Possible conflict of interest being investigated in Lowell, NC

Judith Zeng

The house in question recently sold well below its assessed value to Lowell’s public works director. A city council member is now renting the home.

LOWELL, N.C. — UPDATE: Less than two hours after WCNC Charlotte published this story, Lowell City Manager Scott Attaway announced the completion of his internal investigation. In an email to WCNC Charlotte, the city manager said he found no wrongdoing.

“I have investigated the concerns raised in this matter as they relate to a City of Lowell employee possibly receiving a gift or favor in connection with a real estate sale, and with a contractor the City of Lowell uses for mechanic work possibly using a gift or favor to influence City contracting,” Attaway said. “As City Manager I have the duty to investigate any concerns or proposed violations of the City’s personnel policy. The City has spoken to the individuals involved and communicated with other parties with regard to the specifics of the sale, the condition of the property, and the value paid and received. We have analyzed the law, statements of the individuals, and other information received. We have found no evidence of wrongdoing under our personnel policy. Additionally, we have not found any evidence that the contractor improperly attempted to influence City contracting. The investigation has now been completed. We will continue to cooperate as allowed by law with any other agencies that may choose to investigate this matter and we continue to take these concerns with utmost seriousness.”

The original story continues below. 

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The recent sale of a Gaston County home — linked to a Charlotte-area company, public works director and city council member — is raising concerns about a potential conflict of interest. In response to WCNC Charlotte’s questions, the City of Lowell has opened an internal investigation.

At the heart of the internal investigation is the August sale of a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath, 2,000 square-foot home. Public records show Lowell Public Works Director Thomas Shrewsbury bought the home, assessed at $195,650, for $150,000 from Angela Greth.

Gaston County property records show six other homes on the same street sold for anywhere from $221,000 to $250,000 over the last year.

“The house needed $50,000 to $60,000 of work,” Greth said. “Numbers on a piece of paper don’t tell a whole story.”

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Greth owns the heavy equipment diesel repair company AG Mechanical, which invoices show Shrewsbury has billed nearly $30,000 since 2020 to do work for the city.

“That’s less than 3% of my gross receipts,” she said. “We’re not getting rich off of the City of Lowell.”

Greth said the short sale of her home was all the result of her desire to move out of the neighborhood as soon as possible following years of what she calls continuous harassment by her neighbors and the homeowners association. 

“I went to four different agencies before going to Mr. Shrewsbury,” Greth said.

“What makes you think, ‘I should go to the public works director?'” WCNC Charlotte asked her.

“Because he has a business doing that,” her husband Don Greth said. “(Shrewsbury) owns like 20 to 30 houses already.”

“He didn’t set the price,” Angela Greth said. “I set the price.”

With a deal closed, the husband and wife say they moved on, but then City Councilman Phil Bonham and his family started renting the house.

“See, that was his own damn fault,” Don Greth said. “That’s stupid.”

Bonham, whose vote is critical for every city department’s annual budget, told WCNC Charlotte he signed a lease and is paying the public works director, his landlord, fair market value; an undisclosed amount. The council member declined an on-camera interview.

“There is no conflict whatsoever,” Bonham said.

Bonham said questions about this property are all politically motivated by his new neighbor and recent election opponent Larry Simonds.

“I lost,” Simmonds said. “Thirty-five votes. That’s OK.”

WCNC Charlotte is always asking “where’s the money?” If you need help, reach out to the Defenders team by emailing [email protected].

“Is this sour grapes?” WCNC Charlotte asked him.

“Absolutely not. It’s not sour grapes,” Simonds said. “It’s just sad for the city.”

Simonds is convinced there is a conflict of interest.

“To me, it raises a lot of questions,” he said.

Outgoing City Council Member Shane Robinson, who did not run for re-election, said he’s also asked questions.

“I voiced my concerns,” Robinson said. “It sure puts yourself in a position that makes it look like you’re doing something.”

Kathryn Edwards Bentley is voicing concerns too.

“I’m not happy. I don’t think it’s right,” she said. “To me, it’s a big conflict of interest.”

Before confirming an internal investigation, City Manager Scott Attaway said the public works director forwards all repair invoices to the finance director for approval. Documents Attaway shared in response to WCNC Charlotte’s public records request identified AG Mechanical’s rates as the most affordable in town.

“The City of Lowell is aware of an allegation of a perceived conflict of interest and/or other issues with respect to this transaction,” Attaway told WCNC Charlotte. “This matter is under investigation, and I am not in a position to comment on any specifics concerning pending investigations at this time. I appreciate your interest in this issue and we will continue to review this matter in a manner consistent with our code of ethics, the trust that citizens have in us, and fairness to all parties involved.”

