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Future site for city development office approved

A future location is now confirmed for what is going to be the City of Rocky Mount’s standalone Office of Downtown and Business Development.

The majority of the City Council on Monday evening approved a bid for a three-year lease at a total of $142,500 with aFRESHnewSTART for 2,500 square feet of property at 149 S.E. Main St. Councilman Lige Daughtridge cast the lone vote against the agreement.

Troy Davis is the leader of aFRESHnewSTART. Davis, who is a developer, has been working to transform locations in part of the 100 block of Southeast Main into a commercial and residential development.

During Monday evening’s council regular meeting, Councilman Reuben Blackwell made the motion for the agreement. Councilman Andre Knight seconded.

Before the vote, Daughtridge made clear his concern is that when talking about the property the city has, if the plan is to locate the future Office of Downtown and Business Development within the heart of Rocky Mount, then there are other places.

Daughtridge said obviously there is the Helen P. Gay Rocky Mount Historic Train Station, but he also said the city has the Douglas Block.

Daughtridge also said he believes the city-owned former Manhattan Theater building in the Douglas Block is available and adjacent to the Rocky Mount Event Center, which he noted is a project the city has invested much in as a community. The event center opened in October 2018 after being built at a cost of $48 million.

Daughtridge said that based on spreadsheet information City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and her team provided last year, even if the city charged for rent within the Manhattan building, the monthly amount would be $1.20 per square foot.

A supporting document as part of the council meeting agenda showed aFRESHnewSTART’s bid with a cost of $19 per square foot in a yearly cost of $47,500 throughout the three-year period.

Daughtridge said he believes that the former Manhattan Theatre building would be a perfect location for the future Office of Downtown and Business Development because it would involve using an existing building owned by the city and mean the taxpayers would not have to spend $142,000 over a three-year period.

Small-Toney, in response, asked City Finance Director Amy Staton to step forward to the speaker’s podium.

Just before Staton spoke, Small-Toney said the municipal property maintenance staff, along with City Downtown Development Manager Kevin Harris and Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Alan Matthews, evaluated existing downtown buildings. She said they found those other buildings downtown were inadequate in terms of visibility and for the required space needs.

Staton told the council she agreed with what Small-Toney said.

“I mean, there were specific criteria when the group sent out this RFP (request for proposal),” Staton said.

They included a central location downtown as being important, along with a square-footage requirement and a reception area, Staton said.

The group toured some of the available properties downtown and concluded those locations did not meet their needs, Staton said.

According to the supporting document as part of the council meeting agenda, there was a re-bidding, with aFRESHnewSTART bidding the total of $142,500 for the three years for the 2,500 square feet at 149 Southeast Main.

Gryphon Property Group bid $78,000 for the three years for 1,404 square feet at 118 Sunset Ave. Gryphon Property Group is managed by Robert Barnes and both he and his brother Whit Barnes in 2018 acquired the property at 118 Sunset.

The Telegram in February 2020 had reported the plan had been for two Edgecombe County deputies to open a business, called the Better Blends Juice & Smoothie Bar, at 118 Sunset, but the project apparently did not materialize there.

Later during Monday’s council regular meeting, Knight said that regarding the consideration of the bids for space, “I do want to say that those two or three young men who put in the bid, I’ve seen all three of them work very hard to restore their buildings.

“So I just want to appreciate the new energy downtown — and with Mr. Davis and the Barneses who really have taken a building that had been vacant and transformed it to something beautiful,” Knight said.

The Telegram, in advance of the Oct. 26, 2020, council regular meeting, reported Small-Toney was recommending a reorganization of Rocky Mount’s downtown development and business development activities into what would be the Office of Downtown and Business Development. The plan called for the future office to be supervised by Small-Toney and be located in the downtown area but separate from City Hall.

Small-Toney in a document as part of the meeting agenda said she believed this would increase their visibility to existing businesses as well as provide for a “storefront” to better serve those interested in business development and investment activity.

The council, in a subsequent 4-3 vote during the Oct. 26, 2020, council regular meeting, gave the go-ahead to the project, which also means that Harris and Matthews will be working in that future office.

The action at the time also meant that Harris and Matthews will have support from a future administrative assistant and a future downtown and business development coordinator.


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Motorists brace for possible gas shortage

While a surge in demand from concerned motorists is severely affecting the supply of fuel in the Twin Counties, state and federal officials expect the gas situation to return to normal within a few days.

At the Taylor’s Exxon in Nashville, fuel pumps were cordoned off with caution tape Tuesday morning as they stood like mute crime victims because of the latest large-scale ransomware attack.

Gas station owner Wayne Taylor said he ran out of gas about 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“I just know I am out of gas, and I don’t know when we will get any in,” Taylor said.

