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Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall watches during an NCAA college football game against Illinois, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va. (Andrew Shurtleff/The Daily Progress via AP)

Developer calls for city manager's resignation or removal

A developer earlier this week called for the City of Rocky Mount’s top day-to-day executive to step aside or for the City Council to fire her.

Troy Davis approached the speaker’s podium during the public input phase of Monday evening’s council regular meeting and soon began criticizing City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney. Davis’ remarks prompted rebuttals from Small-Toney and Councilman Andre Knight.

Davis early in his remarks made clear he was kind of shocked to hear vacancies in city employee positions continue to be blamed on the effects of the spread of the coronavirus.

Earlier during the council meeting, Small-Toney told the viewing audience of 10 open positions in the municipal solid waste collection operation.

Davis said he believes that the issue of the shortage of employees was ongoing long before COVID-19 and that the municipal Environmental Services Division in particular has been facing shortages of workers.

Davis made clear he believes spending a lot of money on a temp agency to hire people to do sanitation work for now is “absurd” and “ridiculous.”

“I think we need to take a deep look at the amount of jobs we have available,” he said. “There is no reason why the citizens of Rocky Mount aren’t allowed to apply for those jobs without interference from the city manager. I think that we need to kind of let HR (the Department of Human Resources) do its job. There is human resources for a reason.

“We just need to stand up and stop catering to someone that is ruining our city,” he added.

Davis also noted one of the two assistant city manager positions was vacant and referred to Small-Toney in 2018 having unsuccessfully tried to secure approval from the previous council to budget a third assistant city manager position.

Davis, prefacing with the preamble to the Constitution, “We the People,” said, “We’re fed up. We’re tired. We need someone that is going to lead our city — and right now it seems like it’s being led down a tunnel.

“We need a leader who is going to lead our city in a forward motion — and we need our leaders, our elected leaders, to stand up to look into what’s going on really in the City Hall,” he said. “And one last thing: We the people demand that our city manager resign. If not, we demand the elected body here, today, terminate our city manager.”

After Davis finished his remarks, Small-Toney said she would be happy to respond to Davis and the community as a whole.

As Small-Toney began to reply, Davis could be heard in the background in the council chamber saying, “Enough of the lies.”

Mayor Sandy Roberson, who chairs council regular meetings, told Davis he was being disruptive. Davis could be heard saying, “She needs to resign, effective immediately.”

“No, what I need to do is tell the truth about Troy Davis,” Small-Toney said.

Roberson, who was sitting to the right of Small-Toney, with a slight gesture with his left hand, advised Small-Toney against verbally engaging Davis.

Small-Toney said she was not going to go there, but she said as city manager, “I do not interfere with the hiring of people that don’t report directly to me.

“I entrust that, really, to the department heads,” Small-Toney said. “They’re the ones who are considered the hiring authority. I only hire those department heads that report directly to me.”

Small-Toney also said the challenges the city faces are very much related to COVID-19 and that both the municipality and the community went through a difficult and unprecedented time.

“We had no idea what we were dealing with,” she said.

She said there are a number of factors as to why the city is experiencing so many employee vacancies.

She spoke of, as an example, employees, many of them who are women, who had to leave their jobs because they had to take care of their children due to the closures of schools during the coronavirus.

As for the city, she said, “This organization is full of a lot of dedicated, committed employees who keep the ship afloat every single day. And I for one will not allow anyone to come in here and discredit their commitment to public service. That’s just not going to happen.”

She made clear she typically does not respond to comments from the public during council meetings.

At the same time, she made clear she felt she had to say something, not so much on her behalf, but on behalf of the municipal employees who go to work daily and put, in many cases, their lives on the line.

“So I’m very proud of my leadership team. I’m very proud of my leadership, in particular, of this organization — and I look forward to continuing in this role,” she said.

Knight said he has a lot of respect for both Davis and Small-Toney.

Knight also said he believes Davis is very talented, has good skills, has a brilliant mind and has pulled himself up by his bootstraps with the support of the council.

Knight said this council and Downtown Development Manager Kevin Harris have supported Davis “120 percent” in the vision Davis has caught on to in developing downtown.

Knight, however, made clear he took exception as to how Davis, whom he called his friend, displayed his frustration in the council chamber.

