Sen. Michael Lee avoids questions about complaint

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) —  Republican State Senator Michael Lee says an ethics complaint filed against him is intended to distract voters ahead of election day, and he does not want to answer questions about it.

Both supporters and critics of Sen. Lee attended a news conference at the New Hanover County Government Center this afternoon, where Lee denied allegations he used his public office for private gain.

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“This is a complaint that comes a week before a crucial election. It’s despicable. It’s nothing but a stunt, and has everything to do with the election and nothing to do with my practice of law,” said Lee.

Former New Hanover County Republican Party Chair William Shell, one of the men who filed the complaint, says this is not a stunt, and has nothing to do with lee’s Democratic opponent Harper Peterson.

“I’m going to call him out, it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re a democrat, a republican, or an independent. I’m an independent now,” said Shell.

The complaint alleges that Lee, an attorney, represents developers before local governmental boards and commissions that “cannot afford to cross a local senator.”

It lists a number of examples, including the Galleria project, The Landing on Lewis Creek, and the Avenue off Military Cutoff, which Shell opposed.

“The developer, was represented by a very fine firm. He ran into trouble, and he called on Michael Lee, who was senator at that point, and then they pushed it through,” said Shell.

We asked Sen. Lee about what kind of conflict his work might create as a lawmaker. He read a statement from Wilmington mayor Bill Saffo defending him.

After the news conference, one man stood up and yelled “He stood in front of the American flag, the North Carolina flag, and the New Hanover County and spread more lies.”

We reached out to Lee’s challenger in next week’s election, Harper Peterson, for his response.

He also did not want to answer questions on camera.

He sent us this statement: “For months now I’ve been aware that there are many citizens in New Hanover County concerned about Senator Lee’s business dealings with developers.
Our campaign was just made aware of this complaint in the past few days.
I think it is important to note that the complaint is made by a former New Hanover County GOP Chair and an independent voter.
I trust voters to decide what to make of this complaint and I trust our State Ethics Board to get to the bottom of this.”

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo released a statement saying: “Let me state unequivocally, this accusation is untrue. Let me reiterate, Michael Lee has never pressured me to vote in any particular way. While at times Senator Lee and I have had policy disagreements, I can say that it has been my experience that he has kept his position in the legal community and his role in the North Carolina General Assembly separate.”

New Hanover County Commission Chair Woody White sent a statement saying: “The complaint is meritless and false, and by being filed a week before an election, should be a signal to the voters in this county of what is really going on here. From time to time we vote for and against, items of great interest to our community. Sometimes people are happy about the votes we take and other times they are not. But even though false things are said against public officials, more often these days, it is shameful that this type of thing is happening in our community and against a good person like Michael Lee, a week before an election.”