Majority Vote and City Manager Strike Again

Once again, we are presented with a fait accompli. I often imagine Mr. Knight, Mr. Blackwell, and the City Manager, staying up all night to come up with things like a revised development agency. You see, we need this. Never mind the plan in the drawer, bought and paid for, forget the kicked to the curb Main Street Program that requires accountability and record-keeping. Who needs the input from the hard-working and dedicated Downtown Merchants Association or the Central City Revitalization?   It’s too  sensible to bring the downtown investors and business owners into the mix.

For years, the “My Will Be Done Agenda” has gotten away with bending the regulatory role of government to line their pockets and to take care of their cronies. In their wisdom, they let roofs fall to the floor, ignored the broken glass windows, and the peeling paint on the boarded-up facades. This new agency has been birthed in greed to maintain control over Main Street. These same people with a new scheme left the historic downtown’s significant commercial architecture to disintegrate. Now they require a new agency and hire to do their bidding. 

The only plans they ever have are the ones that cost the taxpayers, involve grants they finagle, or a project they believe will benefit them personally.  We had plans that didn’t suit the “My Will Be Done” agenda. The typical treatment Chris Miller received in voicing her objections before the 4-3 vote comes from those who have conflict of interest and have lost their right to make decsions on behalf of the community.

Believe me, this new agency doesn’t care about the collective buildings on Main Street, that bear witness to the past and are the future. “It connects us in time and space to those who went before us even as it represents our legacy to those who come after.” Blair Kamin – Chicago Tribune Architecture Critic

The ‘My Will Be Done’ plan hasn’t a clue or passion for a holistic approach to preservation, restoration, and repurposing historic downtown. I don’t underestimate the ideas of the marketplace that are positive and have gained a foothold that we must support.  We cannot contemplate the thought that once again we will be bemoaning the results after the fact.  I ask that at least, Preservation Rocky Mount, Historic Preservation Commission, Merchants Association, and Central City Revitalization discuss the responsibility we have to do what is best for Main Street despite these new efforts to control how the emerging scene continues.  

Main Street – Marked With An X And A Bottle Of Rum

Some places speak distinctly. Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain coasts are set apart for shipwrecks.               ~Robert Louis Stevenson

I’m sure you remember Treasure Island, an adventure novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.  The book influenced our perceptions of pirates, including treasure maps marked with an “X,” and one-legged seamen with a parrot on their shoulder. It was first published on 14 November 1883 by Cassell & Co.  A lovely read audio link to Chapter One. will make your heart smile.

Jim Hawkins is a young boy who lives at his parents’ Inn, Admiral Benbow, near Bristol, England, in the eighteenth century. An old sea captain named Billy Bones dies in the inn after being presented with a black spot, an official pirate verdict of guilt or judgment. When Jim and his mother unlock Billy’s sea chest, they find a logbook and a map for a treasure that the infamous pirate Captain Flint has buried on a distant island. 

When I came across the Stevenson quote above, “Some places speak distinctly…” I thought of Rocky Mount’s treasure map which has drawn upon it, Main Street and beyond. It has a distinct sense of place and story that is being preserved. The following Stevenson quote identifies those who are preserving, restoring, and repurposing significant commercial and residential architecture. It refers to the business people downtown who are apart of the new emerging scene and to the investors who have come aboard to help save our treasures.  

“We got together in a few days a company of the toughest old salts imaginable–not pretty to look at, but fellows, by their faces, of the most indomitable spirit.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

In 2020, we are contending with our own plundering pirates.  Stevenson writes in Treasure Island about the ‘pirates who sail on laden with crimes and riches.’ Those who continue to plunder the taxpayers shall have the black spot, their own verdict of guilt and judgment, turned back upon them. The decisions that continue to be made by people who pay no price for being wrong, must stop so we can get on with all the exciting possibilities drawn on our map. Seats on the City Council, city management, have their own map. It is the MY WILL BE DONE agenda that continues to steer us into turbulent seas.   For all the tough old salts uncovering our buried treasure,

“We must go on because we can’t turn back.”  Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

We Have To sing together, Ho, Ho, Ho and a bottle of rum.

