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Waiting for City Council to do the right thing

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Patsy Pridgen

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BY PATSY PRIDGEN
Life Columnist

Sunday, January 27, 2019

“Area residents pack chambers during meeting” read the headline in Tuesday’s Rocky Mount Telegram. I was one of those in the overflow crowd, sacrificing my Monday afternoon to wait out a City Council that quickly adjourned to a closed session.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock and/or never read this newspaper, you know why I and about 300 others were at the special called council meeting on Dr. Martin Luther King Day. All week, thanks to the excellent reporting of Lindell John Kay, we’d been reading of the cronyism and mismanagement practiced by City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney. The council was in session to address the situation, and scores of local citizens showed up to express concern by packing the meeting room and the adjacent hallway.

Show up was all we could do, as Mayor David Combs soon told the crowd that the meeting wasn’t a public hearing, and the audience would not be allowed to speak. But I hope our presence spoke volumes. Those of us there saw our mayor and council members maybe a total of 10 minutes during our almost three-hour vigil: five minutes or so before the council convened to a closed session and then a few minutes when the council returned, and the mayor said no comment would be forthcoming. The issue is to be further discussed at the council’s next meeting on Monday.

So those of us there learned little, not knowing what was said behind closed doors. But I can tell you what we did during those two and a half hours we were left like an unattended classroom.

We talked with our friends, neighbors and fellow church members. We met new people. Some of the conversation centered around the city manager fiasco, for sure, with people comparing notes about responses they’d received, or not, from their councilperson. We all commiserated about the state of our city government — the capable employees who’ve quit, the favoritism shown in hiring others who were less qualified, the money spent to remodel the city manager’s office, the money lost when paperwork wasn’t properly filed on a federal housing project.

But the gloomy conversation went on for only so long. People also spent time catching up with each other, laughing and joking. Seeing Lindell John Kay at the front of the room, I got out of my seat to go congratulate him on his courageous reporting. A reporter for CBS 17 came by and asked my two friends and me for an interview. She wanted a woman’s perspective, she said. We steered her to Stepheny Houghtlin, author of the blog Main Street Rocky Mount, who we knew would be thoughtful and eloquent in her remarks.

Suspecting the council would be in closed session for a while, I’d brought a book. But there were so many interesting people to talk to and such a sense of camaraderie, I never read a page. I was reminded of why I live in Rocky Mount, where many of us have deep roots.

Tomorrow the City Council meets again. And again, I will be there, along with scores of others, I hope. We’re looking for the moral decision to be made, however long it takes.

Check out Patsy Pridgen’s blog at www.patsypridgen.com.

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