Kannapolis lawmakers react to Hartsell inquiry

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2013

KANNAPOLIS – State Senator Fletcher Hartsell has long represented the people of Kannapolis.
The new Cabarrus Health Alliance facility, dedicated last year, bears his name, and Hartsell has been praised for his staunch support of the nearby North Carolina Research Campus.
Following news reports this weekend that raised questions local officials an official with the state Board of Elections confirmed that an audit will be conducted to learn more details about how Hartsell’s campaign used funds raised during the 2012 election.
Financial reports from his campaign showed nearly $100,000 in payments on at least 10 credit cards during 2011 and 2012.
The 12-term Republican state senator ran unopposed for his seat in last year’s election. He represents District 36 in Cabarrus and Union counties.
During the campaign, Hartsell told the Raleigh News & Observer, he was still required to travel.
“I will concede that it sounds like a lot of money. It is a lot of money,” Hartsell told the Raleigh News & Observer. “That’s the nature of the beast sometimes.”
According to an Associated Press report, deputy elections director Kim Strach confirmed Saturday that her office is auditing Hartsell’s campaign.
Hartsell’s campaign reports did not itemize the expenses in question, instead giving general descriptions, such as “unreimbursed meals” and “travel.”
Hartsell was quoted as saying that he believes the spending was for expenses related to official business – for which spending campaign money is typically allows.
He was also quoted as saying he would make good any improper spending that was discovered.
The Post could not reach Hartsell for comment before press time.
But Monday, in the wake of media reports, members of the Kannapolis City Council voiced their support for Hartsell.
“Fletcher has been a friend of mine for quite some time,” said Councilman Roger Haas, speaking by phone after Monday’s council meeting.
Haas, a Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church in Kannapolis, said Hartsell is “one of (his) pupils.”
Haas said he read reports in the media over the weekend, and said he was sure that an investigation would find that record-keeping errors were to blame.
“I have known him to always be ethical,” Haas said.
“I have full confidence in Fletcher, and in what he’s done, not only for Kannapolis but statewide. In my opinion, we’re very lucky to have him representing us.”
Councilman Tom Kincaid said he “just can’t imagine” Hartsell making a false report intentionally.
“I mean, he’s an attorney, he’s been in office a long time,” Kincaid said.
Kincaid went on to call Hartsell “an outstanding advocate for Kannapolis,” noting how he has campaigned strongly for state support of the N.C. Research Campus and other initiatives.
Likewise, Councilman Darrell Hinnant said, “I’ve always known Fletcher Hartsell to be a straightforward, ethical guy.”
Hinnant said that he hadn’t had a chance to read the news reports on the issue, but added, “I would be very surprised if there was any wrongdoing going on,” Hinnant said.
Mayor Pro Tem Gene McCombs also said he wasn’t familiar with the situation, but was quick to praise him in similar words.
“I’ve always found Fletcher to be an extremely honorable man,” McCombs said. “I’ll certainly give him the benefit of the doubt.”
According to the News & Observer, Hartsell signed the campaign reports himself, and Strach said it’s possible that Hartsell did not understand that an itemized list was required.
At the same time, Strach said there were “enough questions” raised by the reports to open an inquiry.
It was unclear how long that auditing process will take.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.