Adding to the Discussion: Randy Adcox FB Conversation – Not To Be Missed

The Clock that presides over the City Council Business
So by now, most people in our fair city have had an opportunity to see and hear the results of the state auditor’s investigation into our city government. And except for those who refuse to acknowledge the obvious, there’s almost unanimous consensus that there’s been some questionable (if not outright criminal) decisions and actions taken by some in our local government over the past several years. And while the spotlight is rightfully focused on council member Andre Knight, there’s certainly plenty of blame to go around for the inexcusable “writing off” of close to fifty thousand dollars in utility bills, as well as the blatant disregard for city rules and regulations concerning meal allowances and “per diem” in general, as revealed by our city manager’s meal purchases. And questions still abound about grant monies and how they’ve been used (or abused) over the years. If there ARE criminal charges that arise from this state auditor’s investigation, they’ll likely occur due to alleged misappropriation of state and possibly federal grant money over a period of several years. This is believed to be the area where there’s the most evidence of *criminal* activity, as opposed to merely “bad decisions” by some of our city council members.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this whole sordid mess is the attempts by some to write the whole thing off as “racially motivated”. As if only WHITE people would care about an elected official who ran up forty-seven thousand dollars in utility bills, and then had them wiped clean by pressuring those who work for the city, to erase them from existence. And the idea that it was only WHITE people who talked with the audit investigators and revealed where to look to find the *evidence* of wrongdoing, is ludicrous. The state auditor’s team didn’t enter city hall looking for only WHITE people to interview; they went in and made themselves available to ALL city employees, many of whom are minorities. And they also received anonymous phone tips and emails, many of which almost certainly came from minority city employees either current or former.
And right on cue, we’ve heard from the race-baiters. Those who immediately reach for the “race card” whenever a black official is accused of wrongdoing, are as predictable as the rising and falling of the tides. They refuse to accept any other possible explanation for the criticizing of black leaders, and fall back to the tired and worn out position of “this is an attempt to silence or otherwise diminish black leadership”. These people couldn’t care less about whether someone is innocent or guilty; their primary goal is to shift the focus and blur the lines between what is, and what is not “normal”. Rather than call out those who’ve openly and blatantly abused their elected positions for decades, they instead prefer to provide “cover” for the accused and silence the accusers with proclamations of “they’re just all racist, white supremacists”. It’s so utterly tiresome and pathetic. And it WON’T WORK this time!
If there’s been anything positive that’s come about as a result of this investigation, it’s the number of people who’re suddenly paying attention to local government again. But, there’s also an apparent lack of understanding by some anyway, of the hierarchy within city hall. The city manager, Rochelle Small-Toney, is the defacto “head” of our city employees and oversees all the departments therein. She, however, actually works for the City Council, whose job it is to make the major financial decisions of the city, including funding city improvements, new projects, etc.. The City Manager is *hired* by the City Council, and it’s only the City Council who can *fire* him/her. The Mayor’s office, while certainly an important position in our local government, is really little more than a figurehead when it comes to any real “power”. Aside from potentially casting a “tiebreaker” vote, there’s not much more our mayor can do to “control” our city council. I’ve read several posts on Facebook recently, where someone has asked, “Why didn’t David Combs just put his foot down, and stop this madness while HE was in office?”. Still, others have called on our current mayor, Sandy Roberson, to “fire ’em all!”. The truth is, neither mayor had/has the legal authority to control or dictate the actions of our city council. Sure, they can speak up or voice opposition, but there’s little else our mayor can do under our current form of city government to effect the actions or behavior of our city council members.
In the end, justice will be served. In our “gotta have it now” world, that justice may not come as quick as some would like, but it WILL come. And those who have abused their elected office, will one day have to answer for their sins. For some of these people, the “sins” they eventually will have to answer for, will be far greater than simply abusing their elected office. When phony men who go around under the guise of being a pastor, and then lie, cheat and steal from the people who elected them to office, they’ll one day answer to a much higher power than anything us mere mortals can muster. And that day of reckoning will surely come to some of these folks. Count on it!

The City Council At The Long Green Table – Calling For Immediate Resignations

“If you can not explain it now, to those involved, and present, here on the mid-watch, then how will you ever defend it later when called to account at the long, green table.”

