Knight shrugs off recent criticism


Councilman Andre Knight stands in Martin Luther King Park on East Virgina Street in Rocky Mount.


Staff Writer

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Recent outcry about the city manager and City Council is all about a struggle for power in Rocky Mount, according to Councilman Andre Knight.

Quoting Frederick Douglass, Knight said without struggle there is no progress.

Knight called groups like the Community Council and Concerned Citizens a new Tea Party.

"They're upset with the progress the council has accomplished in the past 15 years," Knight said. "This council came under attack in 2003 when its makeup changed. This council has governed for the greater good of all of Rocky Mount, realizing there are areas that have been underserved."

Knight said he doesn't understand all the handwringing about supposed mismanagement of Rochelle Small-Toney.

"She hasn't done everything right," Knight said. "She hasn't done everything wrong — no more or no less than any other city manager."

Some of the public outcry has been over Small-Toney hiring friends for high-paying jobs. Knight said Charles Penny and Steve Raper did the same thing.

"They brought on people they knew," Knight said. "She hasn't done anything illegal or criminal as far as we know."

People knocking the council should instead look at everything the council has accomplished, Knight said. The council has:

■ Reduced electrical rates for all city residents by selling debt to power companies.

■ Enhanced transportation infrastructure.

■ Helped create new housing via Rocky Mount-Edgecombe Community Development Corp., the Joy CDC and other groups.

■ Put millions of dollars into downtown that has been rotting and decaying since white flight.

"We've done more in the last 15 years for downtown than had been done in the previous 75 years," Knight said. "Event Center, Streetscapes, Douglas Block, Imperial Centre, Sports Complex."

Knight said the council has worked to improve the inner core of the city so people would want to move here. Knight said it's important he dispel the notion the council is trying to stop downtown growth. To the contrary, the council is trying to make downtown a place to live, work and play.

"Like the $60 million hotel at the Event Center and the $4 million Carleton House," Knight said.

Knight said City Hall and the City Council is now more diverse than when he came on board.

"In 2003, there were two black department heads," Knight said.

A native son of Rocky Mount, Knight went to college in Durham and returned home to teach at Edgecombe Community College.

Then he purchased the Gregory House on Falls Road — and "all hell broke loose," Knight said.

He wanted to use the house as an adult daycare but people of influence couldn't accept that a young black man had bought the house and wanted to run a business out of it, Knight said.

The city would eventually pass an ordinance allowing such a use. It was too late for Falls Road, but the process intrigued Knight and he became politically active leading to a successful campaign to become the city councilman for Ward 1. He's served on the board ever since.

Knight said any dispute about his residency was solved years ago when he came out on top of a such a complaint.

As far as his family owning a lot of property downtown, he said most of it was bought at auction on the courthouse steps and nothing could be more transparent than that.

"There have been council members, planning board members making real estate deals, but everybody is upset at me," Knight said.

A part of the recent rigmarole particularly not true is the idea that the council is trying to stifle downtown development.

"We welcome anybody who wants to invest in our downtown," Knight said.

A lot of developers who might be angry right now is because they were made promises that weren't in line with the council's vision, Knight said.

"I love Rocky Mount, it's why I moved back here after college," Knight said. "I love all of Rocky Mount. God bless you."