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Panel questions vacant city post

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The question of who is in charge of downtown redevelopment in Rocky Mount was recently on the mind of the leader of the citizen panel created to help improve the once-bustling central business district.

During the Central City Revitalization Panel meeting last week, panel Chairman Garland Jones emphasized he has always said, “I have problems when I don’t have a direct line of people who are in charge. I just don’t operate well with people who are acting for a period of time.”

Jones told his fellow panelists City Business Development Director Kevin Harris is acting downtown development manager.

“So acting to me says you’re there, but you might not be there or you’re there and you might be there. So the sound that you get coming is, ‘Which way are we going?’” Jones said.

Rocky Mount has been without a downtown development manager since John Jesso’s departure last year.

The downtown development manager traditionally serves as Rocky Mount’s chief contact for property owners and tenants in the central business district seeking assistance or guidance.

Jones said the procedure has been an assistant city manager comes to the panel meetings and sits in when the downtown development manager position is vacant.

During the Central City Revitalization Panel meeting, Harris said although he is acting downtown development manager, he is not just holding the role.

“I want to be the downtown development manager — and so in my opinion, I’m earning the job,” Harris said. “And so I do have some ideas, I do have some visions.”

Harris said he wants to first hear from the panel, which has a mix of longtime and recent appointees, and form his vision. Harris also said there is going to have to be support from the city council and City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney.

He said his focus right now is on “What does it take to incent development for downtown?”

He said he envisions the central business district as more of a 24-hour community, with retail and some residential.

Rocky Mount has had at least five downtown development managers over the past two decades.

Kaye Edmisten served from 1999-2003, followed by Leslie Anderson on an interim basis. Ian Kipp served from 2004-10 and Vanessa McCleary served from 2010-13. Jesso was hired in 2014.

City council minutes from January show Jesso received a $40,000 payout after reaching a settlement to end a discrimination claim.

During the Central City Revitalization Panel meeting, Jones recalled when Harris first came to a panel meeting, Harris sat in as an information seeker.

As for the status of the downtown development manager position, Jones said, “We’ve been patiently waiting to see who it’s going to be — and I did have a direct meeting to talk about that particular issue because it concerns me dearly.”

Jones said he was in a meeting approximately a month ago and said he was told while Harris is the acting downtown development manager, the city is looking for a permanent downtown development manager.

“And my question was, ‘When?’” Jones said. “And they said, ‘July.’ And I said, ‘OK.’”

Jones did not state whom he spoke with at that time about the position.

Harris said Jones was referring to a meeting in which Jones asked City Community and Business Development Director Landis Faulcon about the downtown development manager’s role.

Harris said Faulcon told Jones the city was looking for someone and perhaps there would be a downtown development manager by July.

Harris said Jones had another meeting, this one on Wednesday with Small-Toney.

And Jones told Harris, “My communication was that you were acting” and said his information is that there would be a decision about whether Harris would be named the permanent downtown development manager.

“In the obvious presence of incompetence and ambiguity, I think we have to get our act together and move on,” said city Councilwoman Chris Miller, a member of the panel.

Jones countered, “We can’t get our act together and move on when we don’t have a direct person that is communicating what is going on from the city side that’s permanent. And I want to make it clear because it has never been that way since I’ve been on this board.”

Attempts to obtain comment from city spokespersons via email were unsuccessful.

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