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City tries to refute revelations

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Monday, January 21, 2019

A press release sent out Saturday by city officials touting transparency and meant to repudiate recent reports in the Telegram is riddled with half-truths and falsehoods.

The press release addresses four topics: The loss of federal funding for a housing project; department head residency requirements; the remodeling of City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney's office; and the prolonged search for a permanent police chief.

"The city of Rocky Mount has always strived to be good stewards of your tax dollars in response to the needs of citizens, and that is why our vision is to be transparent as public service professionals," Tameka Kenan-Norman, the city's chief communications officer, stated in the revised press release.

■ First, in the press release, the city acknowledged its use of general funds for the construction of two of eight housing units at MS Hayworth Court. The statement claims mistakes made leading to the loss of federal funding occurred prior to January 2018 when Landis Faulcon became responsible as director of the newly created Community and Business Development Department.

Instead of using money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the City Council had to approve $182,453.65 be taken from the city's general fund.

The press release blames previous community development staff, saying they didn't follow HUD procedures.

However, Faulcon directed the removal of files left by departing staff, including paperwork required by HUD. The files were tossed into the trash, according to multiple city employees who recounted seeing a large number of roller bins filled to the top with papers being wheeled out of the second floor offices of community development soon after the department underwent its total turnover in May.

Not mentioned in the press release is the complete turnover of staff under Faulcon or HUD scrutiny due to that turnover.

Also not addressed is the September withdrawal of Nash County from the Down East Home Consortium. The Nash County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to pull out of the Rocky Mount-run group, citing concerns that federal funds weren't being administered properly.

■ Second, the press release addresses department head residency requirements and funds provided to them during their transition to Rocky Mount.

The issue arose when the Telegram reported that Landis Faulcon, the city's director of community and business development, lives out of state. City officials have yet to answer questions about Faulcon's residency. She was hired In January 2018, but still has Virginia plates with no apparent address in North Carolina.

"All employees who live out of town are provided assistance to make the transition from where they are currently living to Rocky Mount," according to the press release. "These expenses are provided for a variety of items to help with the transition, such as travel, hotel accommodations, moving expenses, housing and more."

Employees are generally given six months to one year to find housing within the city limits; however, it is to the manager’s discretion to provide additional time if needed, according to the press release.

The city policy actually gives department heads only six months to take up residency within the corporate limits of Rocky Mount unless special circumstances dictate otherwise as determined by the city manager. The close proximity is to ensure availability and community participation.

"In the past, some department directors did not live in the city, and currently, there are still some department heads who do not reside in the city of Rocky Mount for a variety of reasons," according to the press release.

Kenan-Norman lives in Nashville, according to her voter registration that shows she's cast ballots there since 2011.

Human Relations Director Archie Jones lives in rural Nash County outside Red Oak with a Battleboro address, according to Nash County property records which shows he purchased the house in 2005.

An example of how the policy is supposed to work: The city's public works director — who is leaving city employment Feb. 1 — lived in Red Oak as a city employee, but moved to Rocky Mount a decade ago when he was promoted to department head.

"I clearly live in the city," Jonathan Boone said. "I have more than a decade of utility bills to prove it. All three of my children attended schools in Rocky Mount."

All other city department heads appear to live in Rocky Mount in compliance with the city's policy, including newly-hired Internal Auditor Lori Cairo who closed on her Rocky Mount home in early November the day before she reported for her first day at work.

■ Next to be addressed in the press release are improvements being done to the city manager’s office suite.

Repeating information already provided to the Telegram, the press release claims the work is the result of mold in the ceiling tiles, leakage from the roof and the HVAC, wallpaper coming down and other issues that arise in any facility.

The contractor hired at $89,600 to do the work said a small amount of mildew found in the ceiling was removed, but it wasn't discovered until after the work began, and mold remediation wasn't part of job. A full account of the story appeared in Sunday's edition of the Telegram.

■ The press release then addresses the city's search for a new police chief.

"At the onset of this search, we stressed the importance of hiring a superb executive search firm and engaging the community in the selection process. We created a comprehensive assessment and evaluation that included a variety of exercises to determine the capability and performance predictability of each candidate," according to the press release.

The assessors were volunteer community leaders, police chiefs and other administrators. No recommendations came from the assessment panels, just total scores and comments on each candidate.

This multi-faceted approach also started with community meetings to gain citizen insight on the values of a police chief and more. There was also a one-on-one interview with the city manager. An appointment did not emerge from this process, all according to the press release.

As previously reported in the Telegram, local law enforcement officials have said there are qualified candidates within the department that should have been elevated through the process. Small-Toney ignored those candidates, holding out for a friend to hire for the position, according to sources close to Small-Toney in City Hall and reflected in her proclivity for hiring friends for jobs over qualified candidates both here in Rocky Mount and a previous job from which she was ousted.

"The city of Rocky Mount is committed to finding the best police chief and the best employees to nurture a growing city," according to the press release. "We will continue to be transparent and to work with our community in establishing a more perfect union and a Rocky Mount we all envision."

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