Staff warned council about issues


Staff Writer

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Rocky Mount City Council apparently ignored letters last summer from two employees highlighting the hostile working environment under the city's top administrator and a department head.

"Mayor and council, I urge you to look into the significant expenses, hirings, contracts and departures from the city that have occurred during the tenure of the city manager," a former employee stated in one of two letters sent months ago to the City Council.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney, who began her tenure in July 2017, hired her friend Landis Faulcon in January 2018 to head a newly-created Community and Business Development Department.

"The work conditions since January 2018 have become unbearable and the hostility in the department has become overwhelming," a different former employee stated in a July 24, 2018, resignation letter sent to Faulcon, Small-Toney, Mayor David Combs and the entire City Council.

City officials will immediately recognize the composer of the resignation letter and while the former employee doesn't care if City Hall knows who they are, they've asked not to be publicly identified because they are seeking employment elsewhere.

A second letter from another employee was sent to the council anonymously, but the Telegram has since obtained a copy of the letter and the identity if its composer.

The Telegram is withholding the identity of both former employees at their request and will refer to the whistleblowers — both black women — as Employee 1 and Employee 2 in this report and any subsequent articles.

Also in play is the reverse discrimination complaint filed by John Jesso, the city's former downtown development manager. While the content of Jesso's complaint is sealed, he recieved a $40,000 settlement payout.

"Mr. Jesso was not suspended or demoted while he was employed with the city," Combs wrote in a letter attached to the settlement agreement.

Jesso's departure parallels the timeline provided in the two letters.

Employee 1 said she's not heard from Combs, any of the City Council or the city's Human Resources Department.

Employee 2 addresses the exodus of employees under Small-Toney and correctly predicts more employees will leave.

"These departures have resulted in poor service to citizens, a lack of institutional knowledge and have given the organization of the city of Rocky Mount a poor reputation," Employee 2 stated.

Employee 2 told the Telegram that it's sadly not surprising council members didn't act on their warnings when they first ignored the signs of trouble from Savannah, Ga.

Small-Toney was forced out as city manager there in 2012 due to eerily similar allegations.

"Almost immediately after the new city manager, Mrs. Rochelle D. Small-Toney started, she began living up to the media portrayals of her leaving communities in worse shape than she found them, especially financially," Employee 2 stated.

Employee 2 pointed to mandatory training for all city employees deemed largely irrelevant by most participants as an example of cronyism serving only to provide a paycheck to Deborah Roberts, who during the training, made several comments about her close personal connection to Small-Toney.

At one point during the training, employees were asked to place their palms on the hearts of other employees, described by several employees as weird, intrusive and outdated.

Employee 2 addressed Faulcon's management style.

"Not only does Ms. Faulcon also have a less than stellar Google search result, she has been observed disregarding the importance of team building, staff capacity or collaboration," Employee 2 stated. "The new director’s poor management style has affected those in the department, employees throughout the organization and community partners as well, establishing a reputation of bullying and disrespect."

Employees became fearful due to all of the rumored firings, hasty reassignments and mistreatment of employees who have dedicated years of service to the city, Employee 2 stated.

"Much of city leadership has been asked by the city manager to 'make things happen' that are immoral, to turn a blind eye to certain people she is aligned with and to condone or assist her financial mismanagement," Employee 2 stated.

Employee 1 told a remarkably similar story.

"The work conditions since January 2018 have become unbearable and the hostility in the department has become overwhelming," Employee 1 stated.

She painted a picture of isolation via exclusion from staff meetings and luncheons, downtown-related meetings and conferences, a minimization of duties and removal from all downtown committees.

"You no longer have me involved in Main Street activities, recruiting new businesses or serving on the downtown focused Central City Revitalization Panel," Employee 1 stated. "In essence, it seems that all of the progress realized to date in terms of marketing downtown and attracting new investors is being systematically deconstructed. In fact, it is no longer clear to me that our department has a genuine interest in capitalizing on the momentum created by the Event Center in order to transform downtown into a vibrant mixed use commercial center."

Rocky Mount hasn't earned the state's Main Street accreditation in two years.

"My passion is for downtown and it saddens me with the anticipated opening of the Event Center only months away, my position has been stripped of its essential duties while no one else in the C&B Department has a sole focus on downtown or more than a passing interest in preparation for and capitalizing on the new traffic our downtown will see once the Event Center is in operation," Employee 1 stated.

The resignation letter included the description of an altercation alleged to have occurred in the heart of the city.

Employee 1 stated another employee physically accosted her by detaining her on the fifth floor of City Hall and chasing her down a stairwell. She stated that she reported the incident to human resources but her concerns were brushed aside and she was discouraged from filing a formal complaint. Other city officials were aware that Employee 1 went to human resources, which is a violation of privacy rights.

"I have endured the workplace bullying within the C&B Department and the lack of attention to my concerns by the HR Director long enough," Employee 1 stated. "It has taken a significant toll on my emotional well-being. It is for this reason I tender my resignation."

Employee 2 had already left city employment when Employee 1 quit.

"It is impossible for a person to care about their job and perform at their best under a cloud of paranoia and feeling totally replaceable," Employee 2 stated.