MONROE — Monroe City Council voted 4-2 in favor of starting the process of a hearing that could remove Councilwoman Angelia James. The vote took place during council’s regular meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 8); it’s also known as a petition in amotion.
The evening began with a presentation from Martin Starnes and Associates, who audited the City of Monroe’s 2021 financial statements. At the end of the presentation, the floor was open to councilmembers to ask questions or have discussion.
Councilwoman James proceeded to ask Elsa Watts from Martin Starnes about a contract between the City of Monroe and Mayor Pro-Tem Marion Holloway, who was just elected as mayor of Monroe. James alleged the contract was illegal and a conflict of interest. James said she spoke with her own attorney and alleged that Shah-Khan misled Holloway into that contract. James also said she reached out to the UNC School of Government at the LGC about the contract asking if it was legal.
James asked Holloway if he would resign because of the contract and Monroe City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan about a petition in amotion. James then said: “I guess we can talk about it when we get to item 24.” Item 24 on council’s agenda was a resolution to start a petition in amotion. This would start a process of organizing a hearing that could remove James from council. The petition in amotion does not remove James from council.
Shah-Khan explained the contract to a large audience in attendance at the meeting. Holloway owns Holloway’s Music Center in Monroe, and his company and the City of Monroe had a contract to replace an old mixer with a new one. The old mixer was installed around 2009. Shah-Khan referenced General Statute 14-234.
Shah-Khan said James has been questioning the contract since October of 2020, to which he provided her with a written opinion on why the contract was legal. He knew James had reached out to the School of Government and the LGC and said when she gave her interpretation of the contract to the organizations, it “lacked context” and his written opinion.
“While there is an attempt to suggest there is any impropriety on behalf of mayor-elect Holloway, that’s not correct or legal advice that is questionable from my office that is also not correct,” Shah-Khan said at the meeting, “I would note that for everyone listening this is not what Councilmember James suggests it is and the council is aware of that as well because we’ve advised council of this previously.”
James refuted Shah-Khan’s explanation and continued to allege that the contract was illegal.
Shah-Khan said had there been a legal issue or a violation with the contract, it would have already been handled. “I think it is unfair to mayor-elect Holloway that councilmember James has waited a whole year and a month to even raise this in this public forum before this council before his swearing in as mayor,” he said.
James explained why she communicated with her attorney, the School of Government and the LGC. Getting legal advice, she said, is what councilmembers do. “If we can’t trust our attorney (referring to Shah-Khan) to tell us the truth then what else do we have left?”
James said she attempted to resolve the perceived issue but her efforts, being unsuccessful, resulted in communicating with outside sources.
James claimed that the amotion was in “retaliation” for her discovering the contract and making it public.
The meeting then transitioned into a public comment period where several people spoke in support of James and the work she has done in the community and for kids. Mayor Bobby Kilgore then moved item 24 from the bottom of the agenda to right after the public comment period.
Councilmember Franco McGee requested to be recused from the vote because he may not be on council by the time of the hearing, which could happen in either December or January. McGee was not re-elected to council on Nov. 2. Shah-Khan told McGee that because the amotion was not about his official conduct, he could not recuse himself. Should he choose to not vote, it would be an automatic “yes” vote on the petition to amotion. McGee asked council to excuse him from the vote.
The petition to amotion follows a string of incidents involving James’ conduct starting on Sept. 9, when police were called to remove her from a hotel in Monroe. James claimed God told her there was a murderer in the building. She then attempted to fire, demote and promote city police officers including trying to terminate Police Chief Bryan Gilliard over the phone. She also refused to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19; however, she claimed at the meeting that she never received a positive test.
The petition was voted on by current councilmembers, but a vote taken at the hearing will include newly elected members of council — Gary Anderson, Julie Thompson and James Kerr who will assume office on Dec. 13. Should council, at the hearing, vote to remove James then council would choose James’ replacement to serve the remainder of her term until 2023.
Councilwoman Surluta Anthony provided a comment about the petition, describing the situation with James as “stressful” and “disturbing” for her.
“It has turned into a circus,” Anthony said. She also said she does not “condone” James’ actions, but also believes council is setting a “dangerous precedent.” Anthony believes the current council should be the ones present at the hearing because they have served with James, unlike the incoming councilmembers. She said there are “no winners” in this situation, only the City of Monroe loses.
Councilmember Freddie Gordon shared his opinion, which was that James has mostly been unapologetic about her actions with the exception of an apology given during a virtual council meeting when she was censured on Sept. 28.
“Councilmember James refuses to be accountable or take responsibility for her actions,” Gordon said. “… Instead of showing any remorse councilmember James used social media to demand that her supporters come in today to speak to council so that we are not having this control over our city.” Gordon became audibly emotional when reading the motion council voted on to start the process of a petition to amotion.
Mayor Kilgore and Mayor Pro-Tem Holloway voted for the petition as well as councilmembers Keziah and Gordon. Councilwomen Anthony and James voted against. McGee was excused from the vote.