Waiting For Justice To Arrive While Riding The Rocky Mount Bus

I have reached the last stages of editing my third novel.  As background information, the main character, Sarah Collins, is accepted into the highly competitive  Architectural History Program at The University of Texas in Austin. Sarah’s career is the touchstone for the story. 

Sarah adopts a Teddy Roosevelt quote for her own purposes when she talks about the first time she stood before a Double Gallery home in the Garden District of New Orleans which was to be her new home. She says, “This is where the romance of my life began.” Would you be surprised to find in the novel that I mention shotgun houses or the mismanagement of local government?  You will find mentioned the significance of historic buildings. The backdrop for the story has these elements, allowing me to create a world for one of my unlived lives. Through a shocking revelation, the second half of the book returns the reader to the Cotswold village of Burford, where #1 is set in Greening of a Heart.

In writing the Main Street Rocky Mount blog and Facebook page, I wish I had the credentials Sarah Collins acquires. If it didn’t require robbing a bank, I would apply to The Savanah School of Art and Design (SCAD), including architecture, urban design, architectural history, and historic preservation. The school is housed in historic buildings that have been repurposed. Image that! What you get is a Stepheny that grew up on the marvels of Chicago architecture. I have become a perpetual happy student who is self-taught. I love the research, the books, both fiction and non-fiction, that relate to the subjects on the blog. Last Spring, because I was researching a post I wanted to write about black architects in America, I reread Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, set in the world of architects. My new novel is partially set in New Orleans when Katrina makes landfall. I read Chris Rose’s book containing his Post-Katrina columns for the Times-Picayune. It was well written and helpful to me as I tried to fictionalize what was real.  I used a Rose quotation in the novel and need it now. 

‘As bad as it is here, it’s better than being somewhere else.’ 

Between the anxiety over the upcoming election and endlessly waiting for justice to descend upon the City Council and government, it hasn’t been easy being “green,” as Kermit says. Even the virus, a patience maker or derangement instigator, has pushed us towards the limits of “being cute.” Here in Rocky Mount, the names of the same people who have done us wrong are repeatedly spoken. We are still standing on one foot or the other while self-serving decisions are made. To say I’m impatient is an understatement, but I continue to believe the net is going to drop!

Standing on Main Street, taking in all the positive work that happens, despite ourselves, the fine people revitalizing the commercial buildings, will prevail. It has been fifteen years since Katrina (August 2005), and the work to preserve their city and culture continues. New Orleans has a Preservation Group that sets the highest bar possible.  In the novel, I tell you about the bus on Magazine Street that starts service again in October of 2005. The empty bus continues to run its route each day.  Stay on the Rocky Mount bus until the destination is reached, regardless of a bumpy ride.

This building on Sunset downtown looks across at Howard Street – Such Possibilities

An architectural gem sits deteriorating that could become the jewel it once was      Rocky Mount, NC – Ward 1

City Council: Do The Right Thing – The Taxpayers Should Not Pay For The Black Lives Matter Action Committee’s Street Mural

621 Pennsylvania Ave -Ward 1

If there is as much as $20k available for a mural, that money should NOT be given to an organization that can very well pay for their own projects. Not having this kind of money, it is easier to rely on”their guys” on the Council. The laughable bit is that if they were providing the money, I doubt the project would cost $1000.

Taxpayers do not approve of this latest scheme. Read the comments on Concerned Citizens who have far better suggestions for the use of this money. What about the house pictured above in Ward 1? There are plenty of houses in Wards 1,2,3,4 that sit boarded up and abandoned that continue to be neglected by their Councilmen. Even worse is the condition of the housing people are living in.

I will take our local Black Lives Matter Action Committee seriously when they think bigger for the community than a mural on the street. When they mentor young people who need someone to believe in the possibilities of their lives. I’ll believe the Committee when all this posturing and bluster translates to action and real help. If the September 13th City Council meeting approves as much as $20k for Mr. Blackwell’s son, rather than doing the right thing, it will be one more unforgivable decision for the “My Will Be Done” Agenda that has little to do with other black lives that do matter. Wouldn’t it be grand if for once right prevails.

