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

Councilman Ernest 'Trippi' Congo. 

Wilmington City Council president-elect Trippi Congo's attempt to be re-established as a Second District councilmember was rejected in a split vote of council Wednesday.

Congo told WDEL in a July 23 interview that he had moved from the 2nd District to the 8th, he had served on council for 12 years representing the 2nd before being removed from office a week later.

City charter requires council members to be residents of their district, except for at-large members, who can live anywhere in the city.

Wednesday's vote was a question on whether the WDEL interview and an email sent to his councilmembers stating he was going to move back into the district was enough evidence to say he had forfeited his seat.

The vote went 5 yes, 4 no, 2 present (Yes: Christofer Johnson, Bud Freel, Ciro Adams, Loretta Walsh, Hanifa Shabazz, No: Vash Turner, Yolanda McCoy, Rysheema Dixon, Sam Guy, Present: Linda Gray, Michelle Harlee, Absent: Zanthia Oliver).

In his defense at Wednesday's hearing, Congo contradicted a statement from the July 23 WDEL interview.

"I've always maintained residency in the second district for the whole 12 years, for the entire 12 years I've been on council, and I think that matters," is what Congo said Wednesday.

In July, when asked if and where he was planning on moving if elected council president, which he ended up winning, he suggested something different.

"To the 8th District, I live there now; I live in the 8th District now. I just moved."

Christofer Johnson voted to affirm Congo's continued dismissal.

"We have rules that are in place for a reason, and this doesn't take much interpretation just looking at the rules on what's required to establish you're a resident. It's unfortunate that this happened, a mistake that hopefully future council people learn, and we don't make that mistake in the future, but ignorance of the law is not an excuse, even in the real world."

Vash Turner voted against keeping Congo off of council, citing a process violation when asking a question to Councilman Freel, who was leading the meeting.

"We need to put legislation up to see who stripped him of his rights. You or council president, somebody stripped him of his rights. If it wasn't you two, that means the administration gave the okay to personally to strip him of his rights as a council member before his due process. We should launch an investigation into that."

Turner, Freel, and Shabazz will all be exiting council. Turner lost a race for city treasurer, Freel didn't run for re-election, and Shabazz lost to Congo in the City Council president race.

Linda Gray and Michelle Harlee both decided not to vote on the measure, with Gray again voicing a concern with the process of Shabazz removing Congo before the issue came before council.

"As far as I'm concerned, our president unilaterally charged councilman Congo, convicted him, and sentenced him. I know no place in the United States from my legal background where there is no type of due process. In the charter, as Councilman Freel read, council is the only determinant of removing a councilman from his position. We really don't have a lot of evidence, we really don't have a lot of statements, we just have actions that have been done. Based on my background of criminal justice and judicial, I can't be part of this. We're trying to fix something that was totally messed up to begin with, done I don't want to say illegal, but done without the proper progress. It is the process that is flawed, and because of that, I cannot be a part of this."

Shabazz said she was simply following city charter.

Congo said he was hoping council wouldn't be so strict in its interpretation of the charter.

"I know what the charter read, and I've never ran from, I never hid from, my actions. I took action to correct my actions, but I never changed my residency. Hopefully those intentions mean something to council."

Ultimately, it wasn't enough, and Congo will need to wait for the next season before rejoining council, as its president.