‘The long green table’  is associated with a Naval Court Martial or Court of Inquiry. The purpose of a Naval Board of Inquiry is to examine all particulars concerned with the event in question and to determine facts and cause, corrective action, and disciplinary action called for by the findings and suggestions of the inquiry. Traditionally, the accused sat at a table covered in green felt. The green felt was used in wardrooms on ships to help keep objects in place when the ship pitched and rolled.

The May 15, 2020, State Audit Report findings are indefensible.  They always have been. There is no acceptable explanation that can be offered. Those involved who now sit at the long green table have no recourse but to resign their various positions. In my opinion, there is no, come let us reason together. Not until the citizens of Rocky Mount have been satisfied that justice has prevailed and there is a reason to think that restored trust in good government has a chance.

It is obvious there are people who can’t bring themselves to accept and declare that wrong is wrong. It is as simple as that.  Sputtering that it is the Report that is in error, racially-based…..yadda, yadda, is nonsense. If a wrong is only wrong to some of us,  you get what we’ve got. There isn’t any come let us reason together UNTIL the wrong has been made right. The home-court needs a new floor before play can commence. Everybody that comes to play understands and is committed to the rules, plays for Rocky Mount not as an individual player out for his or her own gain, but as a team player that has reasoned that to live a life of possibilities that come true, everyone must agree on Right and Wrong.

URGENT: Triage Available On Main Street For Casualties

We know what the word triage means. In medical use, it is the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties. With the State Auditor reveal on Friday, we’ve got a lot of angry, discouraged people who are fed up with the same old, same old. A lot of people feeling that in spite of what has been substantiated, nothing will change. People left comments across social media about the terrible state of things where members of the Council, the past Mayor, and the City Manager have been involved to one degree or another and have rigged the system for personal gain. The Audit report findings can not be denied. It is what it is. Rocky Mount is strewn with the casualties of mismanagement, and years of shenanigans. Triage is available on Main Street.

WE CAN NOT LET THESE CIRCUMSTANCES DEFINE WHO WE ARE.

The emerging new scene on Main Street is a larger story and has within it a healing ingredient, like oil on our heads, when a cross is marked there, as a blessing. The triage process has to do with the preservation of buildings, their restoration, and repurposing, Finding a pulse and a heartbeat in each building and setting about to save it is what the doctors are doing downtown right now.  In the guise of investors, architects, workmen, realtors, young people with dreams of a future, they have all come together. I call them the Repairers of the Breach. That it is a ‘mell of hess,’ there is no denying. While you wait for treatment, I want you to look for me, the eternal optimist, who is among you believing that not even this report can keep us from continuing the revitalization of Rocky Mount.

WE WILL NOT BE DERAILED BY LOSING HEART AND                                        ABANDONING OUR POSTS – WE CAN’T HAVE THAT

 

Terrick Pittman -Advocate Ward 1- Responds to Wilson Times Article

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Tarrick Pittman Advocate Ward 1

You remember this fine young man who ran against Mr. Knight in the Fall election? His response is worth your time to read. SFH

As I sat and read this article I was heartbroken, angry, and just plain astonished. I had to pull myself away from my work because I couldn’t focus. This is the biggest travesty in our city’s long and storied history. Most of you know the history associated with my lawsuit with the City so I won’t get into that but I hope you can see my frustration. I lost a lot last year trying to work to better my community. I didn’t care about obtaining power or recognition. Simply put, I cared. To see this blatant abuse of power is astonishing.

In Ward 1 over 20% of the residents live below the poverty level. The unemployment rate is consistently the highest in the state. Residents struggle to pay rent and utilities. There are more evictions in Edgecombe County than any other county in the state with the exception of Nash County. To have your sitting Council member elude paying basic utilities is a travesty. I think about all the elderly people I met last year campaigning who often spoke of the difficulties they were experiencing paying their utilities. I think about the young single mothers littered throughout Ward 1 with small children who struggle to pay their utilities. I think about the disabled persons who flooded social services last year during early voting. Seeking help with utilities. I think about my 68-year-old mother who pays her light bill faithfully on time on a fixed income which my brothers and sisters have to supplement to help her make ends meet. This is truly a sad day for our city.