Terrick Pitman and Jesse Gerstl – Speak Out – About A PLAN For Historic Downtown Rocky Mount

Terrick Pittman Remains An Advocate For Ward 1 and the Historic Downtown of Rocky Mount

FYI: Posting Mr. Pitman’s Post From Social Media

I’m glad members of the CCRP are deciding to speak out instead of taking the blame. If you take a look at the Ratio plan, which as a member of the CCRP I participated in. You will see on the front page that it was a joint effort between the City Council and the CCRP. In August of 2016 the City Council approved the request of the City Manager at the time to hire Ratio to create a Downtown plan. In November of 2017 the Council makes a motion to adopt the plan. In February of 2018 it was set for a vote that never happened due to concerns of gentrification. We touched on gentrification while crafting the plan. The Council participated heavily. Once we added changes to the plan, it then went to the Council to look over and approve those changes. We added neighborhoods they were concerned about. We expanded areas to combat gentrification they were concerned about. We held community meetings to gather input. In the end the final draft was set. Since the plan was not approved, we lost our Main Street Accreditation. Simple. We won accreditation initially because they could see we had a plan in place. To say Accreditation and Affiliation is the same thing is just plain ignorant. We wore that accreditation like a badge of honor based on the hard work we all put in. Since the plan was never approved by the Council. This has lead to the creation of a small group of individuals, friends of the Council, who have set out as rogue agents to create their own plan. The CCRP has been powerless and kept out of the loop because of a lack of meetings due to the COVID19 pandemic. They pounced on this opportunity. So to blame the CCRP for the lack of an overall plan for downtown amounts to a LIE so certain individuals on the Council can advance their own personal agendas, which includes lining their pockets, without input from the CCRP. It’s all about the money baby!#LetsGrowTogether

https://www.rockymounttelegram.com/…/article_92cc5a28-203f-…

A real estate investor told the Telegram he believes the issue regarding the revitalization of the heart of the city is not whether Rocky Mount’s Main Street program is accredited but rather the absence of a plan.

“And there has been a lack of a plan and a lack of a vision for downtown Rocky Mount for the two years that I’ve been an investor and been spending time in Rocky Mount,” Jesse Gerstl said on Friday. “I encourage the city to pass any vision or plan and set out a road map for how we can achieve that plan so that we can all work toward that goal.”

Specifically, Gerstl said he believes the lack of a definitive vision and plan, and codes and guidelines to support that vision and plan, is a hindrance to developers to know what they should be working toward.

Gerstl was commenting in the context of the state Commerce Department on July 2 saying 48 municipalities in North Carolina for 2020 have accredited Main Street programs — that is, those in the highest tier.

Rocky Mount’s Main Street program lost accreditation status after 2017 and remains an affiliate. What has been preventing Rocky Mount’s Main Street program from regaining accreditation has been the lack of a work plan, which provides details for a Main Street program’s activities.

Main Street programs seek to help transform older and historic commercial districts into vibrant areas with thriving economies.

During the City Council’s July 13 work session, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said she believes there is no fundamental proof of there being a difference between an accredited Main Street revitalization program and an affiliate.

However, Small-Toney said she favored restarting the process of a preparing a master plan for revitalizing downtown Rocky Mount.

There is an extensive draft document, completed in 2017 and known locally as the Ratio plan, which provides a long list of recommendations and ways to improve Rocky Mount’s once-proud central business district. The Ratio plan apparently never was approved by the municipal government.

Gerstl told the Telegram on Friday that regardless of whether people liked or disliked the Ratio plan, the draft document at least set out the pathway toward a vision “and something we could work toward.”

Gerstl said he believes having an accredited Main Street program would be great.

“But if the city doesn’t feel that that’s important, that’s fine,” Gerstl said. “But a plan is important.”

During the July 13 council work session, Councilman Andre Knight asked City Business Development Manager Kevin Harris who determines the work plan for Rocky Mount’s Main Street program.

Harris said the Central City Revitalization Panel.

The CCRP administers a program utilizing financial incentives to encourage improvements and preservation within the central city part of Rocky Mount.

Gertsl, who is a member of the CCRP, told the Telegram the CCRP is a volunteer citizen group that needs to be guided and managed by municipal staff.

