WDEL Exclusive: Wilmington website lists councilman as owing $15K in utility bills, he says he was unaware

Councilman Ernest 'Trippi' Congo. 

Trippi Congo has requested a hearing to determine whether he is eligible to serve as City Councilman in Wilmington's Second District.

Congo told WDEL last month he recently moved from the 2nd District, where he is a three-term councilman, to the 8th, prompting him to receive an official notice that his seat was being vacated, which is in line with the city's charter.

City code requires council persons to be residents of their district for their entire term or face forfeiture and, ultimately, the seat will be vacant. 

Congo's name was not brought up during a roll call of Wilmington City Council Thursday night, but the 13th spot was not mentioned as being vacant.

The agenda for the Thursday, September 3 meeting of council includes one item of legislative business, a resolution to authorize an investigation on Congo's qualifications that would lead to a public hearing on an unspecified date.

Council members did discuss the subject during their communications at the end of the meeting, with Shabazz saying Congo initially decided not to fight the ruling, but then changed his mind.

"There are actions moving forward to afford him. If I had moved forward with that resolution and we had certified, per the charter, to say that the seat is certified vacated by the resolution of charter, he would not have that opportunity."

Councilman Sam Guy questioned how Shabazz could have sent the vacating letter to Congo without consulting city council first.

"President Shabazz must have held a city council meeting of one person during city council summer break in July. The requirements associated with city council forfeiture of office issues must occur during a meeting of city council. Therefore, the unilateral meeting by [President] Hanifa Shabazz is ultra vires, and the decisions reached were reached in a manner contrary to the Freedom of Information Act requirements regarding open meetings. The issue of residency has not been address by us, and we are the sole judge.“

Guy said he has filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint with the attorney general’s office over the removal process.

Shabazz said council plans to follow the charter, which she said has been done thus far.

"The sole judgement of council is to show that he is still qualified to maintain that seat, and that will be done properly, per the charter, and I welcome the attorney general to get involved, I welcome it."

Loretta Walsh questioned Congo's change of heart.

"The arrogance of the council member who is missing to turn this whole issue around and blame it on everybody but himself, he who was giving a radio interview and said 'oh, by the way, I moved out of my district.’ Nobody set him up, nobody followed him home, nobody did anything."

The potential investigation over Congo's status on city council comes as Congo is set to battle Shabazz in the September primary for council president. They are scheduled to take part in a virtual town hall on Tuesday hosted by the Wilmington Democrats and moderated by WDEL.

Congo, who did not return a request for comment Thursday night, told WDEL in July this situation wasn't going to stop his election hopes.

"Even if I don't get back on council, I completely understand, but I'm still going to run for president."