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Wake Forest offensive lineman Loic Ngassam Nya (59) and defensive lineman Isaiah Chaney (93) celebrate after a 40-37 overtime win against Syracuse in an NCAA college football game Saturday in Syracuse, N.Y.

Events to celebrate centennial of Negro Leagues

The Buck Leonard Association for Sports and Human Enrichment had ambitious plans in 2020 to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the Negro National League. It was the first such professional baseball league.

The plans were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic as last year’s celebration was postponed. The disruption of the celebration only encouraged Buck Leonard Association Director Rose Hunter to make this year’s event “really big.”

And after a one-year absence, the Buck Leonard Association’s annual gala begins on Friday in what will be a two-week celebration of the Negro Leagues, the arts associated with it and the community.

“This year is a mix of what should have happened in 2020 with the Negro League centennial that we couldn’t have because of COVID,” Hunter said. “And since we never know what could happen next, we figured we better go on and get this done and make this really big.”

The lineup consists of various events from Oct. 15-23, beginning with an opening-night reception on Friday at the Rocky Mount Mills. The reception will feature the grand opening of the Black Diamond exhibit, which is a collection of works by artist Darryl Matthews that honors Negro Leagues baseball players.

Matthews is the son of former Newark Eagles first baseman Francis Oliver Matthews.

The events will continue at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the Imperial Centre.

There, children are encouraged to participate in learning about the history of the Negro Leagues and the famous players such as Buck Leonard, Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, “Cool Papa” Bell and John-Henry “Pop” Lloyd during a led presentation by historian Derrick C. Jones.

Children also will be given a chance to wear reproductions of jerseys and there also will be a permanent exhibit that includes portraits, an oral history and public artworks including The Positions on the Field and portraits of ballplayers in porcelain enamel.

Much of the art was donated by those at the Seattle Mariners’ home field T-Mobile Park, formerly Safeco Field.

“The art was donated to us and we had people come in from Seattle to help get it set up,” Hunter said. “We are very excited about this for people to come and see the display.”

Oct. 18 will be an opportunity to meet members of the Buck Leonard Association and tour Leonard’s home in Rocky Mount at 605 Atlantic Ave. Leonard lived there from 1934 until his death in 1997. In May 2019, the Rocky Mount City Council voted unanimously to officially designate the home as an Historical Landmark.

Later on Oct. 21, Belmont Lake Golf Club will host a scramble-style tournament with the Inner City Youth Sports & S.T.E.A.M.

The following day, Oct. 22, will highlight Rocky Mount’s downtown scene that will feature the restaurants, bars and businesses of the downtown area. The evening kicks off with a community reception at the historic Booker T. Theater.

On the evening of Oct. 23, there will be a gala and online auction as the association welcomes several special guests — including the family of jazz legend Thelonius Monk.

The event will celebrate the history and the Rocky Mount community through musical performances from the Monk Family and Joyce Thompson-Stearnes, daughter of Negro League baseball legend Norman “Turkey” Stearnes.

Hunter noted that it was intended to host the various events across Rocky Mount as a way to showcase the numerous offerings that the city has as it is on its way up.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Leonard’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, and Hunter said she hopes the association’s celebration can be regional.

“We don’t want to relegate it to any one area as we want it to be citywide,” Hunter said. “And next year we want it to be region-wide. Rocky Mount says it is the ‘center of it all,’ so let’s make that a reality.

“The city can’t do it all alone and our nonprofit has been important in bringing this to the area for 20 years and we love what we are doing and we want it to continue.”

SePRO plans to expand operations

An Indiana-based company specializing in selling products in connection with aquatics, landscaping and ornamental horticulture is expanding operations in Rocky Mount, the Carolinas Gateway Partnership said in a news release.

SePRO Corp. announced in the news release a $3.5 million addition to the company’s location off Atlantic Avenue between U.S. 64 and Cool Spring Road.

Company President Tyler Koschnick said in the news release SePRO anticipates adding 20 employees to a current staff of 12 in Rocky Mount.

SePRO’s work includes developing, marketing and manufacturing aquatic herbicides and other chemicals to control aquatic weeds and invasive vegetation.

According to the news release, SePRO completed a significant acquisition and is relocating production of newly acquired products from Georgia to the plant off Atlantic Avenue.

The additional investment will provide facilities to produce products that will improve water quality, control excessive growth of algae and control invasive weeds, the news release said.

“We are delighted with this SePRO investment in Rocky Mount,” Carolinas Gateway President Norris Tolson said in prepared remarks. “It’s always wonderful when our local companies grow and prosper here.”

City Councilman Lige Daughtridge told the Telegram he is elated by the news.

