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City official still lives out of state

Dr. Faulcon.jpg.jpg

Landis Faulcon

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Friday, January 18, 2019

Rocky Mount downtown revitalization has taken a nose dive under a community and business development director who still lives in Virginia a year after being hired, a possible violation of city policy.

Landis Faulcon took the reins in January 2018 of the newly-created Department of Community and Business Development. City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney hired Faulcon — a friend she's employed elsewhere — with an annual salary of $120,000. Faulcon received $1,000 for rent for the first four months on the job, according to Faulcon's offer letter obtained by the Telegram after a public records request.

The letter states Faulcon is required to move to Rocky Mount. Faulcon owns a house on Old Forge Road in Virginia Beach, which she purchased in 1993, according to property records; and the house isn't on the market, according to real estate website Zillow.

Faulcon drives a vehicle with Virginia plates. If she lives in North Carolina, she's in violation of state law requiring new residents to acquire North Carolina tags within 30 days of relocation.

Faulcon, whose name couldn't be found on registered voter rolls in North Carolina, sometimes stays with a friend in Halifax County and commutes an hour to Rocky Mount, according to a city employee familiar with the situation.

The city's personnel policy manual states department heads are required to reside within the corporate limits of Rocky Mount. City Ordinance Section 16 states employees can be dismissed for disregarding residency requirements.

The Telegram asked questions about Faulcon's residency on Tuesday and hadn't received answers from City Hall by deadline Thursday. Those questions were: “Landis Faulcon still lives in Virginia, according to property, vehicle and voter registration records. Her offer letter states she needed to move to Rocky Mount. Is there documentation available stating she doesn't have to live in Rocky Mount? Wasn't she paid $4,000 for rent in Rocky Mount? Since she doesn't live here, what was the $4,000 used for?”

Another possible question could have been how effective can Faulcon be as community development director when she lives out-of-state? Under Faulcon's watch, permitting for commercial and residential buildings has ground to a near halt, according to an internal city document, titled "Permitting Activity within the Central City Area 2016-Current," and handed over to the Telegram by an employee who asked not to be identified.

The city issued 26 certificates of occupancy for downtown in fiscal year 2016, 29 certificates in fiscal year 2017 and three in fiscal year 2018 through September, according to the document.

The Telegram asked City Hall for an updated version of the document Thursday, but was told the information wasn't handy and couldn't be produced the same day.

Since September, there have been an additional three cerificates issued to date, according to information provided by John Perry, the city's construction development coordinator, with permission from Tameka Keenan-Norman, the city's chief communications officer.

The total number of issued certificates so far this year is six. There's still five months remaining in fiscal year 2018 — that runs from July to July — but a Herculean amount of work would have to be done to overcome such deficits. And less construction work is typically done during winter months, according to a land developer familiar with the process.

Cut fiscal year 2017's issued occupancy certificates in half and it's still a 14 to six drop from 2017 to 2018. All permits are seeing a significant decline this fiscal year to include commercial building improvements, residential improvements, electrical, plumbing and roofing work.

As the city manager of Savannah, Ga., in 2012, Small-Toney was reprimanded — and eventually ousted — by the Savannah City Council for awarding high-dollar contracts to consultants without the council's knowledge. One of those contracts belonged to Faulcon to the tune of $200,000 over a two-and-a-half-year period to oversee a stalled redevelopment project.

Faulcon has experienced similar failures in Petersburg and Norfolk, Va., according to news reports.

Within months of Faulcon coming aboard in Rocky Mount, all five of the workers in her combined departments left city employment.

John Jesso, the city's downtown development manager since 2014, received a discrimination complaint settlement payout of $40,000 on the way out the door.

Under guidance of the departed employees, the city adhered to rigorous performance standards to receive National Main Street Accreditation in 2016 and 2017.

Jesso and former Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan Ford, who left last year as well, were recognized for their dedication to downtown revitalization.

Under Faulcon's leadership in 2018, the city failed to obtain such accreditation.

Tosha Kelley Aldridge, a downtown business owner, said she's relocating to Westridge Shopping Center on Sunset Avenue.

“John (Jesso) has been the only person from the city that had ever came in, answered questions, made himself known, and we are right across the street from the city building,” Aldridge said.

Stepheny Houghtlin, who maintains the Main Street Rocky Mount blog, said Jesso courted and inspired investment and development downtown.

"Because we have lost a great cheerleader for Main Street, John Jesso, we are now in further peril of losing our masterpieces,” Houghtlin said. "Why would the rug be pulled out from under the economic momentum of new investors buying our commercial buildings? John helped investors believe in the revitalization of our downtown city core."

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