Gerstl also said the municipality has a community and business development department whose job includes working with and getting input from the CCRP to help develop a master plan or any plan for the continued growth of downtown Rocky Mount.

Gerstl also pointed out the CCRP has not met in months. Small-Toney, in March amid the spread of the coronavirus, announced the postponement of the meetings of boards and commissions.

Gerstl, prior to the effect of COVID-19, advocated having teleconferencing so CCRP members could participate remotely in meetings and ensure there were enough members to be able to vote on items of business.

Gerstl told the Telegram on Friday that “everyone everywhere is having meetings virtually.”

Gerstl said, “I truly don’t understand why we continue to just choose not to do our work.”

In the meantime, Gerstl and his team of partners are continuing to seek a purchaser for the former Carleton House, which is in the 200 block of North Church Street and once was a motor lodge and restaurant.

The Telegram on Sept. 29 reported Gerstl and his team planned to renovate the site before deciding not to proceed with the project because he and his team have many other projects going on downtown.

Gerstl for that story also said that the former Carleton House was quite a large project and added that he believed the timing was not right.

Gerstl told the Telegram on Friday, “We’ve had a little bit of interest, but nothing concrete yet. We’re hoping to sell it as soon as possible.

“Obviously it’s not the greatest time to be selling a hotel due to the coronavirus and the current economic situation, but we’re hopeful that it will sell soon,” Gerstl said.

The list sale price for the property is $1.55 million. The property is listed online with the Mumford Co., which specializes in advising hotels, and with the Chambliss & Rabil real estate company.

Interestingly, the Ratio plan called for the former Carleton House site, once redeveloped, to be part of what would have been an event and entertainment district downtown.

How Long Is Long Enough? Andre Knight – Ward 1 (2003-2020 and Counting) – Some Ward Photographs

518 Pennsylvania – Rocky Mount NC – Ward 1

These photographs are but a sample of the state of things under this long term Councilman. Don’t you think Mr. Knight’s expiration date is past due? Here is a  treasure of historic housing with no champion to help with things like applications for incentive money that from time to time is available from the city. This is not to say that there are not bright spots in Ward 1 like the Holly Street Neighborhood Revitalization.

There are newer housing developments that have nice homes. If the residents of Ward 1 continue to elect Mr. Knight and expect a different outcome, you will continue to get what you already have. Resident Ella Clark says it better than I can. These fabulous historic buildings throughout the Ward do not make money for Mr. Knight. They need  money and  leadership to restore their significant value to the community who once loved these homes well. Nothing will change until the people of Ward 1 say, “enough is enough.”

Ella Clark Letter: I hear every day Black Lives Matter. Yes, they do.

At the present time, our Black historic buildings are being neglected. Lincoln Park Restaurant & Motel located off Leggett Road in northeast Rocky Mount is a prime example. The condition of this building is deplorable. Lincoln Park Restaurant in its prime catered to the Black middle class. The majority of the Black artists of that time were booked at this site. Lincoln Park Restaurant was also famous for its pit barbecue.

Annie W. Holland School located on Luper Street in the Little Raleigh Community was named after Annie Wealthy Holland. Annie W. Holland in 1928 was in the North Carolina Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers. It is so sad that the condition of this school has fallen into such bad repair. What happened to our dignity and self-respect? Black neighborhoods are devastated to this day.

The city will give us a ticket for not cutting our grass but they won’t even sweep the street, especially in the Black neighborhoods. Some of the dog parks are maintained better than care for some neighborhoods. The city has no concerns about the condition our neighborhood is in evidently.

It is amazing how the city has allowed Black neighborhoods to deteriorate. Are you checking to see who owns the rundown property?

We take pride in being a homeowner and keep our property up but are surrounded by the rundown property, which lowers the value of our property. Moving a statue that cannot talk or walk or see and has been in place for many years while spending money that could be used to restore running down Historic sites. Money spent, but yet where do you put the statue?

This will not solve the problem that is here in this city. From east to west, north to south, this city looks down again all the Black communities. “Black Communities Matter.” There is no honor amongst thieves. We have been robbed by our leadership and told enough to keep us happy, but we are not happy. We are angry about the money that was spent moving a statue is not solving anything when we are living in slums.