“I don’t like everything that Rochelle Small-Toney does and I don’t like everything that Mr. Troy Davis does — and probably vice versa for both of them concerning me,” Knight said. “But I’m not going to tolerate anybody, whether it’s a friend or not a friend, to be disrespectful in that way.”

He also said the council has supported not just Davis, but everybody who wants to be a part of the development in Rocky Mount.

“There’s some things that we’ve got to work on, but we stand and we lead,” he said. “People may not like the way we lead — but in order to lead, you’ve got to have tough skin and be unbossed and unbought and say what you mean and mean what you say.”

Meanwhile, Davis, in a brief posting on Facebook, announced that the former Carleton House downtown motor lodge and restaurant, which he acquired late last year, is back on the real estate market, with an asking price of $1.5 million.

Davis in the posting said that he knows he can do a revitalization project at the location, which is at the northeast corner of Church and Thomas streets, but that he cannot do so without the city’s support.

Hot Dogs and Kids

Nash County Chief Deputy Brandon Medina, left, hands out food on Tuesday during the sheriff’s office’s Hot Dogs and Kids event at the South Rocky Mount Community Center.

Tulloss appointed to state Ports Authority Board

A local insurance agent who long served on the state Transportation Board is now on the state Ports Authority Board.

Gus Tulloss is part of a group responsible for staying informed about world trade and economic trends and developments and making decisions about operations of the ports in the Tar Heel State.

State House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, via a news release on Wednesday announced Tulloss being appointed to his new position.

Tulloss succeeded Tom Adams of Brunswick County, who had been on the Ports Authority Board since 2014.

The Ports Authority Board meets roughly half a dozen times a year. Six of the board members are appointed by the governor, four are appointed by the General Assembly and one is filled by the state transportation secretary.

The Telegram on Aug. 20 reported that state Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette announced Tulloss would be moving to a new position on the Ports Authority Board. That announcement came during a ceremony at Nash Community College naming the Sunset Avenue bridge over Wesleyan Boulevard in honor of Tulloss.

Boyette afterward told the newspaper that Tulloss’ nomination was already on the nomination agenda for Moore.

According to the Ports Authority website, North Carolina’s ports in Wilmington and Morehead City, along with an inland terminal at Charlotte, link the state’s consumers, businesses and industries to world markets and serve as magnets to attract new businesses and industries to the state.

The website said activities at the ports contribute statewide to more than 87,700 jobs and $678 million each year in state and local tax revenues.

Tulloss served on the Transportation Board from 2008 until his retirement in 2020. Tulloss represented state Transportation Division 4, which includes Edgecombe and Nash counties.

The Telegram on March 24 reported that the City of Rocky Mount and the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce were calling for having the Sunset bridge named to recognize Tulloss. The City Council on March 9 had quickly and unanimously approved a resolution requesting the state Transportation Department put the signage in place.

Tulloss, while serving on the transportation board, was able to secure more than $300 million for upgrading bridges and highways when and where needed in the area.

Those dollars included funding for projects to upgrade the Sunset interchange at Wesleyan and upgrade Wesleyan from May Drive to just south of Benvenue Road.

Tulloss also was instrumental in working with the state Commerce Department and the Rocky Mount-based Carolinas Gateway Partnership to secure the future CSX intermodal facility.

The facility has been taking shape on the Edgecombe County side of the Edgecombe County-Nash County line across U.S. 301 from N.C. Wesleyan College. A state transportation spokeswoman told the Telegram the plan is for a ribbon-cutting ceremony the middle of next month.

Tulloss also worked with the Chamber to secure support to have the state Division of Motor Vehicles headquarters relocated from Raleigh to the former Hardee’s corporate headquarters along Church Street just on the north side of the interchange with U.S. 64.

Tarboro seeks alternative to Suddenlink

TARBORO — Years of frustration over the lack of customer service — real or perceived — from Suddenlink has led Tarboro town staff members to seek out an alternative.

And Monday night, members of the town council heard a presentation from Jeremy Rich, president and CEO of Snow Hill-based InfinityLink Communications, on how his 7-year-old company could provide voice, cable and internet service to the community.