This is an embarrassment to the black community in our City. No bones about it. Some of them have held this individual to such a high standard. They have enjoyed him slinging the race card with limited results in their community. They are retired teachers, local pastors, washed up community leaders, black fraternity & sorority members. Booker T graduates who have held him as the standard barrier. Chastising all who dare to challenge him if they are not cut from the same cloth. Ask them when you see them what do they have to say now! Will those retired teachers stand up for what they taught us in school about having integrity as a black man? Now they have to decide which is more important. The man or the community. I have a friend who is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity along with the Councilman of Ward 1. He is always quoting to me the 5 objectives of the fraternity. One of those objectives stands out to me in this situation. “To Inspire Service in the Public’s Interest”. The Councilman has failed to do so and should be held accountable by his brothers. Your hand was placed on the bible in December at your swearing-in. In front of your city in the Council Chambers. You swore under oath to perform your job with integrity and dignity to the best of your abilities. All while knowing you had bamboozled taxpayers by avoiding paying your utilities. You, my friend, have failed your city and the black community. Do us all a favor and relinquish your seat! #letsgrowtogether

FYI: Lyndel Kay’s article -City’s Response Misleading

2 councilmen, city manager, former mayor implicated in Rocky Mount financial probe

Posted

ROCKY MOUNT — City officials tried to mislead the public with a press release about an investigation into City Hall’s finances, State Auditor Beth Wood said Thursday.

“The actual report will refute quite a bit of what’s in the city response,” Wood said. “Much of the information in their press release is inaccurate.”

Wood said city officials don’t have the authority to release confidential information from a draft audit report.

The city’s statement, released at noon Thursday, lists five findings in the report along with mitigating explanations.

The press release also fails to name any city officials involved in nonpayment of utility bills, loans, and other apparent malfeasance.

“The real story will be released tomorrow,” Wood said Thursday afternoon. The report will be uploaded to the state auditor’s website at 10 a.m. Friday.

According to the press release, the city wrote off a councilman’s unpaid utility bills.

Andre Knight, elected in 2003, didn’t return messages about the press release or state audit report.

“According to Finding 1, multiple city officials prevented the Business Services Center from attempting to collect $47,704 in utility bills owed by a city council member,” according to the press release from Jessie Nunery, the city’s media relations specialist.

While the release doesn’t use Knight’s name, independent investigation by this newspaper has confirmed Knight is the subject of the finding. Knight represents Ward 1 on the council and is Rocky Mount’s mayor pro-tempore.

Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson said he was surprised by the sudden release of the press statement.

“I don’t know who authorized its release,” Roberson said. “We were working on it. The council members most affected by the report were working on a response.”

The city council met in a closed session on April 30. Roberson confirmed the audit report was a topic of discussion, but no vote was taken as to when to release a statement.

“Someone in the city preempted the report,” Roberson said. “It’s a big surprise to me. I want to wait until the report is released to comment. I have lots to say. I’m embarrassed as the mayor of Rocky Mount.”

The press release details five findings listed in N.C. State Auditor Investigative Report. It’s not immediately clear whether the report has additional findings.

In the first finding, the city’s finance director wrote off outstanding utility bills for a city councilman in 2013 and 2017, under the tenure of the former city manager, according to the release. The city manager during some of that time was Charles Penny.

Penny said Thursday that he has nothing to hide.

“I spoke to the auditor,” Penny said. “Utility bills are private under federal law. I didn’t know how much was owed.”

The city writes off more than $1 million a year in unpaid utility bills, Penny said.

“All I can say is, check my bills — they were paid,” Penny said.

The city press release states that the account in question was subject to possible manipulation by unauthorized city staff for a good portion of the time the write-offs covered.

During the same time period, several business and residential accounts were also written off. Staff provided information on more than 30 accounts with delinquent balances that had continuing active service. The press release states other customer accounts were managed in a similar manner without being investigated.

According to the second finding, the city failed to follow program guidelines resulting in $32,452 of uncollected loans associated with the Downtown Roof Replacement Assistance Program and $28,000 of improperly awarded funds related to the Downtown Building Assistance Program.

The city’s records indicate no collection efforts were undertaken for 300 N. Grace St. The press release doesn’t identify that property as the OIC Family Medical Center. City Councilman Rueben Blackwell is CEO of the OIC organization whose name stands for Opportunities Industrialization Center.

Guidelines for properties at 119-121 N. Washington St. weren’t followed. Not mentioned in the press release is that according to tax records, the various properties in question were co-owned at the time by Knight and Garland Clark, the city’s natural gas distribution manager.