City mayor, city manager, and City Council, what are you doing besides what you want and not for the people? It is not about the color of your skin, it is how things are done and how the black community has fallen down. Who is to blame? “Black Communities Matter.”

You’re covering up instead of fixing up. How long will cover up last? That’s a question that you as leaders should ask yourselves and respect one another.

Ella Clark

Rocky Mount

Photographs by SFH -July 24, 2020 – to illustrate Ms. Clark’s letter

These are savable houses that should take priority over the usual schemes that have nothing to do with the residents of #1 who deserve desent housing.

621 Carolina Ave Rocky Mount, NC – Ward 1

630 Carolina Ave Rocky Mount NC – Ward 1

413 Virginia Rovky Mount, NC – Ward 1

635 Pennsylvania Ave Rocky Mount NC – Ward 1

Street Scene – Pennsylvania Ave Rocky Mount NC – Ward 1

621 Pennsylvania -Rocky Mount NC – Ward 1

617 Pennsylvania – Rocky Mount NC – Ward 1 (Looks like work being done)

Holly St – Rocky Mount NC -Ward 1

2 houses on Holly Street – Rocky Mount NC – Ward 1

370 Holly Street – Rocky Mount NC – Ward 1

420 Goldleaf – Rocky Mount, NC – Ward 1

500 Carolina – Rocky Mount NC – Ward 1

308 Carolina – Rocky Mount, NC – Ward 1

336 Carolina – Rocky Mount, NC – Ward 1

The Gospel According To The Majority Vote On The Council – OUR WILL BE DONE!

The current song, ‘There Is No Difference’ that is playing on the City Council music station is a clap your hands – Texas two-step – around the facts of the matter. Accreditation is Main Street America’s top prize of recognition rewarded to a local Main Street program because it has shown a commitment to the revitalization of downtown. Historic preservation is central to the Main Street Program, whose purpose is to maintain historic and traditional commercial districts as authentic places. Historic preservation involves saving, rehabilitating, and finding new uses for existing buildings, as well as intensifying the uses of the existing buildings, through building improvement projects and policy and regulatory changes that make it easier to develop property within the commercial district. Becoming eligible for this accreditation involves paperwork to document continued growth within the community.

The MY WILL church agenda does not value this significant, successful program, which is why we have lost our accreditation following the departure of John Jesso’s who did value and understood the advantages of Rocky Mount getting on board. The MY WILL church does not believe that a Rising Tide Lifts All Boats. Only the boats in Edgecombe Co. You need to know that there is a difference between Accreditation and Affiliate status. To claim the two statuses’ are the same is mistaken. Losing our accreditation has cost us. Elizabeth (Liz) H. Parham, Director, NC Main Street wrote the following e-mail when I requested her help in this matter. I’ll provide some details of the affiliate member status that has benefits of membership. It is the  exact difference between the two statuses that is important. We are no longer eligible to qualify for this difference. (I have added Bold Face for emphasis.)

“Accredited communities are eligible for occasional funding opportunities through the National Main Street Center, that are only available to accredited communities, such as the National Park Service Main Street Façade Improvement Grant program that Lenoir, Elkin, and Elizabeth City received – $46,000 each for façade improvements in downtown; the Grills Fund for COVID recovery initiatives, that New Bern received; and from time to time, other opportunities that may arise. Accredited communities are eligible for awards, like the Great American Main Street award. Goldsboro was a runner up for this award a few years ago and it is a national recognition. Goldsboro received another grant for around $35,000. Again – only accredited communities are eligible.” 

Drive down to New Bern or over to Elizabeth City and see for yourself the amazing preservation, restoration, and repurposing that can happen when the agenda of a few is no longer imposed on Main Street. Don’t believe the ‘no difference’ lyrics currently playing.

In a follow-up post I will provide a quick read spelling out both statuses.

If you are not Following Main Street, I invite you to do so. The follow button is on the sidebar.

