Wilmington council wants city to learn from Foxtail concert controversy

Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory said they will use the 6 hours of testimony taken yesterday during a special committee meeting to look for ways to better govern the city in the future.

Mayor Dennis Williams will also receive the testimony to determine how to handle the errors that were made in the execution of “Foxtail Fest,” a concert held last month on the city’s riverfront.

“With respect to human errors, the mayor has to address that as personnel matters, with respect to system errors, we at city council will look at legislation and the policies and it’s our job to enhance the legislation.”

The controversy stems over the involvement of Velda Jones-Potter, the city’s former chief strategy advisor. Jones-Potter was removed from her position last week by Mayor Dennis Williams after claims that she used her high-ranking position to help provide city resources for the festival which was co-organized by her son.

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During Monday’s meeting, Jones-Potter maintained that she attended planning meetings and helped facilitate the development of the event as a private citizen.

“I made every effort to try to be very transparent and clear and so I took vacation when I attended the meetings that I attended so I could operate as a private citizen, as a mother and in support of my son and his team,” explained Jones-Potter. “Further as I came into each meeting, identified to the people there that I was there not in my capacity at all with the city, that I was a private citizen and supporting Foxtail Fest.”

Gregory said testimony from other city officials suggested Jones-Potter blurred the lines between private citizen and public figure, whether intended or not.

“I do believe that Ms. Potter made some missteps along the way that some others subordinate to her also made some missteps, unfortunately public officials are held to certain levels of professionalism and those missteps warrant that actions be taken,” said Gregory.

City Solicitor Michael Migliore explained that the code of ethical conduct for city employees specifically states “that no appointed city officer or city employee shall utilize the influence of her office or position for personal gain or to unduly influence the behavior of others.”

Cost the city thousands:

Council claims the for-profit event cost city tax payers more than $18,000 in city resources, the bulk of the total was for the 20 Wilmington police officers that staffed the event.

Jones-Potter said throughout the planning of the event, Foxtail Fest organizers were prepared to pay entirely for their own private security however security plans have to be approved by the Wilmington Police Department and the department wanted armed officers.

It was decided that Foxtail Fest would hire the officers through the WPD and a sign-up sheet was made available to officers who wanted to work the event as overtime.

Two days before the event, Jones-Potter said it was revealed that only one officer had signed up. At the risk of having to cancel the event, Jones-Potter called the mayor’s office, as a private citizen, and explained to the mayor what was going on.

The mayor called for a special meeting later that day to figure out the problem, according to Jones-Potter.

Event organizers attended the emergency meeting with Wilmington Police inspectors Bobby Cummings and Victor Ayala along with the mayor’s chief of staff, John Mutlusky and his assistant, Charlotte Barnes. Jones-Potter said it was decided at that meeting that Foxtail Fest was to hire 15 private security guards and the city would assign five police officers to cover the event.

She said she was “surprised” to see reports a few days following the event which claimed 20 officers were deployed to the festival and called Inspector Cummings to clarify.

Jones-Potter said she was told the 20 officers were not just deployed to Foxtail Fest, but were on duty to rotate throughout all of the events at the riverfront including Taste of the Riverfront, the Home Show and the Hispanic Festival which were also going on that weekend.

It’s still unclear exactly who ordered the officers to Foxtail Fest. Citizens protesting Velda’s dismissal packed the council chambers for Monday’s meetings displaying signs that read “Who ordered the police? Velda didn’t.” and “Mayor man up!”

Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams was not present during the meeting but his office released a statement saying: “Mayor Williams recognizes City Council’s effort to do their due diligence in researching this matter. Issues involving fairness, integrity and the public trust are significant for all of city government. It is important that the city moves forward free of distraction, in order to execute Mayor Williams and city council’s shared goals of economic, neighborhood and youth development.”

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