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North Carolina forward Garrison Brooks (15) smiles following a basket while Miami center Rodney Miller Jr. (14) runs upcourt during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill Saturday.

Council to review termination appeal process

The City Council on Monday is going to take up a proposal to amend the personnel ordinance to state that the city manager will have the final say in the case of an employee who contests a supervisor’s recommendation for termination.

During a council work session on Dec. 9 — and shortly before the new council was to be seated at the regular council meeting — the previous council unanimously voted that the change be recommended for approval.

Shortly after the start of the Jan. 13 regular council meeting, as the council was about to approve the minutes of Dec. 9 council business, new Councilman Lige Daughtridge brought up the personnel matter.

Daughtridge said his reason was that the new council members had not had the opportunity to hear or weigh in on the proposed change to the ordinance.

Daughtridge made a motion, seconded by new Councilman T.J. Walker, to table consideration of the recommendation from the Dec. 9 work session of the previous council.

Councilmen Reuben Blackwell and Andre Knight could be heard voting no and Mayor Sandy Roberson noted the dissenting votes aloud for the record.

Daughtridge’s successful effort to table means the matter is scheduled to come back up at Monday’s regular council meeting. The council did unanimously approve the minutes of business from Dec. 9.

Monday’s regular council meeting is set to start at 4 p.m.

The proposed change to the ordinance was presented at the Dec. 9 work session by City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney after having been prepared by City Attorney Jep Rose.

The proposed change would prevent an employee from having the option of being able to have a recommendation for termination heard by the city’s employee-based Peer Review Panel.

There is no plan to change the right of an employee who is suspended or demoted to be able to appeal to the Peer Review Panel.

During the Dec. 9 work session, Small-Toney said at the previous work session, there was discussion about a conflict existing between the municipal charter and the city manager’s authority to be the final person to decide issues regarding terminations.

“And what we wanted to do is to resolve the conflict because that panel also was vested with the ability to also overturn or uphold terminations that are recommended by the director,” Small-Toney said.

Small-Toney said her recollection was that the consensus of the council was to keep the Peer Review Panel in place, but to limit the panel’s authority to hear cases of recommended terminations.

Rose told the council that the appeal of a termination goes solely to the manager.

Councilwoman Chris Miller wanted to know how long Rose or the city had been aware of the conflict and whether other municipalities had the same conflict.

Rose said, “Well, it’s not technically a conflict. I mean, the charter gives it to the city manager.”

Rose said a previous council years ago established the Peer Review Panel, but he made clear he believes the present situation raises the issue that the panel could overturn a supervisor’s recommendation to terminate an employee.

“It’s just a matter of controlling your organization, I think,” Rose said.

Rose made clear the employee has the right to appeal a recommendation for a termination, with the city manager to sit as the judge.

In such a situation, there would be a hearing, with the employee having the rights to bring his or her own attorney, have witnesses and cross-examine witnesses.

Rose, an attorney with the Poyner Spruill law firm, said that at the hearing, someone from the firm would represent the city manager and another attorney would represent the department involved.

Rose pointed out that during a hearing before the Peer Review Panel, the employee cannot bring his or her attorney.

After discussion at the Dec. 9 work session, departing Councilwoman Lois Watkins made a motion, seconded by Blackwell, in favor of the recommendation.

The rest of the agenda for Monday’s regular council meeting appears to be routine. However, regular council meetings always are unpredictable because they include the public comment phase.

During this phase, city residents can address the mayor and the council for three minutes each. The scene is lively and at times contentious.

To view regular council meeting agendas online, go to https://www.rockymountnc.gov/government/mayor_city_council/agendas.

Shoppers flock to annual furniture sale

Garner resident Alice Coleman is quite a seeker of good deals.

So Coleman and a group left the Wake County town early Saturday morning to secure a position at the front of the line for the start of the annual Bulluck’s gigantic furniture sale in downtown Rocky Mount.

By about 6 a.m., Coleman and her group were right by the entrance to the site of the event, which is held in a former tobacco warehouse at 218 N. Church St. The 2020 event started at 9:30 a.m.

As for how she and her group could wait in the same place for such a long time, Coleman said, “We just sit here and watch everybody and talk — and eat and drink coffee.”

Asked whether she experiences a bit of an adrenaline rush doing this, Coleman said, “Of course. That’s why we’re here. It is great.”

She said she has been coming to the sale for as long as 20 years and that she and her group do not have a specific list of merchandise to purchase.