According to the third finding, the Rocky Mount engineering division’s non-compliance with the city’s Code of Ordinances could cost the city $31,000. 

In 2009, the city’s engineering division did not collect on a letter of credit and in 2010, the division allowed the letter of credit to expire. The city’s press release doesn’t explain that the subdivision in question was owned by former Mayor David Combs, a real estate agent who received a state reprimand over related matters.

According to the fourth finding, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney failed to comply with the city’s travel policy, resulting in $1,575 in unallowable travel expenses from July 2016 through May 2019. Small-Toney isn’t identified by name in the press release.

Small-Toney believed she was covered for the expenses by a medical exception, according to the release.

Finally, according to the fifth finding, the city didn’t designate an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator as required by federal law. City officials agree it should designate at least one employee as an ADA coordinator, and the city manager has appointed two ADA coordinators, according to the release.

Wood began her investigation in 2019 based on complaints received through her office’s hotline and other means. After more than a year of investigating, Wood released a draft report to city officials in early April.

FYI: City Shares Info Regarding State Investigative Report: Getting Ahead of the Story

City shares information regarding the State of North Carolina Investigative Report
Posted on 05/14/2020

In 2019, the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) initiated an investigation of the City of Rocky Mount (City) based on complaints received through its Hotline and other means. After more than a year of investigating, on April 8, 2020, a draft report was provided to the City which contained five (5) key findings. The City thanks State Auditor Beth A. Woods on the way in which the investigation was conducted and knows the findings will help improve internal controls and systems. According to the Auditor’s Transmittal, Woods said: “We appreciate the cooperation received from the management and employees of the City of Rocky Mount during our investigation.” Once the OSA has finalized the report, the entire document will be made public.

The City views having an external organization review processes as a win for any municipality or business that strives for excellence. The City prides itself on being a publicly-owned utility and is committed to advancing community well-being, safety, and quality of life by delivering excellent public services and actively collaborating with the community towards a fulfilling and inspired future for its citizens.

The City welcomes this opportunity to share information regarding the draft OSA Report with its citizens and stakeholders.

According to Finding 1, multiple City Officials prevented the Business Services Center from attempting to collect $47,704 in Utility Bills owed by a City council member. In 2013 and 2017, under the tenure of the former City Manager, the Finance Director wrote off $47,704 in outstanding utility bills. The write off amount the City reported did not have supporting documentation in the form of printable billings that verified the total amount. A true or even proximate value could never be reconciled to the amount that was reported to the OSA, and has never been substantiated by City Staff or the OSA but was gleaned from a data dump performed by the City’s Finance Department. The write off in question was conducted by City Finance management officials according to City procedures without interference from the City Council or former City Management.

It is not clear whether the OSA investigated when informed, that the account in question was subject to possible manipulation by unauthorized City staff for a good portion of the time that the write-offs covered. There was no confirmation from City Finance staff that could confirm the validity of the amount reported other than the data dump. Also, the utility account clearly evidenced the high usage of wastewater. The utility customer was never notified by City Finance staff, which is the normal City procedure when there is higher than normal water and wastewater usage. That amount was never reconciled with the customer, nor adjusted by the City.

During the same period, there were several business and residential accounts that were written off. Staff also provided information on over 30 accounts with delinquent balances with continuing active service. City Staff presented other incidents where numerous accounts were managed with customers in a similar fashion to the City Council representative. It does not appear these accounts were investigated.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney has reorganized the Business Services Center into a single centralized function for utility billing and collections, fees, and loan payments and collections, reporting directly to her. Through the statutory responsibilities assigned to the Finance Director (reports to the City Manager) and the additional oversight of the Internal Auditor (reports to the City Manager with quarterly reports to the City Council) and the City Manager, the City will continue to follow its collection policies and practices, and retain all billing information for all debt collected upon and owed to the city.

According to Finding 2, multiple Downtown Development Managers failed to follow program guidelines resulting in $32,452 of uncollected loans associated with the Downtown Roof Replacement Assistance Program (DRRAP) and $28,000 of improperly awarded funds related to the Downtown Building Assistance Program (DBAP) and the DRRAP. The DRRAP provides approved applicants with a loan of up to $10,000 at 3% interest. Loan repayments are set at $50 per month during the first year. Once a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) is received the loan balance is forgiven.

If the CO is not received during the first year the 3% interest payments begin, with principal and interest amortized over the remaining 5-year term of the loan. Once a CO is received the remaining principal balance is forgiven.

