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Probe underway into City Hall

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The independent investigation into city management is underway and Mayor David Combs said he's meeting with State Auditor Beth Wood this week.

"The review is underway, interviews are taking place," said Councilman Tom Rogers, mayor pro tem.

An 800 number for employees to report unfettered, unfiltered information with aninimity is being finalized and will be available soon, Rogers said.

Combs didn't provide any further information about his meeting with Wood, including who initiated it.

The council also is tweaking a new committee for the city's internal auditor to report to — in the meanwhile, the auditor will report to the mayor versus the city manager as it was prior to changes made last week.

Rogers said during Monday's meeting that Councilwoman Louis Watkins has been hospitalized.

In response to recent public comments, City Attorney Jep Rose explained that Councilmen Reuben Blackwell and Andre Knight, the CEO and board chairman, respectively, of OIC, don't have to recuse themselves from votes about OIC because there isn't a direct benefit for them in situations like the 2015 sale of the China American Tobacco Building from the city to OIC.

Rose quoted N.C. General Statute 14-234 defining direct benefit as 10 percent ownership, direct income or acquiring property. Rose said nothing prevents the City Council from adopting a stricter policy.

Not mentioned was new federal guidelines that reach beyond direct benefit for federal funds nor a policy proposed by city staff that would examine what is done with city funds given to nonprofits.

The council voted to create the Workforce Housing Advisory Commission and thanked Susan Perry Cole for her persistance in seeing it come into fruition.

The council voted to move ahead with a 60-unit workforce housing project on Tarboro Street, which are city-owned parcels, in downtown near Edgecombe Community College.

Rent would cost approximately $500 a month.

"We are not building a ghetto downtown," Knight said.

Teachers and other public servants who work everyday could benefit from such a project, city officials said.

Blackwell said the project would make it so even a newspaper reporter could live downtown.

The city is set to hold public information sessions about the project in March. The city will then look for a development partner while insisting the units have a blended mix of income ranges and a portion of the project is dedicated to families and the elderly.

Councilwoman Chris Miller asked whether the developer would be private so that the currently city-owned land would become taxable property.

Blackwell said it could be private or it could be done by a nonprofit developer. That makes the Rocky Mount Community Development Corp. a possibility.

During public comment, Warren Daughtridge compared current turmoil at City Hall to Jonah being swallowed by the whale. He encouraged city leaders to not blame race or legislate for personal gain. He asked everyone to learn about each other's differences and likenesses.

Nehemiah Smith said it's all manufactured issues and feigned concern. Smith said former Rocky Mount Fire Chief Keith Harris — who has been outspoken about recent events — doesn't live in the city.

Smith said so what if Harris pulled a black man from a burning building. He was doing his job.

"Now go somewhere and sit down," Smith said of Harris, who wasn't at the meeting.

Smith said City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney will move Rocky Mount forward.

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