 

 

 

There Are Members on the City Council Who Are Now ‘Exceeding The Generosity Of The Call’

When Frank Griswold became the Episcopal Bishop of Chicago, before he was elected the Presiding Bishop of the Church, he used an expression I appropriated into my  life. He talked about “Exceeding the generosity of the call.” It was directed towards people who come to feel they ‘own’ something at church and won’t let go. I think of this saying  when I have been too busy for my own good. Stepheny, you have exceeded the generosity of the call again! We have long time city council members who think they own Rocky Mount and have definitely ‘exceeded the call.’ having created a ‘mell of a hess.’

Frank Tracy Griswold III (born September 18, 1937) is a retired American bishop. He was the 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

It is an applicable saying when applied to members of the city council. Especially after the unbelievable behavior and rhetoric at the Council meeting on June 22, 2020. I listened in for a few minutes but couldn’t take it. This was early on in the meeting. The unbelievable  stuff happened during  the public part of the session when people got up and had at it. I waited for Randy Adcox’s summation. I wish every citizen could read his report.  It is a long piece for the blog, but it is guaranteed to wind you up, followed by banging your head against the wall. I will save you some  trouble, however. I used all my best swear words after reading Randy’s summation. It didn’t change a thing, so don’t bother with that reaction to this meeting. I hope you will appropriate Bishop Griswold’s  saying when one of your busy days feels like you have exceed the generosity of the call.

RANDY”S SUMMARY: Greetings friends and welcome to another episode of the Rocky Mount City Council Roundup! If you couldn’t make it out to attend today’s council meeting, don’t worry; I was there, and I witnessed the entire Trainwreck; uh… Sorry…I meant meeting. 😉
So after a bit of a delay, Mayor Roberson dropped his gavel at 4:05, and then asked for a moment of silence so those with varying religious beliefs could pray in their own manner. The roll was then called, followed by the approval of the minutes from the June 8th “regular” council meeting, and then approval of the “Committee of the Whole” meeting from the same date.
Item 6 today was the city manager’s “Community Update” segment, and Mrs. Small-Toney used her time to thank the city’s fire and police departments for their efforts in rescuing 92 citizens and 4 pets during the recent flooding across the city. She also acknowledged assistant city manager Elton Daniels and his recent selection as secretary/treasurer of the state’s city manager’s organization. Sadly, she also announced the cancellation of the city’s annual July 3rd fireworks celebration, as well as the public gatherings scheduled at some of the city’s outdoor venues, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Item 7 was the presentation of a plaque proclaiming the month of July as Parks and Recreation Month.
Item 8 was the “public speaking” segment of the meeting, and frankly, it was during this part of the meeting that I was tempted to get up and leave. Though I’m hesitant to even repeat some of the comments made during this portion of the meeting, I feel like there were some things said that NEED to be heard by EVERYONE in this city – in spite of their threatening and disgusting message. Truthfully, I’m just sorry my “audience” isn’t bigger (feel free to share this post. In fact, I’d ask that you PLEASE share it with everyone you come into contact with over the upcoming days and weeks; it’s THAT important!)
So, Mr. Tom Harris led off today’s speaking segment, and he used his time to inquire about the methodology the city uses in determining how utility bills are “written off”, an obvious reference to council member Andre Knight who has had (so far anyway) more than $47,000.00 in utility bills written off. Mr Harris also inquired about the status of the Local Government Commission’s (LGC) ruling on the downtown hotel and parking deck project, and further pointed out that the hotel/motel industry has suffered a significant financial downturn during the current Covid-19 pandemic. He also questioned the wisdom of moving forward with such a project in light of the current financial uncertainty.
Mrs. Morie Minges spoke next and pleaded with the council to respond to the citizens’ questions and concerns brought up during these meetings.
Nehimiah Smith spoke next and issued a not-so-subtle threat to any business in this city who doesn’t “respect the black citizenry”. Mr. Smith has apparently become the defacto spokesperson for the entire black population in Rocky Mount, and he repeatedly stated that “we will shut you down”. It’s hard to see how Mr. Smith’s bellicose and incendirary comments could possibly help to alleviate the racial disharmony he frequently *claims* to be trying to heal, but nonetheless, every business in this city has now been put on alert that *HE* will “shut you down” if you fail to live up to *his* expectations!
Curmilus Dancy spoke next and his message was also an “in your face”, defiant, and frankly, non-constructive diatribe about how everyone who doesn’t agree with *him*, should simply go away or “sit down and shut up”. In other words, unless you’re willing to agree – unconditionally – with Mr. Dancy, you shouldn’t be allowed to voice your opinion regarding this city council as a whole, but *especially* the black members of the council. It was in a word, “typical” commentary from the self- professed “political agitator”. And again, it was hard to discern how such comments could possibly help bridge the racial divide he and others claim to want to resolve.
Council member Reuben Blackwell’s son “Cooper” Blackwell spoke next, and dropped what some might call a “bombshell”. According to young Mr. Cooper, this city council has “met the demands” of he and his “Black Action Committee” members regarding the Confederate monument, and that “the revolution has begun!”.
Former mayoral candidate Bronson Williams spoke next, and used his time to pontificate on the status of Rocky Mount, and specifically how the city is moving forward in spite of perceived hindrances from certain (presumably white?) citizens.
There would be additional “fiery” commentary later in the meeting, but I for one was glad to see THIS segment of the meeting come to an end!
Item 9 saw the approval of several ordinance changes involving the FY 2020/2021 budget, including over five and half million dollars to the Tar River Transit operations. In addition there were more than a million dollars in Community Development grants approved.