All over the area Tuesday, local residents steadily lined up at service stations, hoping the gas pumps did not run out before they could fill their tanks.

Momeyer resident Violet Hinson was at the Sheetz in Nashville trying to get gas about noon on Tuesday. As she was trying to insert her card to buy gas, employees from the gas station interrupted her to post notices on the gas pump indicating that the station was out of all but the super high-octane gas. She sprang for the $3.86 a gallon option as a precaution.

“I wanted to get gas because I am not sure how long this will last,” Hinson said. “I remember the last big gas shortage. We would have to take our cars to the station at certain times to get gas then.”

This gas crisis is expected to be short one. The issue is not so much a shortage of fuel, but a glitch in the delivery system as the result of a recent ransomware attack.

The Colonial Pipeline system, the primary fuel pipeline for North Carolina and other parts of the eastern United States, reported the ransomware attack on Friday. As a result, the line was temporarily shut down and delivery of petroleum products, including gasoline, has been disrupted, according to a statement from Gov. Roy Cooper’s Office.

Cooper issued an executive order Monday declaring a state of emergency in response to the pipeline shutdown. In that order, he suspended certain motor vehicle fuel regulations to ensure adequate fuel supplies throughout the state.

“Today’s emergency declaration will help North Carolina prepare for any potential motor vehicle fuel supply interruptions across the state and ensure motorists are able to have access to fuel,” Cooper said Monday in a statement.

Most of those regulation changes affect only tractor-trailer drivers, especially those who are responsible for bringing fuel to local areas. The suspension in the regulations will be in effect for 30 days or “for the duration of the emergency, whichever is less.”

Cooper said Tuesday that he does not expect the situation to last long.

After a phone call Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Department of Energy officials, Cooper’s office issued a statement saying: “Secretary Granholm expressed that federal officials are working with utility and pipeline officials and pushing to quickly resume normal operations on the pipeline … While North and South Carolina, along with Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, are expected to be most impacted by the pipeline shutdown, significant fuel supply shortages are not expected, and normal operations are anticipated to restart in the coming days. Department of Energy Officials urged people not to panic buy gasoline.”

Cooper reinforced that idea Tuesday in a statement.

“I have talked today with federal officials including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, and we have a full court press to get the Colonial Pipeline back up and fully operating quickly. Report price gouging and please don’t rush to top off your tanks,” he said.

In the meantime, schools will continue on as usual, Christine Catalano, executive director of strategic planning and engagement for Nash County Public Schools, said Tuesday.

“Nash County Public Schools’ fuel supply is sufficient to run all bus routes through September 2021,” she said. “We do not anticipate an impact on our school transportation services or on district operations at this time.”


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More details emerge about city's settlement with ex-assistant manager

The City of Rocky Mount paid $65,000 in a settlement with former Assistant City Manager Natasha Hampton.

City Attorney Jep Rose announced the agreement in a brief statement about the personnel matter near the end of Monday evening’s City Council regular meeting.

Rose said the city and Hampton settled all disagreements between them upon the payment of the $65,000 to Hampton and her attorneys.

Rose did not say what those disagreements were and he did not disclose any additional information, other than to say Hampton is no longer employed by the City of Rocky Mount.

Rose on Tuesday told the Telegram that Hampton’s resignation date was April 6.

A copy of the settlement Rose provided on Tuesday to the Telegram also did not provide any information about what those disagreements were between the city and Hampton.

However, the text of the settlement shows Hampton at some point had filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The settlement said that of the $65,000 paid by the city, $31,750 went to Hampton related to wages, subject to tax-related withholdings, and $33,250 went for legal fees to the Tucker Moore Group, which served as her legal counsel.

Additionally, the terms of the settlement called for Hampton to receive payment for accrued but unused vacation, subject to tax-related withholdings, but she was not entitled to any payment for accrued sick and vacation incentive time.

The settlement said that on Feb. 26, both the city and Hampton agreed that this agreement would be emailed to her legal counsel and that a consideration period would start on March 1.

The settlement said that during the consideration period Hampton would be placed on administrative leave, that she would not have to be in her office and that she would not have any job responsibilities.

The settlement makes clear that Hampton would voluntarily resign on the eighth day following her execution of the agreement to the settlement.

The settlement also makes clear that Hampton in the future can neither apply for nor accept employment with the City of Rocky Mount.

The settlement also included an agreement in which, within 10 days of Hampton’s legal counsel receiving checks for the payment, her legal counsel would ask for a withdrawal of the charge she had filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The settlement neither provides the date that the charge was filed with the EEOC nor what the charge actually had been.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against discriminating against a job applicant or an employee based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.