“We’re impulsive shoppers,” she said. “If you look for anything, you won’t find it.”

Just steps behind Coleman were Mary Nell Thompson of Raleigh and her group.

Thompson, who has an interior design business, said she has been coming to the sale off and on for about 20 years.

As for why she comes, Thompson said, “Just good deals — and it’s fun. It’s kind of like a sport.”

More specifically, Thompson said, “It’s just the thrill of the hunt.”

She said she occasionally shops for herself, but often for clients. She said one client needed a pair of lamps and another needed a coffee table.

She and fellow shoppers on Saturday arrived in a Rocky Mount with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 50s, but she was quick to note that she and her group have come and waited outside when temperatures were bone-chilling.

She said that one year, because conditions were icy, she and her group left Raleigh the afternoon before the sale and spent the evening in a hotel room in Rocky Mount so she and her group could more readily get to the event.

Not long after the doors opened on Saturday morning, Donna Medlin of Roanoke Rapids began seeking the right lamp to purchase for her living room.

Asked whether she had found one, Medlin said, “I think I have.”

Medlin also said, “I’m going to keep shopping because I’m sure there’s other things here.”

Asked what else she had in mind, she said, “Maybe some furniture,” namely a table for her living room.

She is retired from having worked at a dental office and said she has been coming to the sale for probably eight or nine years.

As for why she keeps coming back, she said, “Because they have different things every year. And that’s what I like, things that are different.”

Laura Wooten of Wake Forest, a social worker at the Durham VA Health Care System, said she has been coming to the sale for probably four or five years.

“And it’s fun to be among the people and the crowds,” Wooten said.

Wooten was interested in purchasing two large matching recliner chairs for the family living room.

Wooten’s husband could not come to the sale, so as Wooten sat in one of the chairs, she began sending photographs of the chairs to him via cell phone to seek his approval.

“I like it,” she said of the chair she was trying out. “It’s comfortable.”

With a smile and a hearty laugh, she said, “I have to take it home with me.”

Dan Blanchard of Greenville, who is a police officer, stood and watched the crowds while his wife continued shopping off in the distance.

Blanchard said he and his wife were first-timers at the event, with his wife having encouraged him to come because this is a great sale.

Blanchard said he had gotten an end table and a buffet table.

He compared the scene on Saturday morning to Black Friday sales at mega-retailers at malls and shopping centers.

“It’s very entertaining,” he said. “People have traveled from all over, it seems, to come here today.”

Asked whether he is going to return for the 2021 sale, he said, “Yes, sir.”

Day Two of the 2020 sale is set for 1-5 p.m. today, with plans calling for the event to be held on successive weekends through the rest of the winter.

The schedule will vary. People wanting to keep track of details of specific sale times and dates can go online to www.bulluckfurniture.com.

Family seeks justice for slain teen

DeQuan Xavier Dickens, known as “Noot” to his family and friends, was one of 18 homicide victims last year in Rocky Mount.

But he is more than just another victim, his family says.

“I don’t want him to be just another person who was shot and killed, because he was more than that to his family, to the school he attended and to the young people he came in contact with,” said Quay Hill, a close cousin of Dickens who the family considers as his aunt. “I can’t let him be just another body.”

Dickens graduated from Rocky Mount High School in June 2019, having earned a certificate in early childhood education, his family said. He loved children and planned to become an educator. He enjoyed his job at Burger King.

On June 13, 2019, he turned 18. Less than a month later, he was killed.

Information released by the Rocky Mount Police Department about Dickens’ death is sketchy. Officers responded about 1 a.m. on July 12, 2019, to 1132 Long Ave. in response to a ShotSpotter activation call. They arrived to find a woman wounded by gunfire and Dickens dead from multiple gunshot wounds, according to a press release at the time from Rocky Mount police.

But the tale the family tells is far more chilling — especially as they were on hand to witness the tragedy.

During recent interviews with Hill and Dickens’ mother, Dameka Johnson, a fuller picture unfolded.

On the evening of July 11, 2019, Dickens finished his shift at Burger King, and he and his mother headed to the home of a cousin on Long Avenue. It was the cousin’s birthday and family members and friends were at her home for a family gathering, family members said.

There were 18 people at the home that evening and about half of them were children. The youngest was 4 months old. Most of the others were women. There were two men there that night, and one of them was Dickens.

About 1 a.m., multiple shots rang out through the home.