Item 10 was a “Public Hearing” that was *supposed* to be about a proposed FY 2020/2021 Annual Action Plan for the city, and the “Down East HOME Consortium, which is a requirement for eligibility for HOME partnership Investment funds, and CDBG Entitlement allocation. The segment started off with the director of the local United Community Ministries, pleading with the council to reconsider, after they had apparently turned down more than $30,000.00 in requested assistance from the city. Things quickly got sidetracked however, when several speakers rose to address the council. Dr. Lisa Nelson-Roberson addressed the council and stated that she was there representing a group who wanted to see the city take advantage of the current racial focus throughout the country, and use this as justification to establish a “Black Business Matters” zone in downtown Rocky Mount, and for the city to help finance training and incentives to assist black owned businesses downtown. She referenced the “Ratio Plan”, a report the city paid more than $40,000 for several years ago, and stated that this was proof of monies earmarked for development in Edgecombe County, being diverted to Nash County (to be clear, the city council has never moved forward with the recommendations of this Ratio Plan, and in fact, council member Lige Daughtridge has repeatedly asked the council why they haven’t moved to implement some of those recommendations!).
In addition to Dr. Nelson-Roberson, local developer Troy Davis next addressed the council and complained that Mayor Roberson had recently commented that the city needed to find a “real” contractor to work on some of the proposed projects, a comment Davis seemed to believe was aimed at him and his business. He next launched into a tirade about the Confederate monument, almost shouting that the monument needs to come down – “right now!”.
Items 11,12 and 13 all saw the approval of several additional budget ordinances, ranging from waste water transfer stations, to the city’s “self insurance” policy, to finally, an ordinance to provide more than $250,000.00 to cover expected losses for the Event

