MATTHEWS – Four days after WSOC-TV reported on Commissioner Barbara Dement getting fined $1,000 for late campaign finance reports, she turned in two years worth of paperwork to the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections.
Dement filed seven campaign finance reports Oct. 28 dating back to 2017. Two of them were amended reports that she had previously filed in October 2017 and January 2018. The other reports detail donations she had received since January 2018.
Dement donated $26.80 to her campaign in June 2018 and another $2,500 in April 2019. She collected $2,100 in contributions in October 2019 from four people, including $1,000 from developer Garry Smith on Oct. 16.
From the beginning
When Dement filed paperwork to launch her first commissioner campaign July 28, 2017, she intended to spend less than $1,000. Three months later, she had exceeded that threshold.
By then, she had raised $4,753.78 for her campaign, including $3,403.78 of her own money. She also accepted donations from seven people, including $500 from Smith on Aug. 2, 2017.
The last campaign finance report on record for Dement prior to this past week was filed on Jan. 26, 2018, which included two donations from individuals totaling $125, as well as $150 from former N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho’s campaign committee.
Smith, of BrookeChase Properties, filed paperwork with the town in May 2018 to rezone 2.4 acres off South Trade Street to allow for 13 houses. Town staff introduced the project to commissioners in August 2018.
Mark Tofano, who lived next door to the project, was among residents expressing concern over it.
That same month, WSOC-TV reported that Mayor Paul Bailey, as well as commissioners Chris Melton, Kress Query and John Urban had received $500 campaign contributions from Smith. The report did not mention Smith’s $500 donation to Dement’s campaign in August 2017.
Commissioners approved the project with conditions on Nov. 12, 2018, by a 4-3 vote. Bailey, Dement, Query and Urban voted in favor.
Dement said during that meeting that the proposal submitted by BrookeChase Properties aligned with downtown plans and if it wasn’t approved, then the next proposal may be much worse for the town, according to minutes.
“She said each decision that comes before the board needs to be weighed diligently and thoughtfully, as short-term decisions have long-term consequences,” according to the minutes. “She spoke against making decisions based on emotions and against conspiracy theories and the vilification of a fine man such as Mr. Smith. She asked the public to be more socially responsible in the future and stated that everyone on the board cares about the town and is all part of the same team as the citizenry.”
Commissioner John Higdon, who did not support the project, said during his remarks that Smith had been vilified to some extent and was an honorable man and good developer.
In recent weeks
During the Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly’s election forum on Oct. 10, Dement was asked at what point should commissioners disclose if a petitioner has donated to one’s political campaign.
Dement replied that candidates were required to submit campaign finance reports, which are public record. She said developers have a right to donate to a candidate’s campaign like anyone else.
“Just because someone makes a contribution, I think it’s very unfair to insinuate that they are being bought off,” she said at the forum. “I don’t think anyone on this board has ever been bought off by anyone, and I can’t imagine that they would be.”
When asked the same question, Tofano mentioned the idea of putting campaign contributions on the town’s website.
“As a matter of fact, we have sitting incumbent commissioners that haven’t filed financial reports for the board of elections yet for this election cycle,” Tofano said. “So if they are not even reporting to the board of elections, how are the citizens even going to know about what their campaign contributions were?”
Commissioner candidate Gina Hoover then cited a WBTV report that said one commissioner had not filed a mid-year and year-end report for 2018.
WSOC-TV interviewed Dement for a story that aired Oct. 24 about her missing finance reports. Dement mentioned her husband’s unexpected passing, which happened in July 2017, and a desire to make sure the forms were accurate.
The news station also reported that the public and media were not allowed in a candidate forum held later that evening at Plantation Estates. Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly was aware of the forum through candidates, but the retirement community had not invited our newspaper to cover the event. Dement, who works at Plantation Estates, told WSOC that the event wasn’t public and denied a role in turning people away.