SONY DSC by Eric Ginsburg

Two contenders for Greensboro City Council’s District 3 seat disagree about whether a possible conflict of interest deserves to be an election issue this fall.

This isn’t the first time that Michael Picarelli, who is running for Greensboro City Council’s District 3, has brought it up.

When Justin Outling — who is also a first-time candidate running for District 3 —was appointed to the seat by council this summer to fill the remainder of Zack Matheny’s term after he resigned, Picarelli and some other contenders for the slot expressed concern about recusals and conflicts of interest. Outling is a lawyer with Brooks Pierce, a firm that represents the city, and even Matheny made remarks about Outling’s potential conflicts of interest before vacating the post to work at Downtown Greensboro Inc.

Picarelli raised it again to Triad City Beat shortly after officially filing to run for the seat. The two men and fellow first-timer Kurt Collins will face off in the Oct. 6 primary election, and Picarelli said it is part of the reason he is running.

“You’ve got to applaud Justin for wanting to serve, it’s nothing against him, he’s just in a bad position because his firm represents the city,” Picarelli said. “All the residents of this district need to know that and understand that.”

And after last week’s city council meeting, Picarelli raised the issue again.



Outling recused himself from five items on council’s Aug. 18 agenda, a number that Picarelli called “an extreme amount.”

“That’s what compelled me more to run,” he said. “District 3 wants fair representation. Even if it’s not me, residents of District 3 want to feel comfortable and know that the district will always have a vote.”

But Outling brushed aside the concerns, referring to the issue as “the politics of distraction.”

“None of them were substantive votes,” he said. “Four were consent agenda items, and the other that was not on the consent agenda was the second part of approving a contract.”

Each council meeting includes a “consent agenda” of items that city staff expects council will pass unanimously all at once without discussion in order to streamline the process, though council members can pull items off the agenda for discussion or a separate vote.

Last week’s council meeting wasn’t the first time Outling recused himself from a vote, and it likely won’t be the last. But that’s partly because he takes “a very conservative view on the issue,” recusing himself to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest.

Outling said his approach is in line with his own ethos and understanding of the city law, adding that there have been plenty of recusal matters for other council members in recent history and some cases where council members maybe should have recused themselves and didn’t but that nobody made a big deal out of it.

“If there is any question, I recuse myself,” he said. “I’m not looking to duck votes, but I have no interest in doing anything that’s not right. My focus is on doing things the right way and getting things done.”


  1. Please explain why the redistricting vote conflict of interest wasn’t covered in this article.

    If you are backing Outling, just come out and say so, but don’t misrepresent the most important vote of the controversy.

    Mr. Outling was advocating for the lawsuit before the closed door session while his firm was still ‘advising’, and you don’t mention it, to the detriment of Picarrelli.

  2. It’s also my understanding Nancy Vaughan is a big Outling supporter.

    She got Tom Phillips out and Justin in.

    They met some months ago on it.
    Justin Outling @JustinOutling 15h15 hours ago
    Mayor @VaughanNancy,councilmember @abuzuaiter and I met w/ united guaranty’s leadership to discuss (cont.) #soGSO #VoteOutling

    Justin Outling @JustinOutling 15h15 hours ago
    (Continued) business, the special things that are happening downtown and attracting and retaining professionals. Great things are happening
    You guys think it’s cool for Outling and Vaughan to mess with a candidate’s boss?ding

  3. Really now? Picarelli wants fair representation for District 3? Humpf!!! Should he be elected, I don’t see how he considers himself “fair representation,” when he himself doesn’t even know the make-up of his district. Does he realizes that there are minorities that live in District 3? Does he recognizes that District 3 is no longer a Republican stronghold? Has he ever gone to Gateway Plaza and speak to the senior citizens who reside there, and see how the city government can assist these residents? (Knowing that 80% of the residents there are African American.) Let’s see how fair his representation will bring about the changes he claims he can make.

  4. I’m in D3 and undecided, but this is a serious consideration and one that I don’t think Mr. Outling quite understands. It’s not that I question whether or not he might do something inappropriate, it is about the adequacy of representation he can provide to voters in D3 in certain circumstances.

    Imagine this: There is some dispute between some citizens in D3 and city staff. Discussions and mediation fail and the citizens of D3 sue. If the City hires Mr. Outling’s firm, as they have in the past, he can no longer represent the citizens of D3 in matters concerning the suit, such as whether to settle. The citizens of D3 might regret that. City staff might even intentionally choose Mr. Outling’s firm to quarantine D3’s elected voice from the discussion.

    That is the scenario I would like to hear Mr. Outling address; not whether he recognizes when to recuse himself and not that his recusals to date have been for small matters, but how he expects the voters of D3 to accept a possible lack of representation on important matters.

  5. It doesn’t look like Ginsburg is going to ask legitimate questions, just the one’s which serve what appears to be his already decided position as to who he wants to win.

    Cecilia Thompson must be proud.

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