“Anytime a business chooses Rocky Mount or the surrounding area, it’s obviously a benefit to all the citizens of Rocky Mount and to the businesses of Rocky Mount — and adds to our tax base,” Daughtridge said.

Don Williams, president of Lewis Advertising and also a past chairman of the Carolinas Gateway board, told the Telegram, “It gives us incentive to go out and get more jobs — but more importantly, it gives 20 very qualified people an opportunity to find gainful employment right here in the Twin Counties.”

“In my opinion, a job is a job, whether it’s at a big corporation or at a small business,” he added. “I operate a small business myself, so I am definitely in support of any company that wants to bring new jobs to the area.

“But I’m also very much in support of smaller businesses that want to come here and either start up or take their proven success program and open it up here in the Twin Counties,” he said.

SePRO was established in 1994 and is based in Carmel, Ind., which is immediately north of Indianapolis.

SePRO also has a 410-acre research and technology campus off Watson Seed Farm Road northwest of Whitakers.

The Carolinas Gateway Partnership is a downtown-based economic development agency.

Former city employee’s allegations spur public debate

Three residents who frequently address the City Council during the public input phase of council regular meetings gave their opinions amid a former municipal employee’s claims of having been sexually harassed by Elton Daniels when he was the parks and recreation director.

The Rev. Nehemiah Smith lambasted those who want City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney out of office, while Nathlyn Ohree praised Small-Toney and Samuel Battle stated his frustrations about the council.

The three spoke during Monday’s council regular meeting.

The former employee, Jacqueline Barnes, is claiming that Daniels sought sexual gratification from her and that, after she unsuccessfully complained to the city, Daniels retaliated against her. Daniels is presently an assistant city manager.

Small-Toney has been a subject of debate in part because of departures of key municipal officials since she was hired in 2017 and in part because of State Auditor Beth Wood in 2020 saying she allegedly spent taxpayer funds on unallowable travel expenses and disregarded established municipal policy regulating spending while traveling.

Additionally, developer Troy Davis twice last month called for Small-Toney to step aside or be fired by the council because he said he and others are fed up with what they believe has been a lack of leadership by her.

Smith said Monday at the speaker’s podium that there is a call afoot for Small-Toney’s head on a platter and an incessant cry from what he sees as a misinformed and agenda-driven mob to crucify her.

“And yet when we take into consideration her predecessors, it’s hard to remember any calls for their total and complete annihilation,” Smith said.

Smith proceeded to give his recollection and opinions of what has happened through the years.

Smith said that then-City Manager Bill Batchelor insisted that a then-sanitation department employee be arrested for having taken a suit of clothes that had been placed on a trash heap and that Batchelor alone was responsible for the only strike by sanitation workers in Rocky Mount’s history.

The then-employee, Alexander Evans, was convicted in Rocky Mount District Court of committing misdemeanor larceny, but he eventually was cleared by a jury in Nash County Superior Court.

Smith also said that then-City Manager Steve Raper, with the help of others, allowed a then-city employee, Gary Weeks, to make pig cookers and deer stands at taxpayers’ expense.

Weeks was convicted in Nash County Superior Court for embezzlement by a local government employee and served time on probation.

Smith also said that then-City Manager Charles Penny was demonized for developing and seeing through what some made a controversy: The Rocky Mount Event Center.

“And out of all of that, I have yet to hear anyone say, ‘Crucify them,’” Smith said. “But we want to utterly destroy our current city manager — and to do that in a most humiliating way.

“Has she made mistakes? Yes. But Brother Rose, I am reminded that all have fallen short,” he said, a reference to City Attorney Jep Rose, who sits alongside the City Council members during council meetings.

“So until answered, the question lingers in the midst of the bramble: What is the difference between our current city manager and her predecessors?” Smith asked.

“I dare not say that it is a racial issue,” he said. “That may not apply. The issues may be compound, but what I can and will say is that we are all holding her to a standard that we have yet to hold a man to who has held the same position.”

He then gave his opinion of what he believes critics of Small-Toney want: “Crucify her because I didn’t get what I thought I deserve. Crucify her because that’s too much power for a woman to have. Crucify her because we are willing to carry out the enemy’s agenda. Crucify her because our bloodlust outweighs our capacity for love. Crucify her because we are committed to the finality of the act.”

“But I am so glad that I serve a God who sits high and looks low and knows the evil intent that lurks in the hearts of men,” he said. “And though there are those who are attempting to slay her, I pray that she will continue to trust him.”

Ohree at the speaker’s podium Monday said, “Our city manager has done a superior job of helping our city stay focused and continue advancing in the middle of a pandemic. God sent her here for such a time as this.

