Durham City Council member under investigation for allegedly extorting developer

Durham City Council member Monique Holsey-Hyman is under law enforcement investigation after a developer reported an extortion attempt, the mayor said Thursday.

The council member, appointed less than a year ago, also is accused of using city staffers for campaign work, she acknowledged.

Holsey-Hyman denied the accusations and left in tears as a shouting match between two other council members erupted behind closed doors.

What are the accusations?

Mayor Elaine O’Neal, at a Thursday afternoon work session, read a statement by City Attorney Kimberly Rehberg that did not include the accused council member’s name.

“A property developer reported to city staff that a sitting City Council member had suggested to the developer that support will be given for the developer’s project in exchange for a contribution to the council member’s election campaign,” O’Neal read.

Holsey-Hyman was identified after the statement by another council member.

READ MORE: Who is Monique Holsey-Hyman? What we know about her history & the investigation

O’Neal said the matter will be referred to state law enforcement.

“We do not currently have an investigation,” a spokesperson for the State Bureau of Education emailed Thursday afternoon.

Monique Holsey-Hyman
Monique Holsey-Hyman

Holsey-Hyman read a statement defending herself shortly after the disclosure, but declined to speak with reporters after the meeting.

She did not directly address that accusation.

“For the past 10 months, I have been a servant leader. I have been a colleague to my staff, to my City Council. I have actively listened and advocated and placed the residents of Durham at the forefront of all my decisions,” Holsey-Hyman said, adding that she planned to continue her service.

In the statement, she said she has been accused by colleagues of using staff for campaign work, accusations she denied.

The accusation around involving city staff in campaign work centers on three matters, according to Holsey-Hyman:

  • A September incident in which Holsey-Hyman asked a city staffer to research PACs and other matters deemed campaign related.

  • A January conversation with a city staffer about working on her campaign should she run for reelection this year.

  • A March incident in which that staffer sent an invite to a non-work event during work hours.

“The incident to my knowledge was addressed with the staff member, her supervisor and myself,” Holsey-Hyman said of the first matter.

Regarding the second incident, Holsey-Hyman said the staffer volunteered and was granted permission by HR. She said the staffer signed a statement taking responsibility for the March incident.

Council member Jillian Johnson introduced a censure resolution that will be voted upon April 3.

“This crosses the line for me into an actual ethical violation that is documented and needs to be responded to,” Johnson said.

Shouting match inside City Hall

O’Neal hugged Holsey-Hyman, who was masked and in tears, at the end of the meeting.

As they walked toward the public exit, Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton and council member DeDreana Freeman took the non-public exit, a heated conversation between the two escalating into a shouting match out of sight.

“I’m so (expletive) done with you,” Freeman said. “This is how you treat Black women.”

The mayor quickly veered into their room, attempting to quiet them down.

“She listens to you,” Middleton said.

“She can speak for her (expletive) self,” Freeman said. “I’m done with this (expletive). ... You are so full of (expletive).”

Freeman had called Middleton a bully during the meeting when he refuted the idea that Holsey-Hyman was targeted because she was a woman.

‘Incredibly disturbing’

Council members agreed the accusations were “incredibly disturbing” and “may constitute criminal activity,” O’Neal said in the statement.

Holsey-Hyman is up for re-election this year. So are O’Neal, Johnson and Javiera Caballero. The filing period begins in July.

Holsey-Hyman moved to Durham in 2006, but hails from the South Bronx, New York.

She teaches social work classes at N.C. Central University and Walden University and is on the board of the Durham County Department of Social Services.

“I think it’s a slander on my character because I don’t dance to the drummer’s beat that people want me to dance to,” Holsey-Hyman said.

She was unanimously appointed in May when Charlie Reece resigned to move abroad.

Holsey-Hyman spoke with Caballero on the stairs outside the chambers.

“If I knew that this is the way the council functions, I would never have put my name in the hat,” Holsey-Hyman told her.