News: CJ Exclusives

Senator Faces Ethics Complaint

Hartsell charged with conflict of interest

RALEIGH – A complaint against N.C. Sen. Fletcher Hartsell was filed last week with the State Board of Ethics, alleging that in a rezoning and forced-annexation case his roles as an elected official and as a lawyer for a developer and the Water and Sewer Authority of Cabarrus County created a conflict of interest.

The Concord Republican represented Keith Wayne, owner of Wayne Bros. Construction, based near Kannapolis. Wayne sought zoning changes in September 2006 from the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners for a 75-acre property he owns in the Odell community, which is unincorporated. At the time, Wayne was unable to build a mixed-use development on the property because it was zoned as office-institutional. He sought to have the acreage redesignated as commercial/medium-density residential.

Commissioners rejected the rezoning of Wayne’s property, so Wayne and Hartsell tried to get Kannapolis to annex the property, where they could pursue rezoning. Odell, however, is not contiguous to Kannapolis, and lies beyond the three-mile limit that the state allows for satellite annexations.

Hartsell, as well as state Reps. Jeff Barnhart and Linda Johnson, both Cabarrus Republicans, sponsored legislation in the General Assembly allowing only Kannapolis to extend beyond the limit and take in Wayne’s property. Residents of Odell who had opposed the rezoning request before Cabarrus commissioners also opposed annexation by Kannapolis.

The ethics complaint was filed by Odell resident Marlynn Burns, a GOP candidate for county commissioner last year, and was supported in writing by five other local citizens. The grievance says that Hartsell’s representation of Wayne while also a lawyer for the WSACC, which would report on the property for the county’s Planning and Zoning Department and for the Board of Commissioners, constituted a conflict of interest.

The complaint also cited Hartsell’s actions as a legislator, in coordination with House members Barnhart and Johnson. In the waning days of this year’s session of the legislature the three lawmakers, in their respective chambers, revived what were once parallel bills that would have de-annexed property from Mt. Pleasant in Cabarrus County. On July 28 that language was gutted from the two pieces of legislation and replaced with text that provided for the Kannapolis/Odell community satellite annexation.

Hartsell had sponsored the Senate version of the bill, which was passed by the Senate Finance Committee, of which Hartsell is vice chairman, July 28. The final bill, unified under a committee substitute unifying action, soared through both the House and Senate last week before the General Assembly adjourned for the year Thursday.

“This was a coordinated effort,” Burns said. “It was not accidental.”

Her complaint alleges also that Hartsell helped change and advance the annexation legislation to benefit Wayne, while having served as his lawyer.

“Sen. Hartsell used his office to benefit his client, Keith Wayne,” the complaint said.

Hartsell did not return messages left at his residence and law office Friday.

Paul Chesser ([email protected]) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.