Probe of city reports no wrongdoing

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Residents fill every seat in the City Council Chamber on Monday as the review of City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney is presented at City Hall.


Staff Writer

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The summery of an independent review of City Hall found no malfeasance on the part of City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney.

The law firm Nexsen Pruet presented the results of its probe of five topics related to public concern about operations at City Hall, especially actions of Small-Toney.

Mayor David Combs called for the review in late January after a series of articles in the Telegram and expressed public concern.

Nexsen Pruet Special Counsel Bridgett Blink-Spears said the firm didn't track down every issue raised by the newspaper, but stuck to six main topics: Moral, turnover, hiring practices, compensation, HUD and perception of bias.

Nexsen Pruet lawyers interviewed more than 60 people over 150 hours.

The summary presented Monday included the following findings:

■ City employee morale is split. Lower level employees feel included. Middle level employees feel excluded and disconnected. And senior management is mixed, slightly leaning toward low morale. The lawyers couldn't find any evidence of the rumored list of employees for Small-Toney to fire.

■ While there has been turnover, Small-Toney hasn't terminated any employees. Community and Business Development, which has had a recent full turnover, is a department that has historic high turnover.

■ No evidence of racial bias in hiring practices could be identified. Small-Toney hasn't exceeded her authority in hiring practices.

■ No evidence of financial malfeasance could be found. Employees did complain about Small-Toney's spending priorities.

■ The city has had to repay funds to HUD, but improved policies are now in place.

Combs said the report will be available in its entirety once it's reviewed by the city attorney.

Prior to the report presentation, the City Council received comments from the public.

May Parker asked everyone to make a decision to help improve the city.

Nehemiah Smith said several hounds don't hunt including manufactured issues, a carnival barker, a seemingly drunken debutante and the gotcha mentality.

"Stop feeding dogs that don't hunt," Smith said.

Warren Daughtridge said the new organization, Love Rocky Mount, is just getting started and will continue to break down barriers.

Sam Battle asked why the City Council wasn't at the CSX groundbreaking. Councilman Reuben Blackwell said the council didn't receive invitations.

Battle told Curmilus Dancy not to post anything about him on social media. Battle also told the council to do what they're supposed to do or step out of the way.

Councilman Andre Knight started to speak and Battle told him "if you have something to say to me, we can go outdoors."

Later in the second half of the Committee of the Whole meeting, Knight said he felt threatened. He asked what could be done to stop audience outbreaks.

In an environment of school shootings, threats should be taken seriously, he said. Policies, procedures and the law is on the council's side and it's unfair the council has to endure threats, Knight added.

City Attorney Jep Rose said the council can have disruptive people removed from chambers.

Blackwell said social media and a local morning show are stirring up resentment.

During the regular meeting, Sue Perry Cole said 37 percent of city residents spend 30 percent on housing. She said Rocky Mount is in a housing crisis.

Johnny Cunningham said Love Rocky Mount helped turn his anger around. He said his prayer for unity has been answered by caring, loving and humble strangers.