Center during Covid-19.
Item 14 saw the approval of the Down East Home Consortium agreement between the city and nearby communities. The consortium was started back in 1995, and was created to assist small municipalities with acquiring government funding to assist with low income housing. Current members of the consortium include Spring Hope, Pinetops, Whitaker’s, Edgecombe County, Sharpsburg, Princeville, Middlesex and Conetoe. Nash County recently decided not to renew their membership in the Consortium, due to concerns that there wasn’t enough “Nash County” projects being considered.
Item 15 saw the approval of several aspects of the “Urgent Repair Program Procurement and Disbursement Policy, which prompted council member Knight to inquire as to whether or not these were “minority” contractors. After the city manager assured councilman Knight that there were indeed minority contractors among those in the program, the motion was passed unanimously. (There was no breakdown given as to the number of minority owned, as opposed to *non* minority owned contractors among those listed in the program, but apparently there was enough minority owned contractors to satisfy the Councilman.)
Item 16 saw the award of their badge and side arm to retiring police officers Sargent Leslie Harrell after 30 years of service, and Senior Officer Teresa Lassiter after 14.5 years of service.
Item 17 saw the approval of a water assessment contract with a residence at 1125 Freer Street.
Item 18 acknowledged the receipt of a petition for the city to annex parts of Vestal Road.
Item 19 approved the agreement between the city and Duke Progress Energy, to provide faster response times in the event of power outages.
Item 20 saw the adoption of a resolution declaring certain city property as surplus, and authorized it’s disposal via electronic auction at Govdeals, Inc.
Item 21 saw the appointment of two individuals to various commissions and boards.
Item 22 saw Councilman Reuben Blackwell call for a new city ordinance requiring the wearing of masks by anyone out in public within the city limits. City attorney Jep Rose commented that the proposal would first have to be put in writing before it could become a new city ordinance. (Look for this new ordinance to be approved at the next council meeting).
Item 23 saw council member Andre Knight call for the city to enact the “Black Business Matters” initiative requested earlier in the evening by Dr. Nelson- Roberson. Details of the initiative have yet to be ironed out, but supposedly this program will provide funding and technical support for not only the “Black Business Matters” program, but also Cooper Blackwell’s group, the “Black Action Committee”. Note the emphasis here is on *black owned* businesses, and young Blackwell’s “Black Action Committee”. There’s no denying the intent here is for this city government to encourage, facilitate and yes, *finance* black initiatives and black *owned* businesses, including expanding the current “black business district” (aka “the Douglas Block”), to include several other blocks and properties in downtown Rocky Mount. One can only hope that this initiative will help *everyone* in the city, though it’s obviously intended to *FIRST* help black business owners and black interest groups.
On a side note, it should be pointed out that during this Covid-19 pandemic, the city has put in place a moratorium on “utilities disconnects for non-payment” indefinitely. This has resulted in more than $2 million in lost revenues for the city so far, most of which will *never* be collected. With the uncertainty regarding Covid-19, and the overall lack of commerce in this part of the state, one has to ask the obvious question; ” Is THIS the time for the city to be handing out money in an attempt to jump start small businesses?”. Apparently some of your council members think so!
Well friends, that’s your city council Roundup for Monday June 22th, 2020. Thanks for tuning in and enjoy the remainder of your week.

Is The Black Community Black Enough – Getting Away With Wrong Doing

In the 1960’s Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson showed up where ever racial incidents occurred. Over the years, we have countless photographs that show them standing in the front row, mourning with a mother, praying with groups who suffered another injustice. They have spent their adult lives advancing black Americans.

Sixty years later in every area of American life, blacks have succeeded in making a lasting contribution in fields of academia, and medicine, cooperate life and politics, music and athletics; they have become famous writers, lawyers, and architects. We have had a black president. There are black senators, and congressman, an attorney general, a Director of Housing; the list goes on. The military is replete with black leadership at the highest levels.

Then what explains the presence of Al Sharpton sixty years later still preaching victimization? How do we understand our black city councilmen and others in the community still blaming the past for what’s wrong with today? The monument must come down because it keeps us captured in the past. Over and over we hear this victimization manta that ends with – therefore we deserve this! The Edgecombe side of Main Street has never had a hotel – therefore we deserve one. Al Sharpton said, We don’t owe America anything – America owes us.

The rhetoric of sixty years ago no longer states the case, now does it? The notion of oppression is not a valid argument when faced with the facts that blacks have been successful across the board in American life. The power struggle comes from those who have made a living off of telling other blacks they are victims of racism. In fact, you aren’t black enough if you dare to think otherwise. You are an Uncle Tom, if you dare think for yourself and accept that past injustices have run their course. There is nary a peep about Personal responsibility that is today’s admonition.  As long as some of our black leadership can preach ‘we are owed this or that’ and are believed, those black enough will keep covering for those whose misconduct they accept because they deserve what they have taken.

I have thrown caution to the wind here with this post. You can blame it on Al Sharpton during these last days of tragedy. Today’s world in which blacks live is a far cry from those who grew up when segregation, and its injustices flourished. To equate then with now, as if nothing has changed, is a great dishonoring of those who bore the burden of change. Today a black boy can grow up to be the President of the United States. Better check out who the victimizers are today. They are the ones whose anger and resentment pour down upon us with racial accusations declaring that white people are the cause of your troubles. Are you sure?

THE REALITY OF CORRUPTION

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.