Knightdale Councilman financially tied to town-contracted company

aspecht@newsobserver.comSeptember 27, 2013 

Mike Chalk

PAUL A. SPECHT - ASPECHT@NEWSOBS

— Councilman Mike Chalk is financially linked to a company that Knightdale pays for landscaping services, but Chalk and company employees insist he doesn’t profit from the relationship – which would be a violation of the town’s ethics policy.

Contact information for Chalk and his wife appears on the contract between Knightdale and Carolina Landscape Services, the company Town Council hired in 2006 after it offered the lowest bid to mow the median on Knightdale Boulevard. After a reporter asked Chalk about the contract, the councilman acknowledged that he offers financial support to the company, which employs his son, Kyle Chalk. Mike Chalk also said he occasionally lets the company use his box truck.

“But I do not profit financially in any way,” Chalk said in an interview at Town Hall. “… In fact, I’m in the hole with them.”

Knightdale has paid Carolina Landscape Services more than $321,500 since hiring the company in 2006.

After a reporter asked to review his tax records and those of Carolina Landscape Services, Chalk disclosed personal checks dating to May 2012 that showed several instances where Chalk paid for maintenance to Carolina Landscape vehicles. Chalk said the company occasionally needs help, and the checks showed several repayments to Chalk. But as of Sept. 18, the company owed Chalk about $3,400, the councilman said.

“I’m not even asking for anything back,” Chalk said, adding that his financial involvement “is something any parent would do for their kid.”

“Of course I’m gonna help them out if they need it,” he said.

While Chalk’s admitted involvement with the company doesn’t break the law or violate Knightdale’s ethics code, experts in government ethics and transparency say the financial tie raises questions for taxpayers. Town Council meeting minutes show Chalk didn’t disclose his ties to Carolina Landscape Services – or that his son worked for the company – when the council discussed and voted to approve the contract on June 21, 2006.

Passing ‘the smell test’

“He may not necessarily be doing anything wrong, but the sooner you look like you’re trying to hide something, it’s a problem,” said Jane Pinsky, director of the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

Mitch Kokai, director of communications for the John Locke Foundation, added: “It raises a red flag and certainly doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Also, the contact information included in the Carolina Landscape Services contract doesn’t belong to David Jackson, who signed the contract and is listed as owner of the company.

The phone number belongs to Kyle Chalk, the email address belongs to Mike Chalk’s wife, Barbara, and the fax number is registered to Mike Chalk.

In separate interviews, Jackson, Chalk and his son, Kyle, said they were unaware that the contract includes contact information for the councilman or his wife.

“I have no clue why it’s there,” Mike Chalk said.

No documents were ever sent to or received from Mike Chalk’s fax number and no town employee has ever sent or received an email from Barbara Chalk’s account, according to Brian Bowman, Knightdale’s public information officer.

Jackson speculated that he likely included Mike Chalk’s fax number and Barbara Chalk’s email address because they may have been “the only ones we had at the time.” He said he wrote Kyle Chalk’s phone number on the contract – and not his own – because he knew the councilman’s son would likely handle most inquiries from the town.

Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen said he isn’t bothered by the contract or Chalk’s involvement with the company and doesn’t believe it merits an investigation from the town attorney, who investigates ethics violations.

“Maybe if I felt like he was giving us the run-around, but he’s not,” Killen said. “From what I’ve seen, money is outflowing from father to son.”

“If it were the other way around, I’d be concerned,” he added.

In the spotlight before

This isn’t Chalk’s first time at the center of an ethics debate. Last year, Pinsky called for the councilman to recuse himself from his position as chair of the Budget Committee because Chalk’s other son, Jay, works as an athletic supervisor in the Knightdale Parks and Recreation department. Councilman Chalk stayed on the committee.

This time, Pinsky and others are calling for Councilman Chalk to address his relationship with Carolina Landscape Services on the campaign trail. Chalk, a council member since 1995, is one of four candidates running for three seats on Knightdale Town Council.

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, which advocates for government transparency, suggested voters may assume “something nefarious is going on” because they’re likely unaware of Chalk’s relationship with the landscaping company.

“In cases like this, perception is as much of a problem as an actual violation,” Phillips said. “When a potential conflict of interest is found after the fact, the damage is done.”

 

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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