In a statement released Monday afternoon, the public works director admitted, he is the one who decides when the city should use AG Mechanical, but told WCNC Charlotte he has not violated any laws or personnel policies.

“Nothing I have done violates any laws or personnel policies with my employer,” Shrewsbury’s statement said in part. “It was a simple real estate transaction between two people that know each other in another capacity. I received the info about a house for sale from a mechanical contractor that does work for Lowell on occasion. He does not have a contract with Lowell and is only called on when I feel like it is in the City of Lowell’s best interest. I have never used my position to operate in an illegal or unethical fashion and I did not do so with the purchase of (the home).”

Shrewsbury said he is also the one who reached out to the council member about renting the home, knowing Bonham and his family needed a place to live. The city official said it’s public knowledge he and wife began buying investment properties before he started working for the city.

“I have worked in local government for 26 years and 19 of those have been with the City of Lowell,” Shrewsbury said. “I have a great deal of respect for the position I hold and the community that I work for. I fully intend to serve the citizens of Lowell until I reach retirement age or am no longer needed. I have never been reprimanded by any of my employers for anything and have never been charged with a crime in any state I have lived.”

Angela Greth describes the real estate deal as nothing more than a couple run out of the neighborhood looking for the short sale of a home in need of expensive repairs.

“There is no quid pro quo,” Greth said. “There was no favoritism given to us. There was no extra work given to us.”

“Did you ever think, ‘Should I really be selling this house to the person that recommends the town do business with me?'” WCNC Charlotte asked.

“I didn’t look at it from that perspective,” Angela Greth said.

“You didn’t think this may seem odd to people in the community?” WCNC Charlotte asked.

“No, because he has a bunch of rentals,” Don Greth said. “If they’re going to pay me what I want, it’s really none of your business who buys it.”

Shrewsbury responded to WCNC Charlotte’s inquiries with the following statement: 

“My name is Thomas Shrewsbury and as reluctant as I am to be drug into the drama created by Larry Simonds that takes place every two years, I feel the need to defend my character and set the story straight.

I have worked in local government for 26 years and 19 of those have been with the City of Lowell. I have a great deal of respect for the position I hold and the community that I work for. I fully intend to serve the citizens of Lowell until I reach retirement age or am no longer needed. I have never been reprimanded by any of my employers for anything and have never been charged with a crime in any state I have lived.

My wife and I began buying investment properties before my coming to work in Lowell. This has never been a secret from any of the manager’s, councils, or coworkers I have worked with throughout my career.

Mr. Simonds would attempt to have people believe there was something shady about the purchase. There is absolutely no Truth to that, and this was no more than a typical real estate transaction.

AG Mechanical do work for the City of Lowell because they are very good mechanics and provide us priority service that not everyone can match, and they do this at a great price. Don Greth mentioned to me while working on a tractor owned by the City of Lowell that he was selling his house and leaving Lowell. We talked a little about why he was doing this and what his future were. I ask don if he had already sold the house and when he it and when he was planning to move. He told me that he was talking to some people and had some offers but had not decided on which to take. I ask don what he was asking for the house, and he told me he wanted to get $150,000 for it. I told don that I didn’t think he would have an issue selling at that price. Don told me the place needed work that he didn’t feel like fooling with and he wanted a quick sale. Nothing else was said about the house and we both went our separate ways.

Two days later I called and ask don if he had found a buyer yet and he told me he had not reached any agreements and was still looking for offers. I ask if I could see the house. I did not know what offers Don and Angie had received or who they had received them from. After looking at the house and considering the extent of repairs needed and what I thought it would cost me, I told Don and Angie that I would be willing to pay the $150,000 as is and complete all repairs myself. As added leverage I offered a three-week closing would not require an appraisal, inspection, or survey. Don and Angie accepted the offer I had made. I sent the terms of our agreement to my attorney to start the process.

It was several days later I had heard that Phil Bonham was needing to find a rental home for his family. I contacted Mr. Bohnam and told him that I had a contract and that is when we began talking about him moving into the home.

Nothing I have done violates any laws or personnel policies with my employer. It was a simple real estate transaction between two people that know each other in another capacity. I received the info about a house for sale from a mechanical contractor that does work for Lowell on occasion. He does not have a contract with Lowell and is only called on when I feel like it is in the City of Lowell’s best interest. I have never used my position to operate in an illegal or unethical fashion and I did not do so with the purchase.”

Contact Nate Morabito at [email protected] and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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