Pittsboro Commissioner questioned on potential conflict of interest

Posted 11/1/19

PITTSBORO — Pittsboro Commissioner John Bonitz has come under fire recently over a contract between the town of Pittsboro and the company for which he works, N.C. Clean Energy Center, as fellow …

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Pittsboro Commissioner questioned on potential conflict of interest

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PITTSBORO — Pittsboro Commissioner John Bonitz has come under fire recently over a contract between the town of Pittsboro and the company for which he works, N.C. Clean Energy Center, as fellow commissioners and at least one other elected official have expressed concerns over his conduct in the matter.

During a September 9 meeting, the board was slated to vote on a consent agenda — items that are generally considered “non-controversial” and are passed by a single vote without discussion — that included a $2,900 contract with N.C. Clean Energy. The contract was not included in the agenda packet for the item to be voted on, an amendment to the budget for Pittsboro’s new town hall to include improvements to water and sewer as well as services for an environmentally sustainable building, which included the solar analysis and LEED commissioning services.

Prior to the vote, Bonitz told fellow commissioners he received a text that his children were sick and that he had to leave almost immediately upon the start of the meeting prior to any vote on the agenda. Bonitz returned to the meeting at 7:55 p.m., according to the minutes.

The proposal was originally brought up by Bonitz at a March 11 meeting during the “commissioner concerns” portion of the meeting. During the March discussion, Bonitz noted that there was a proposal for the board to consider for an analysis on solar energy at the new town hall, which is currently in the development stage. Neither during the September 9 meeting nor during a March 11 meeting did Bonitz mention his connection to the company.

Bonitz told the News + Record he didn’t mention his connection to the company because “the proposal came from a different team” and said it was “completely unrelated” to his work. He said he consulted with the town attorney Paul Messick about the issue, but there is no written record of that discussion or one with the board, and Bonitz added he had prepared a statement for the September meeting on the item but “received an urgent text” and was unable to share it with the board.

Commissioner Michael Fiocco told the News + Record on Monday he was unaware that the proposal was offered by Bonitz’s employer and that the contract is not in any of his “files from the meeting” in March. In addition, Fiocco noted that during the September meeting, there was no documentation or admission about the company’s involvement on the consent item and if he did he “would have pulled it from the consent agenda for a discussion on the merits and wisdom of contracting with the organization for which a board member is employed,” and would have also “inquired if other proposals had been solicited and/or received.”

Commissioner Bett Wilson Foley told the News + Record on Monday she doesn’t “recall the specifics” of those meetings, but believed that Bonitz’s desire to have the contract with his employer approved did not stem from an interest in personal gain, given his passion for “green energy” and being a “strong advocate for energy-efficient lighting in the Town” and “making the new Town Hall LEED certified.”

This potential conflict was perhaps amplified after Bonitz was confronted at the previous meeting of the Pittsboro Board of Commissioner for comments he’s made about other candidates and board members — for instance, in which he noted that he had “no moneyed interest” in the development in Pittsboro and that none of his friends were “in any position to get rich.” These comments were coupled with a piece of political literature distributed by the political action committee Pittsboro for the People which accused some fellow commissioners of “giving Chatham Park whatever it wants” and “rubber stamp” Chatham Park votes. The flier was criticized by one of the people who received the endorsement of the PAC, candidate Kyle Shipp, who later made several statements noting he wasn’t running for office in tandem with any other candidate and that he was inherently against “negative” campaigning.

This situation was still on Fiocco’s mind in a recent interview with the News + Record.

“I was present at the NAACP forum when Commissioner Bonitz stated a distinction in his qualifications to serve was he had no ‘moneyed interest’ in the growth of the Town,” Fiocco said. “He subsequently explained in a board meeting he had no intention of impugning the reputation of any current board member or candidate. I urged him to take more care with his statements. I’m simply shocked Commissioner Bonitz did not make it known that his employer was associated with a proposal to contract with the town.”

The issue was also noted on a recent post on the online forum the Chatham Chatlist, where Chatham County Commissioner Jim Crawford weighed in.

“He eludes the transaction, hopes for no detection, rides on his distrust of others gaining him a cosmic get-by,” Crawford wrote of Bonitz. “The price of his piety in this instance is high.”

Fiocco brought up the issue again at Monday night’s regular board meeting during the “commissioner concerns” segment. Bonitz noted during that discussion on Monday that he had a prepared statement, but was called away before presenting it during the September meeting. Fiocco noted that Bonitz didn’t provide the statement upon his return that night nor anytime since. Fiocco said that if Bonitz had a prepared statement then he must have been aware that something was required or appropriate, but failed to deliver it at any time on the night of the September meeting or anytime thereafter.

Bonitz said he had taken “great offense” at these insinuations, with Pittsboro Mayor Cindy Perry asking why this was being brought up at this time. Commissioner Jay Farrell commented that he was “caught” in these negative campaigns, noting that Bonitz had been explicit in public forums that he had nothing to gain — and yet Farrell had no idea that Bonitz’s employer had received this contract, noting “this is where this is coming from.” Mayor Pro-Tem Pamela Baldwin noted that it would be important for the board to be informed of these types of situations moving forward. Bonitz said he “regretted” that the board felt blindsided about this information.

Listen to the 16-minute discussion the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners had on the subject.

Reporter Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.


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Sheila Beaudry

Bonitz's employer is a non-profit state agency and the small contract was for a different part of the agency than the part he works for. He makes no extra money from this contract. This is a political hit job by folks who want Chatham Park to get whatever they want. The Sierra Club endorsed him because they know that he cares for the people of the town and the environment. Don't let them lead you to a wrong conclusion about an honorable man. If you want someone who will stick up for the citizens of Pittsboro and the water they drink and the air they breathe while supporting small businesses, vote for John Bonitz. Don't let big business interests mislead you.

Saturday, November 2, 2019