Johnson said this was not a drive-by shooting. Someone stood in front of the house and deliberately fired multiple shots into the home. One of those bullets struck a family friend in the face. Some of those bullets struck Dickens and one entered his chest, piercing the name tag he was still wearing, Hill said.

While Dickens was killed and another woman was wounded, Hill said the outcome could have been worse.

“We could have all died,” she said. “There were enough bullets for all of us.”

Hill said she does not understand why this happened.

“I need the public to know that he wasn’t a gangbanger. I don’t care who he knew that was involved in gangs — he, as an individual, was not a gangbanger,” Hill said. “I need people to know who he was. He was a hard worker. He was the life of the party and a joker. He was the youngest of five kids and the one most likely to be able to cheer up his mother. He was a good kid.”

Johnson said much the same about her son.

“He was very loving, and he left a lasting impression. He was the clown of the family — but he was serious about his schoolwork and his job,” she said.

The family is no stranger to violent death. Dickens’ uncle, Dexter “Noot” Xavier Johnson, was killed in November 2006 on East Grand Avenue. His homicide remains unsolved.

Dickens shares much in common with his uncle. They share a middle name. They share a nickname. And they share a common fate — Dickens’ homicide also is unsolved.

Hill said she hopes that by sharing her nephew’s story, that will change.

“I feel like the more we put his story out, the more evidence will come in and the more phone calls the cops will get about his case,” Hill said.

For Hill, Dickens’ death has brought about grief, but it also has inspired her to try to improve the lot of children in memory of her nephew. She recently hosted a painting party for Miasia Perry, who was a victim of gunfire in September at her home in Nashville.

Hill said she worries about growing incidents of gun violence in the city and how that affects children. She also worries about the other factors, like poverty and loss of family, that affect children as well.

“Every child that doesn’t have what they need is a victim,” Hill said. “Honestly, I feel that every child in Rocky Mount is a victim right now because this city has really changed. There is a sense of fear in this community because of all the shootings.”

For Dickens’ mother, the situation has an even greater urgency.

“People need to speak up, because violence has taken over the city. We were sitting minding our own business and they came and shot at us. If that could happen to us, it could happen to anyone,” Johnson said. “People need to stop letting the gangbangers take over the city.”

Johnson said she needs someone to speak up and help the police solve her son’s murder.

“I pray every night that they solve this murder,” she said. “I am tired of this. I did not raise my son to be murdered.”

Hill said Dickens’ death still affects the family, especially the young ones.

“They keep asking when Noot will come home,” she said.

While solving her nephew’s murder may never bring full closure to the family, Hill said it will accomplish another purpose.

“At least that person won’t be able to do this to another family,” she said.

Bradley named district extension director


TARBORO — After 28 years, Edgecombe County Extension Director Art Bradley Jr. is moving on.

Bradley, who grew up in the West Edgecombe community and joined the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in 1992, has been named as the Northeast District extension director.

Bradley started his new duties Jan. 15 and will wrap up administrative duties in Edgecombe County through the end of January.

While he will have an address in Ricks Hall at N.C. State University in Raleigh, Bradley said he will be on the road most of the time, visiting counties in his 22-county district.

“Most of the time, I’ll be out in the district, working with county offices,” he said. “I won’t have any program responsibilities … no field crops. I’ll be talking with people and helping hire and things like that.”

Bradley said his diverse district ranges from Wake County in the west to Currituck in the east.

“I think there are more people in Wake (County) than all of the others combined,” he said with his ever-present grin on his face.

While he served Edgecombe County, Bradley observed farmers trying their hands at raising a number of alternative crops, including kenaf, clary sage and now hemp.

“We’ll see how hemp goes,” he said. “I read somewhere that this past year, the crop was eight times the demand ... and there’s only one way for that to go.”

Beginning Feb. 1, 4-H Extension Agent Tanya Heath will serve as the interim county director as a search for Bradley’s replacement gets underway.

“We’ll start advertising and schedule some interviews and then, hopefully, we’ll have someone in place May 1,” Bradley said.

He also noted that in the interim, Mitch Smith, now retired county extension director of Pitt County, will serve as the interim county agent.

Bradley and his wife, Kathy, have a son at East Carolina University and another at Southwest Edgecombe High School.

Bradley’s new area of responsibility includes Beaufort, Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Edgecombe, Franklin, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Hyde, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Pitt, Tyrell, Wake, Warren and Washington counties.