Company is Coming! Thoughts About The City Council and Our Downtown

   “You cannot score a goal when you are sitting on the bench. To do so,                                  you have to dress up and enter the game.”

I would never want the positive attitude of this blog to change.  I am, after all, a Pollyanna at heart: everything is beautiful, in its own way. But this quotation has caught my attention and I have taken it seriously. Though this post may be viewed as controversial, I hope you agree that we can talk about problems from time to time. Let’s begin by acknowledging that everyone who grew up in and around Rocky Mount has a story to tell about their memories of going downtown with Grandma to pick up her prescriptions, or buying ‘back to school clothes’ at Belks or having a soda at the drugstore. That was then.

I have thought about Main Street and the Event Center like a brand new sparkling red barn sitting adjacent to a faded, neglected farmhouse. Something seems bass-ackward about this scene in spite of the barns usefulness and addition to the community. With the opening of the barn doors, we have company coming to town. Looking at Main Street through the eyes of these strangers, I say, “Lordy, Lordy, what are they going to think of us with so many of our downtown commercial buildings looking awful? We have SO MUCH to be proud of, but will our guests see the beautifully restored Train Station, Bus Station, Imperial Center, the Douglas Block, and Streetscape or understand the investment and creativity that is at work at The Mill, and in our new downtown businesses? Or, will they take home the picture of Main Street with many peeling facades, boarded up, with broken glass and vegetation growing out of cracks in the bricks?

We like to blame others for the neglected farmhouse, but the truth is, it’s all of our faults put together! We have allowed our leadership to remain in place year after year who won’t enforce codes or make policies, to keep our beautiful commercial buildings and historic neighborhoods from further deterioration.  We seem so hesitant to demand what as taxpayers we should expect. It reminds me of Harry Potter and The One Who Shall Not Be Named syndrome.

Often our efforts with the City Council, when criticized or questioned, get derailed by derogatory name-calling: telling someone they are a racist seems to work well. This appears to be the fallback accusation when the state of things are brought to the attention of the Council who can offer no justification for why Main Street languishes. I would say the word  ‘ticked’ comes to mind when we learned that the taxpayers have just paid thousands of dollars to send newly hired people off for training. We look at each other and ask, “Why are we not hiring people in the first place that come to us with the appropriate educational background and laudable credentials that make them ready to ‘have at it’ on day one?” What leadership, with our best interests in mind, keeps spending thousands of dollars on parades rather than using that money to start stabilizing facades along Main Street or fix a block of houses in terrible disrepair? We don’t need more low-income housing, we need to clean up and save what we have and turn neglected homes into neighborhoods to be proud of again.

We don’t expect or want city government to fix everything, but we need leadership to care more for the city than a tightly guarded power base, we the taxpayers, are continually having to quarrel with. It is not fair to suggest, and I’m not, that nothing good has been accomplished, but honestly, folks, since no one is irreplaceable, term limits should be put on the ballot. After all, if something like a 3 term limit of say 2 years each isn’t enough time to accomplish the job,  you get what we’ve got.

 

I would love to read your comments left below.

About Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin

Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
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19 Responses to Company is Coming! Thoughts About The City Council and Our Downtown

  1. KDMiller says:

    If I understand correctly, the properties in disrepair downtown are privately owned,
    and the City has no fiscal responsibility for them other than to enforce code issues, etc.
    I wonder if pics of the properties were published with owners names beside them,
    owners might be shamed into making repairs or improvements. Just a thought. It might
    be that the owners have reasons for letting the properties go/remain in disrepair. If so.
    I’d like to hear them.

    Like

    • I appreciate your thoughts here! Enforcing the codes could take care of so many of the problems. Absentee owners who may have inherited the building from Mamma and Daddy may not want to sell, but won’t save it either. Local owners are getting a free pass around go and they aren’t being penalized either. Thanks for this suggestion of pictures and owners names as another way to work this out. this is what we need, some creative thinking/ideas. THANK YOU!

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  2. Thanks, Margie, for leaving a comment. I want our new shiny red barn to be the best darn barn that ever was. We’ve got it and the day will come when the problems around it are solved and we will be claiming it was the best dang idea ever. I believe in naming the problems and figuring it out. We can walk and chew gum at the same time by addressing Term Limits and building a needed garage and anything else that must be addressed. Talk it up with friends and neighbors. And thanks for keeping me company on the blog.

    Like

  3. Alby Anderson says:

    Well said Stephanie

    Like

  4. Jeanne Ratchford says:

    I could not agree with you more Stepheny and appreciate every one of your blogs. I have Yhank you for caring.

    I only been in Rocky Mount a few years and continue to try to remain optimistic that change is coming to RM but to be frank …I am lately feeling discouraged.
    This is a summary of my observations of RM. I moved here from a well run city.

