens of thounds of dollars and has the potential to earn Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard much more.
Would Mr Outling not be praised, possibly rewarded by his employer for helping to bring such a contract to their company? Why did Councilman Outling see the need to make a speech just before the final vote when none of the other council members saw the need? Was it to prove to his employeer that he was helping to create more business for their firm? Surely a court would want to know.
Justin Outling's actions were in-fact a direct violation of Greensboro City Ordinance "Sec. 4.131. - Greensboro City Charter as approved by the North Carolina General Assembly: NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY 1967 SESSION CHAPTER 74 HOUSE BILL 167
"Conflict of interest:
Any officer, department head or employee who has financial interest, direct or indirect, in any proposed contract with the city ...or to a contractor supplying the city, shall make known that interest and shall refrain from voting upon or otherwise participating in the making of such contract or sale.
Any officer, department head, or employee who willfully conceals such a financial interest or willfully violates the requirements of this Section shall be guilty of malfeasance in office or position and shall forfeit his office or position.
Violation of this Section with the knowledge expressed or implied of the person or corporation contracting with or making a sale to the city shall render the contract void." https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCAQFjABahUKEwiU3fWVit7GAhWEPz4KHRo7BBU&url=ftp%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncleg.net%2FEnactedLegislation%2FSessionLaws%2FRTF%2F1967-1968%2FSL1967-74.rtf&ei=fNCmVZSvFYT_-AGa9pCoAQ&usg=AFQjCNF2Y0egMtfBaJVe4c-jxlJI74pSaA&sig2=X6IRrdwxQ46MANlx6IFjzw&cad=rja
Now folks, when city ordinances require the approval of the state legislature those same said city ordinances then become not just city ordinances but state law. The Greensboro City Council would prefer you don't know this.
"Direct or indirect."
"shall render the contract void."
Would the court not side that Mr Outling's presence in the closed door session and speech afterwards were both inappropriate and a violation of North Carolina conflict of interest laws as set forth by the NC General Assembly?
Remember: Justin Outling isn't your average citizen or business person turned politician, Justin Outling is a practicing attorney at law and should know the law. Instead, Mr Outling chose to deliberately ignore the law.
Neither the City Council decision to sue nor the contract with Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard can be considered legal when laws were broken by Mr Outling and the rest of City Council in the casting of the ballot and making of the contracts as set forth in the evidence provided in this brief.
"NC § 160A-75. Voting.
No member shall be excused from voting except upon matters involving the consideration of the member's own financial interest or official conduct or on matters on which the member is prohibited from voting... "
As if the previous statutes weren't enough we have Mr Outling's conduct to consider. Here we have a member of the North Carolina Bar apparently using an appointed position on the Greensboro City Council to help direct contracts to his employer which could-- in the long run-- mean more money, advancement within the firm and a possible partnership. If Mr Outling was prohibited from voting (which he was) then he should have been prohibited from influencing the vote (which obviously he was not.)
While I have no authority to do so I hope a court will recommend Mr Outling to the North Carolina Bar for disciplinary action, render the vote of the Greensboro City Council invalid and the lawsuit unlawful.
Mr Outling, Your resignation please. Oh and because the contract is rendered null and void, Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard owes the City of Greensboro a 100% refund plus any interest accrued.
And folks, please share.
Update: Sunday, July 26, 2015: I have sent the following e-mail to the Mayor and entire Greensboro City Council using the form provided at the city website: http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/index.aspx?page=93
"Conflicts Of Interest Abound And this time your newest appointment to City Council, Justin Outling, has crossed legal lines: http://greensboroperformingarts.blogspot.com/2015/07/councilman-justin-outling-your.html
Failing to act will render Mayor Vaughan and the rest of City Council all accessories to the fact, violations of your oath of office and a crime under North Carolina State Statutes.
I fully expect to see Mr Outling's resignation made public at the next meeting of the Greensboro City Council.
Thank you -Billy Jones"
I hope you will do the same.