Durham City Council member accused of extorting a developer, ethics violations

A Durham City Council member was accused of allegedly attempting to extort a developer and misusing city staff for campaign work at the council’s Thursday work session. The two actions are separate and unrelated. 

Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal read a statement prepared by City Attorney Kimberly Rehberg that described the reported extortion attempt. O’Neal’s statement did not initially reveal the accused council member’s name. However, another city council member identified Holsey-Hyman as the accused member and other council members have since confirmed the identification.

“A property developer reported to city staff that a sitting City Council member had suggested to the developer that support will be given for the developer’s project in exchange for a contribution to the council member’s election campaign,” O’Neal read.

Council members agreed the accusations were “incredibly disturbing” and “may constitute criminal activity and could lead to criminal consequences,” O’Neal said in the statement.

The mayor said the matter will be investigated by state law enforcement. The council is preparing a formal report to provide to law enforcement.

Holsey-Hyman is also being accused of various counts of ethical violations, according to a resolution to censure the councilwoman “for her conduct and condemns her actions as not meeting the standards expected of members of the City Council and leaders of the City of Durham.” The council will vote on it on April 3.

In a statement after the disclosure, Holsey-Hyman denied these allegations. She did not directly address the extortion accusation.

According to WRAL, council member Jillian Johnson said, “We have a very high bar. We have a very high threshold for taking this kind of action.”

Per the resolution, there are three situations the council has concerns about, which Holsey-Hyman described in more detail. 

“The incident to my knowledge was addressed with the staff member, her supervisor and myself,” Holsey-Hyman said of a September 2022 matter in which she told the council she asked a staffer to research PACS and other campaign related matters.

Considering a January 2023 conversation with a city staffer about working for her campaign if she chose to run, Holsey-Hyman claimed the staffer volunteered and HR granted them permission. 

She added that the staffer in question took responsibility for a third incident in which they distributed invitations to a non-work event during work hours. 

“I think it’s a slander on my character because I don’t dance to the drummer’s beat that people want me to dance to,” Holsey-Hyman said in regards to the censure.

Chaos in the chamber

As O’Neal and Holsey-Hyman walked towards the exit of the chambers, Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton and council member DeDreana Freeman opted for the non-public exit, and a heated conversation escalated into a shouting match between the two.

According to a video from WRAL, Freeman said, “I’m so f—— done with you … This is how you treat Black women.”

The News & Observer reported that Freeman called Middleton a bully when he refuted the notion that Holsey-Hyman was targeted because she is a woman.

After the incident, Middleton told Sarah Krueger of WRAL that the expletives in the video were not coming from him. “At NO time did I use any expletives during that exchange,” he wrote in a message to her.

Holsey-Hyman was unanimously appointed in May 2022 following Charlie Reece’s resignation because he was moving abroad. She is up for reelection this fall, along with O’Neal, Johnson and Javiera Caballero. The candidate filing period begins in July. 

Kathryn Thomas profile
Kathryn Thomas | News Editor

Kathryn Thomas is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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