According to the City’s records, all the properties received a CO during the 5-year term or already had a CO on the grant date except for two properties, one of which had been foreclosed on. The City’s records do not indicate collection effort was undertaken with respect to either of these properties.

300 N. Grace Street which is located on the western side of Grace Street received an $8,000 DRRAP grant. The boundary line for the roof replacement eligible properties runs down Grace Street. The OSA interprets this as making properties on the eastern side of Grace Street as eligible and properties on the western side of Grace as ineligible. The City, however, has consistently interpreted property located on both sides of “boundary streets” as eligible for grants, and that interpretation continues in effect today.

OSA advised the City that the former Downtown Development Manager did not follow DBAP guidelines for 119-121 N. Washington Street and that the owner did not obtain a CO for the property. The City did not have a file on this grant, but from the documents provided by OSA, it appears that the work covered by the grant was completed after the application was made. It is not known when the application was approved. The CO was granted on August 19, 2015.

The City has employed a new Community and Business Development Director that reports to the Assistant City Manager. Oversight for the loan programs is now vested in the Director and the Assistant City Manager. The centralization of collection and accountability for all loan collection will include oversight of the Business Services and Collections Director, the Finance Director, the Internal Auditor, and the City Manager through monthly compliance reporting.

According to Finding 3, the Engineering Division’s non-compliance with the City’s Code of Ordinances could cost the City $31,000. In 2009, the City’s Engineering Division did not collect on a letter of credit and in 2010 the department allowed the letter of credit to expire. The City Code requires that a developer provide security guaranteeing the completion of all subdivision improvements prior to the approval of the final plat. Final plat approval enables the developer to begin selling lots in the subdivision. The Ordinance provides that “Said guarantees shall be for a specific period of time not to exceed two (2) years from the date of planning board approval of the final plat.” It is clear the initial guarantee must be for a specific period of time not to exceed two (2) years. However, the Ordinance does not address the question of whether the two (2) year period can be extended.

The City does not read the Ordinance to require that all improvements must be completed within two (2) years and has routinely extended the time period if the developer continues to maintain adequate security and is working in good faith to get the subdivision completed. In the City’s view, this complies with the Ordinance. This practice is consistent with the practices of other local governments across the State, particularly during real estate downturns.

However, since the OSA interprets the provision as putting a two (2) year limit on the time for completion of all subdivision improvements, the City will amend this section of the Code to be consistent with the current practice. The problem with the subdivision in question was not the length of time granted for the developer to complete the improvements, but the failure of the City to realize the letter of credit was about to expire.

The work in the subdivision by the new developer has not been completed as of this date. The City anticipates its reimbursement obligation under the contract with the new developer will be approximately $13,000, much less than the $31,000 figure used by the OSA. All work has been completed except one street patch.

The City will amend the Code of Ordinances to specifically state that the time period for subdivision guarantees may be extended beyond the initial two (2) year period. The City has already put in place enhanced procedures to improve tracking of letters of credit to ensure they are either renewed or called prior to expiration if the improvements have not been completed.

According to Finding 4, the City Manager failed to comply with the City’s Travel Policy resulting in $1,575 in unallowable travel expenses from July 2016 through May 2019. Of this amount, $1,416.12 was for dinners purchased by the City Manager for the City Council and City staff at two (2) conferences: National League of Cities, Charlotte ($858.62) in November 2017, and ElectriCities, Asheville ($557.50) in August 2018.

The City Manager was not aware of the remaining $158.88. The City Manager believed that she was covered by a medical exception because she presented documents to the Finance Director that additional meal expenses were required as a reasonable accommodation for her medical condition and the Finance Director never directed her to do anything different. Further, in 2018, the City’s Occupational Health Office documented and placed in the City Manager’s file a statement that additional meal expenses were required for the City Manager as a reasonable accommodation for her medical condition.

The travel policy has not been reviewed since 2012 and will be amended to provide for reimbursement of additional and reasonable travel expenses incurred by any employee on official City business and determined to be necessary as a reasonable accommodation by the City’s ADA Coordinator.

Finally, according to Finding 5, the City did not designate an American with Disabilities Act Coordinator as required by federal law. The City agrees that it should designate at least one employee as an ADA Coordinator and the City Manager has appointed two ADA Coordinators.