Corruption in the city government is a behavioral consequence of power and greed. Generally, even with a rulebook against it, corruption is covert, opportunistic, repetitive, powerful, and reliant upon dominance, fear, and unspoken codes; a silent threat. The findings of the State Auditor’s report underscore the behavioral consequences of corruption and the use of fear to achieve personal gain at the expense of taxpayers. Sadly, deceit was at play in the hands of the previous Mayor and the entire City Council of Rocky Mount. I say the entire City Council because while some members benefited from the corruption the others looked away. Thus, complicit by their silence.

On a basic level, we all understand the importance of voting for those we believe in. We hope they will represent our best interests in all city matters. In actuality, we have no real way of knowing what they engage in behind closed doors. Will they fairly represent us when it comes to what is best for our street, our neighborhood, and our city? In simple terms–we elect those we believe in, trust, and HOPE they will do what is right.

This scandal involves numerous city officials and council members who disregarded our HOPE and our Trust to do that, which is Right. Unfortunately, there are greater consequences that accompany this betrayal.

Once a state audit occurs, the finding validated, and charges entered against the perpetrators, seismic effects are felt in the city. Generally, these come in waves starting at a local level of distrust in the city government and city officials, the reluctance of banks to fund redevelopment projects, and the careful accounting of all existing and previous grants involving the private foundation, state, and federal funds. Moreover, the city will be put on both a written and an unspoken watch list that all foundations, state, and federal funding agencies are aware of. In short, the city’s creditworthiness will come into question. As a result, obtaining funds will become more difficult, and more questions will be asked—remarkably similar to an individual having a bad credit report—the city will face intensified scrutiny until it cleans up its act.

The state audit is not about race. It is about accounting practices and cronyism. It is about breaking the rules and the trust of voters and taxpayers. Moreover, it is about North Carolina’s State Auditor Ms. Beth A. Wood doing her job in an unbiased and professional way in response to over 200 complaints. It is an embarrassment for Rocky Mount that Ms. Wood has been called a racist in print in spite of her CAREFUL and PRUDENT investigation. This outrageous mistake is rather like watching a bear in a cage get angry after it has been poked with a stick.

Main Street is proud of North Carolina’s State Auditor for doing her job in a productive and professional manner. It was predictable, however, that the cry of racism would be raised in order to discredit Ms. Wood’s investigation while obfuscating the truth over a myriad of crimes. A line in the sand is drawn. The idea that wrong is wrong is one side of the equation. The other is an unwritten rule that if you are black you do not call out another black man or woman. Now we have a perfect example of ‘being between a rock and a hard place.’  What does one do? Only when everyone is brave enough to call something WRONG regardless of who is at fault can the reality of corruption be irradicated. The quicker these matters are attended too, the harsh scrutiny we deserve will come to an end and the Rocky Mount world can spin once again on the right axis.

This piece has been written in collaboration with a mentor from the world of urban planning who knows a lot about this kind of “stuff.”  This duet confirms what I believe: Alone we know so little, but together we know so much.




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:
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  1. jleewest says:

    One of the reasons we left the Rocky Mount area was the corruption in the government and never ending racial issues. Time to grow up.


  2. Randy Adcox says:

    Great commentary as usual Stepheny. Always enjoy reading your blog and hearing your perspective on the various topics regarding our beloved city. Thank you for so succinctly stating what so many of us are feeling and thinking.
    Have a great day!


  3. Craig Bone says:

    Thank you for this excellent article.


  4. Arnette Jones says:

    This was great reading!! I totally & wholeheartedly praise the
    points you made. We must proceed in this great city to handle
    the ones who have broken trusts and laws. They must be punished.
    Not only is this wrong but other towns are watching! We can’t
    be the town the criminals make an example out of!! I love this
    town. I dont want it known as the town where all that stuff
    was done and they got away with it!! Please protect the fair hard
    Working citizens!!


  5. Jan says:

    Aww Ms, Stepneny This blog should put you right up there on the list with our famed state auditor. Ms. Wood did a mighty fine job as you always do. Maybe one day we will all be free of this silent nightmare. What is done in the dark will surely come to light in the day!!!


  6. I would like to weigh in on the “silence is being complicit” concept. It is truly unfortunate that good people with good intentions sometimes end up in an awkward position in the interest of “getting along.” I have a story to tell you. Many years ago, Councilman James Hubbard worked with our Girl Scout troop to request marked crosswalks across Jeffreys Road in Northgreen, where the golf carts, and children on foot and on bicycles, cross this increasingly busy road. The girls requested to be on the agenda, prepared their presentation, and attended, in uniform, a City Council meeting. (Learning civic action at its finest!) Many years later, I am still proud of them, every time I see someone slow down at those crosswalks.
    …but Jim Hubbard taught me something that day, too. He said, “You know we have to get along with everyone on the City Council to get our votes approved. When we make this request for Northgreen, there is another council person that will ask me about adding some crosswalks in their neighborhood, too, to keep things equal.” He will tell me that he will vote for this, if I will vote for that. That’s how it works on City Council to get things approved.” And it happened just the way he predicted.
    Mr. Hubbard is now deceased, but today I thought of his words as we puzzle over how City Council members could stay silent. I don’t think it takes a lot of imagination to see how it happened. Over the years, there are those who are worn out with the fear of retribution if they dare to call out their fellow council members on misdeeds. The threats & accusations of being called a ‘racist’ are hurtful, and an effective weapon…and confronting them about it is a guarantee that you’ll never get their vote for anything.
    Bravo to our State Auditor for standing up to our bullies. Thank you for doing what we could not.


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