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.”