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.

 

 

 

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

Image may contain: 1 person, possible text that says 'WILSONTIMES.COM Rocky Mount wrote off nearly $50K in councilman's unpaid utilit... ROCKY MOUNT A city counci...'

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.