Mt. Vernon mayor taps defense attorney for inspector general post
The mayor of Mount Vernon has tapped his criminal defense attorney to be the new inspector general for the city in a move that was immediately met with skepticism by members of the City Council.
When Mayor Richard Thomas was arrested back in March, attorney Charles Knapp was by his side. Knapp, a former federal prosecutor, served as an unpaid legal advisor to Thomas. On Friday, Thomas announced that Knapp was being appointed to serve as the city’s top watchdog.
The inspector general is tasked with rooting out corruption at City Hall and enforcing quality control among the three branches of government.
"We need some help to make sure our government moves in the right direction and goes after the right issue," Thomas says.
But three senior members of the City Council say they believe the mayor hiring his personal lawyer is a blatant conflict of interest.
"How can you investigate the people who appoint you?" asks Councilwoman Lisa Copeland.
"I believe he's here to change the narrative and to actively investigate everybody that doesn't agree with the mayor. We understand what this is all about," Councilman Andre Wallace says.
Clinton Young was the last mayor to appoint an inspector general, who was accused of being the mayor's pit bull. That inspector general left the office when the council defunded his position.
The budget doesn't currently include any money to pay Knapp's salary, and City Council members say they will not likely include funding for the inspector general in the 2019 budget. But that doesn't appear to pose a problem for Knapp.
"Whether or not I'm paid, I'm in this for the long haul," Knapp says.