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Charlotte councilman James 'Smuggie' Mitchell resigns

His resignation comes after some questions were raised about conflicts of interest with a new job.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The annual strategy meeting for Charlotte city leaders began Monday with the news that councilman James 'Smuggie' Mitchell is resigning.

Mitchell's resignation, effective at 5 p.m. Monday, comes after he recently took a new role as president of RJ Leeper Construction firm.  Several questions were raised about whether that job was a conflict of interest with his role on council.

"I have determined, this is the best -- in the interest of me, the company and the city, that I step aside from my position today," he said as he made the accouchement to his council colleagues. 

When his new role was announced, he fell under scrutiny for potential future contracts the city could make with the firm he would lead while also being an elected official in the city. 

Charlotte City Council members gave Mitchell a standing ovation and thanked him for his years of service to the city. 

"I have to say, his commitment to good paying jobs, and a strong workforce in this community, it exceptional," Mayor Vi Lyles said in part. 

"What a way to kick off an annual strategy meeting," City Manager Marcus Jones said during the meeting. 

Councilman Mitchell spent 14 years representing District 2 before losing in a mayoral primary to former Mayor Patrick Cannon, then winning an at-large seat.  

His new role at RJ Leeper will focus on development in Charlotte. With his large footprint and connections in the Charlotte area, it remains to be seen how many contracts his new firm gets with the city in the future.

However, he doesn't believe he will receive preferential treatment on future bids with the city. 

"No I hope council would do what they always do," he said. "To vote for that company -- vote yes for that company that checks the list of credible, great performance."

Previously, Mitchell had offered to recuse himself from any votes involving RJ Leeper Construction, but according to state law, that is not enough to avoid a conflict of interest.  

Mitchell maintains that his Vice President at RJ Leeper will handle any future bids or deals with the City of Charlotte. 

Mitchell was a determined leader of economic development in Charlotte, leading the Workforce and Business Development Committee. 

He helped bring jobs, and spur economic booms for the Queen City throughout his 20 years serving as a councilman. 

From helping to bring the Democratic National Convention to town, to the Republican National Convention, to securing the CIAA Tournament for Uptown, to his efforts in keeping the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte -- he had a hand in it all. 

"I love this city probably more than I did myself," he said. 

He is most proud of Northlake Mall, which Mitchell helped bring to north Charlotte. 

"When I was a District 2 representative, we did not have a regional mall and a lot of developers said on the 'black side of town' -- the worst that you could do is tell me no, and I'll get it done," he said. 

Another one of his memorable accomplishments was getting an Uptown street named after Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Mitchell said he regrets the how he responded in the wake of the killing of Keith Lamont Scott, who was shot and killed by a CMPD officer in 2016. 

"I did not handle that very well," he said. 

Another one of his regrets was the loss of the CIAA Tournament years after he helped secure it's first contract with the city. 

Mitchell said he's excited for the journey ahead, and will miss serving and helping people the most. 

Charlotte City Council will search for a replacement to Mitchell's seat. They will determine the process for how the vacancy will be filled, according to City Attorney Patrick Baker, and will have the ultimate vote. 

After a vote and being sworn in, the replacement will serve until the election in November. 

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