    1. Rocky Mount has many wonderful people of manyraces and it is time to embrace our diversity and move forward on the cleanup.
    2. Cleanup of our town and also of our city government, several who I believe are very self-serving … is desperately needed. I am tired of city council members playing the race card to intimidate and get re-elected. Ironically I told a fellow worker today that I feel like I have gone backwards in time since I have come to Rocky Mount. Alienating the residents against each other is how they continue to be re-elected. Term limits is the answer.
    3. Hiring competent city staff with the right experience would be another improvement. I find it laughable that a city of this size needs two assistant city managers and then our “very experienced”?? new city manager asks for a third assistant because she had to work long hours. Seriously?
    4. It is time for city council to hold each other accountable for improper behavior such as a council member’s family purchasing a church for $10 that just happened to be next to thae new Event Center. One has to ask if such outright ethical breach is ignored by the city and council because they too have something to hide??? Something does not smell right.
    5. People are becoming more and more disgruntled with our city government. The only way we will ever have good government in Rocky Mount is when our elected leaders can work together for common goals. Does not seem possible with our current leadership.

    Once again, thank you for continuing to care and writing the blogs. We need more people like you to go to council meetings and hold them accountable. Let me know any way I can help get out the term limit message to constituents.

    Like

    • Thank you, Jeanne, for your useful thoughts which have added to the discussion of City Government here in Rocky Mount. I will definitely ask for your help after finding out how many signatures we have to have to get Term Limits on the ballot. We may have missed a deadline for Nov. but hold the thought. I appreciate that you enjoy the blog.

      Like

  5. AK2NC says:

    You got it on the nosey, Stepheny!

    I must say thanks for the one common-sense council member, W.B. Bullock, who has always been a true advocate for the citizens of this city. I’m glad he’s been joined by Rev. Richard Joyner, who has been a tremendous source for good in so many areas of the community. Now if we can just get more folks like them on the council asap!

    Along with term limits, the ridiculously high pay of the council members needs to be addressed. In addition, the policies, procedures, and regulations of the city council (and all city officials and departments) should be easily accessible to the public on the city’s website.

    Like

    • I was at the Council meeting the night Mr. Joyner was seated. The enthusiasm and support shown for him that night was fantastic. He is a breath of fresh air that the community is counting on. We have got to turn the ‘if only’ more good people like him would run into they have ‘run and won.’ THANK YOU for joining me on Main Street and leaving this helpful comment to the discussion.

      Like

  6. pwarner4 says:

    AMEN!

    Like

  7. Sarah Williams says:

    Spot on, Stepheny!

    Like

  8. Rodd says:

    Applause–for your honesty and directness Stepheny. The facts that you have written are true and well known to those in power. I also believe they are well known to those who own the buildings–lets’s face it many of them are our neighbors, people we go to church with and see at the grocery store. There is something very disturbing about this arrangement between our city government as a whole, the elected officials and the “people” who own the downtown. Perhaps it has to do with keeping the buildings as they are to avoid increased taxes? Perhaps, keeping the buildings derelict hides some other motive? To be certain something wrong is afoot!

    The people we have elected to govern our city–hire people or appoint people like themselves (birds of a feather flock together). If your motivation is to become elected to appoint and hire those of the same feather–then is it not true that you have an agenda to benefit yourself? Yes, of course it is. This then explains why these people use words like racism, bigot, Yankee, outsider, troublemaker–it cloaks their motives in distracting and devise language. The agenda being to remove the suspicion from them. The game plan of these people creates a toxic environment where we are prevented from asking pointed questions of CERTAIN people, given 3 mere minutes to discuss complex problems they do not like and do not answer anyway and where employees are forced to lie to the tax payers who ask questions.

    In the end we all know what happens to “birds of a feather who flock and stick together.”

    Don’t we?

    Like

    • Thanks for this reflection. I keep thinking of all the graduate programs turning out well-qualified people year after year looking for jobs in City Planning etc. I agree that rather than filling our city government with the people/needs identified, we get more birds of a feather that don’t bring the expertise we need but only more of the same. Like Sherlock Holmes says, the games afoot now for a change. I appreciate your experience in these matters and helping to articulate the case. Thank you.

      Like

  9. howiebob says:

    Rocky Mount needed to elect a “maverick” who will root out the entrenched deep state politicians.
    W who will make us proud of the “City on the Rise”.

    Like

    • Years ago at a conference in Charleston, the luncheon speaker was their mayor who was key in the preservation efforts and new direction. I thought at the time if the country could only clone this man with his enthusiasm and energy and obvious leadership skills, what a difference it would make in a place like Rocky Mount. If it takes a maverick, it might work if it means self-interests would go away and making a lasting difference in our story. Thanks for weighing in on the subject.

      Like

  10. howiebob says:

    Ricky Mount needed to elect a “maverick” who will root out the entrenched deep state politicians.
    Someone who will make us proud of the “City on the Rise”.

    Like

  11. Margie Pate says:

    I agree with you totally. I think this every time
    I go downtown. What will people think of us when we put the Event Center
    In such a run down place. I also hope people will not be caught by the trains while trying to find a parking space when the lot is full!!!
    Race has NO place in our city council and it is there.

    Andre Knight needs to move the church he bought knowing where the event center was going to be located ahead of us tax paying citizens because he is on the city council.

    Like

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