“And I am truly grateful for her expertise and her wisdom in the area of city management. Thank God for Rochelle Small-Toney and thank God for our current city administration,” Ohree said.

Ohree also said no one in the audience has the authority to hire or fire anyone in the council chamber and noted there is a process for such an action.

“And to come to this podium and suggest that anyone be removed from their office without going through the proper procedures that have already been established is out of line, disrespectful and unacceptable in this City Hall chamber,” Ohree said. “Rocky Mount has grown and continues to grow, despite what white or Black people say.”

“And if a Black or white person is not helping our city grow, then they need to stop throwing stumbling blocks in the way of those who are advancing our city,” she said. “We who look online and sit in the audience have very strong opinions, but our opinions are not worthwhile if we are not looking out for each other.”

She said that she and others will let the municipal elected officials know what they think at election time and that in the meantime, her encouragement to the leaders of the community is to continue to lead Rocky Mount using their best ability.

“If you make a mistake, own up to it and try harder, work together because together we rise — and divided we fall,” she said.

Battle while at the speaker’s podium Monday said, “Y’all run this City Council like a sweepstakes.”

Battle has been quite vocal in his criticism of the 4-3 council voting majority, comprised of Councilmen Reuben Blackwell, Richard Joyner, Andre Knight and T.J. Walker, but Battle spoke in a larger context in his comments Monday.

Battle said Rocky Mount residents are at the top of the list in terms of priority, followed by the council and the city manager, but he said, “Y’all really forgot” who is supposed to come first.

Battle, in directing his comments to the platform where the council members sit and conduct business, also said that when an election comes up, he hopes everybody in Rocky Mount refrains from voting for them.

The seats held by Blackwell, Joyner, Councilman W.B. Bullock and Councilwoman Chris Miller are up for election in March 2022. Blackwell and Joyner have said they are seeking re-election, but Bullock and Miller have said they are not.

“The ones that are running for City Council, basically, they need to get up here and say something about what’s going on — and let people know what side y’all stand on,” Battle said.

As for Barnes’ allegations against Daniels, Battle said he believes that Barnes is not lying and that if Daniels had been anywhere else, such as Chicago, Detroit or New York City, then “he would have been gone — gone.”

And in response to the lauding of Small-Toney, Battle said, “Ain’t nobody God now. I heard people say, ‘God brought her here.’ No, City Council did. God didn’t bring that here.”

He said he believes that overall, “It’s bad in this city, man. Every one of y’all up there ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

New virus cases continue to decline across area

The Twin Counties continues to experience a decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases as it appears that the peak of the delta variant outbreak has passed.

Nash County Health Director Bill Hill said Tuesday that the peak in Nash County appears to have been about a month ago.

“The week of Sept. 14, we had 490 new cases,” he said during the county’s weekly COVID-19 task force virtual update. “The next week, we had 468 (cases) and then it dropped to 292 on Sept. 28.”

Hill noted there was a slight uptick — to 298 cases — last week before dropping to 215 new cases this week.

“The numbers are decreasing — but even better, a trend has developed,” he said.

Hill said that 97 percent to 98 percent of the new cases could be attributed to the delta variant.

“It is highly contagious,” he said.

The 215 new cases brought the number of cases in Nash County to 14,775.

Hill said two more deaths — both at Nash UNC Health Care — have been attributed to COVID-19. The death total in the county is now 222.

One was a white man in his mid-70s and the other was a Black man in his mid-40s.

Hill said 13 people were hospitalized — none fully vaccinated — at Nash UNC Health Care with three in the ICU and two on ventilators.

The decline in cases also continues in Edgecombe County.

A week ago, Edgecombe reported 174 new cases to take the total case count to 7,660 since March 2020.

On Wednesday, interim Health Director Michelle Etheridge released data that shows 7,771 total cases — an increase of 111 from last week.

Her report also included two deaths, which brings the county’s total to 128 deaths.

Four people were reported hospitalized at Vidant Edgecombe Hospital while the county has a fully vaccinated rate of 42 percent.

Delays in mailing city utility bills resolved

There is now a return to normalcy in the mailing of city utility bills, the municipality said Wednesday.

A posting on Facebook by the municipality expressed appreciation to customers for their patience as issues with the vendor have been resolved.

The posting said any bills customers have not received with an end of October or November due date have been mailed.

At the same time, the posting said customers will not be assessed penalties for late payments and may continue to phone 252-972-1250 to find out the amount of their respective bill and the due date.

Customers also can go in person to the Business Services Center at 224 S. Franklin St. or online to https://ipn.paymentus.com/rotp/crm to make a payment.

The municipality has never specified what the issues had been with the vendor.