The 2021 election season started early and raised its ugly head at the Greensboro City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
At the end of the meeting, Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter went after Councilmember Justin Outling for what she said was a violation of campaign law.
Outling announced he was running for mayor on Dec. 17, 2020, and since then there has been some back and forth between Mayor Nancy Vaughan, who has not announced she is running for reelection, but clearly intends to run. It is also a poorly kept secret that Abuzuaiter would like to run for mayor.
So, it was not surprising when at the end of the meeting during council comments, Abuzuaiter accused an unnamed councilmember of violating campaign laws by having city employees participate in his political campaign.
In particular what Abuzuaiter was complaining about was the fact that the city issued a press release about “Java with Justin,” an event Outling has been holding once a month for years.
Before COVID-19, “Java with Justin” was held at the Dolce Aroma coffee shop on North Elm Street. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, Outling has been holding “Java with Justin” virtually on his personal Facebook page at www.facebook.com/JOutling/
Although it is his personal and not his campaign page, there is an “Outling for Mayor” graphic at the top of the page. Outling’s campaign page can be found here: voteoutling.com.
Abuzuaiter said, “We cannot have city employees do any work for us. There is a press release that went out when you click on the link it goes directly to that employees campaign page.”
She added, “I just want us all to be careful any kind of link we put in a press release should not go to our campaign pages.”
Outling responded, “I should disclose and be clear, as all of you know I have monthly office hours, get togethers, and I’ve been doing them for very many years. I make mention of them at nearly every one of these meetings. The fact that it links to that page as it has in the past doesn’t somehow magically convert that to a campaign page or using a city employee for campaign purposes.”
Outling said that he had discussed it with the city legal department and added, “But obviously if the city attorney or some lawyer disagrees that analysis could be addressed,”
Abuzuaiter said, “The issue is having a link in there going to a campaign page.”
Outling said, “It’s been going to same place it’s gone for over two years.”
Abuzuaiter continually said that the link went to Outling’s campaign page but, as noted above, Outling’s campaign page has a different address and is a different site.
It’s early in the campaign season and this kind of behavior is only going to get worse.