The settlement makes clear that Hampton will not belittle or defame the City of Rocky Mount.

The settlement also makes clear that both sides, if asked questions by representatives of any journalism publication or electronic medium regarding the settlement, will say “no comment” or words to that effect or “the matter is resolved” or words to that effect.

At the same time, the settlement makes clear the agreement does not prevent the city or Hampton from providing truthful information in response to a subpoena or to any state or federal agency with jurisdiction over both sides.

The settlement was signed by both Hampton and City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney.

Hampton’s most recent yearly pay by the city was $161,975.

The Telegram, in a story published on May 5, said that Hampton was hired to become the next city manager in College Park, Md., and that she will start there on June 1.

College Park, which has a population of more than 32,100, is along the U.S. 1 corridor and extends from inside to just outside the Interstate 495 beltway that encircles the Washington, D.C., area. College Park also is the home of the University of Maryland.

Hampton reported for work in Rocky Mount in 2018 after being hired by Small-Toney.

Hampton, a Miami native, had for about a decade worked for the municipal government in Miramar, Fla., in the Miami area, more recently for about a year as an assistant city manager and for a few years prior as the chief marketing officer.

Hampton also is an author and an advocate for the advancement of women and has her own website.

The hiring of Hampton in College Park came after much scuttlebutt circulating in Rocky Mount via Facebook about her status and future at Rocky Mount City Hall.

The Telegram in a story published at the start of November said Hampton had been one of three finalists for the city manager position in Lakeland, Fla., but was not hired.

More recently, rumors had been circulating in Rocky Mount via Facebook, including that Hampton filed a lawsuit against the City of Rocky Mount or that a financial settlement was going to be agreed to or had been agreed to.

The Telegram from time to time checked the federal court system’s website and the computer terminal listing of civil cases at the Nash County Courthouse and did not see a listing for a lawsuit filed by Hampton.

Rumors also had been circulating in Rocky Mount via Facebook that Hampton returned to Florida yet remained on the City of Rocky Mount’s payroll.

The Telegram emailed Small-Toney seeking clarity or a response prior to the publication of the May 5 story.

Small-Toney, in a brief reply, told the Telegram that what the newspaper was requesting is personnel information, but she told the Telegram that Hampton resigned.

The Telegram, in a follow-up email, asked Small-Toney whether she could provide the date of Hampton’s resignation or on what date Hampton submitted the resignation.

Small-Toney said she could not and that her response to the first email was what she could share at that time.

Hampton on Monday continued to be listed on the City of Rocky Mount’s website as one of two assistant city managers along with the other assistant city manager, Elton Daniels.


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Edgecombe board honors Princeville town manager

The Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners recognized Princeville Town Manager Glenda Knight at the start of its May 3 meeting for her work in advancing the community’s recovery from Hurricane Matthew.

In presenting a plaque to Knight, County Manager Eric Evans said, “As a citizen of Edgecombe County, I am so glad to see the progress Princeville has made in recovering from Hurricane Matthew. As a manager, I truly understand the hard work it takes to make that happen. I’ve been very impressed by Dr. Glenda Knight’s focus and commitment to help Princeville not just build back, but to build back better.”

Knight, who seemed somewhat caught off guard by the presentation, said, “I am honored, overwhelmed and elated by this recognition. I would like to extend gratitude to the county manager for always responding to the needs of Princeville in a timely manner, which has contributed to the productivity of the town’s recovery projects. I would like to thank the commissioners for your willingness to accept the manager’s recommendation. I am grateful.”

Knight, a lifelong resident of Edgecombe County and a 17-year Princeville resident, served on the town board as Ward 4 commissioner and also as mayor pro tem before resigning to serve as interim town manager. She was elevated from the interim position to that of town manager on Feb. 11, 2019.

Princeville Commissioner Alvin Jones and Mayor Pro Tem Linda Joyner addressed commissioners following the presentation and affirmed Evans’ comments, noting the strength and versatility Knight has brought to the position, as well as her commitment to the community and its residents.

“A leader has at their hem to do one of three things: hinder, hurt or help,” Jones said. “Dr. Knight has clearly helped the town move forward and we are fortunate to have her. Thanks to the county manager and Board of Commissioners for recognizing our town manager. This recognition is very deserving.”

Joyner also thanked Evans and commissioners for recognizing Knight.

“It goes without saying that I am so proud that Dr. Knight received this great recognition award,” she said. “Dr. Knight, we are so very proud of you.”

Knight has marshaled the resources to enable the town to obtain the support it needs to successfully navigate the recovery from Hurricane Matthew and be positioned to successfully withstand any future disasters.

Knight was accompanied by her husband, Ricky, at the meeting.


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