“We would build a system throughout the town and offer internet at 10 times faster than anything available today in the community,” Rich said.

Rich told council members that Infinity provides both residential and business services and that the company’s goal is a same-day response to service calls received before 1 p.m. and a next-day response to calls received after 1 p.m.

Council members enthusiastically authorized Town Manager Troy Lewis to proceed with negotiations with InfinityLink.

“We would be offering access for pole attachments and access to right-of-way,” Lewis said.

Rich said his company proposes to provide advanced fiber-optic lines to homes and businesses capable of internet speeds of up to 10 gigabytes per second as well as voice and cable television services throughout the town.

Rich fielded a number of questions from council members, including one from Mayor Pro Tem Othar Woodard as to whether or not his company would stand by its product.

“With our company, you’re going to get three things … We’re going to be local … We’re going to do everything we can to give you the best service possible, and I guarantee you will get what you’re paying for,” Rich said.

Responding to a question about rates, Rich said his company would be competitive. A handout provided to council members and the Telegram quoted rates of $70 for 400 Mbps and $80 for 1 gig internet service — both less than Suddenlink charges for 400 Mbps that tested at 52.8 Mbps download and 16.0 Mbps upload at 11:15 p.m. Monday on the Speedtest app.

Suddenlink currently charges $98.49 for 400 Mbps internet service after a recent $20 monthly increase.

Rich told council members that it is his company’s intent to open a local office where customers could conduct business transactions and interact with company representatives.

“We’re going to be local, so we’re going to take care of business,” he said. “We’re going to see you on the street and in the store and we want you to be happy.”

Following his presentation and the authorization for Lewis to proceed, Rich told the Telegram that he was aware of the discontent with Suddenlink.

“I’ve seen the comments on Facebook,” he said.

Rich told council members it would take about two years to build out the system.

InfinityLink currently serves what Rich described as “most of Greene County plus underserved parts of Lenoir and Pitt counties.” He also told the council that his company has recently begun providing service to the Global Transpark at Kinston.

Tarboro becomes the second municipality to open the door for competition in light of Suddenlink’s continuing issues, which include increasing rates, extended service outages and a lack of response.

In January, the Greenville City Council gave Indiana-based Metro Fibernet LLC approval to install a $35 million to $40 million fiber-optic network that will provide voice, video and internet services to businesses and residents in about 90 percent of the community.

Rich said InfinityLink would serve the entirety of the town’s jurisdiction.

Nash deputies capture wanted fugitive

The Nash County Sheriff’s Office went all out Wednesday to capture a wanted fugitive who had eluded arrest on two previous occasions.

Brooks Michael Driver, 47, was awakened Wednesday afternoon to the sight of a contingent of law enforcement officers surrounding his home on the 8400 block of Driver Road in Nash County.

After several hours of effort by members of the Nash County Sheriff’s Office, including representatives of the Nash County Special Response Team, Narcotics Unit, criminal investigators, patrol deputies and the K-9 unit, Driver was arrested without incident and transported to the Nash County Sheriff’s Office.

The effort may seem excessive at first glance, but Driver already had eluded the Nash County Sheriff’s Office on at least two recent occasions, including one incident Friday when deputies were seen to be chasing a while male suspect on U.S. 264 near Brantley Road.

On Wednesday, the Nash County Sheriff’s Office caught up to him.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Nash County Chief Deputy Brandon Medina expressed jubilation over the capture of Driver, who was a known absconder with a long record of criminal activity in multiple counties.

“Wanted individuals think they can evade the Nash County Sheriff’s Office, and on occasion, they do for a few moments,” Medina said in the post. “We like for them to think they were able to get away and get comfortable wherever they lay their head. Then a knock on the door occurs, and the home the individual is trying to lay low in is surrounded by the Nash County Sheriff’s Office.”

Medina said that Driver had caused problems for the sheriff’s office on previous occasions.

“Brooks Michael Driver fled from us a few days ago, because he didn’t want to go to jail for the multiple outstanding warrants against him,” the post said.

The outstanding warrants against Driver included first-degree burglary, larceny of a firearm, possession of a firearm by a felon, felony probation out of county and habitual felon.

In a later interview, Maj. Miste Strickland said Driver had eluded capture at the home on previous occasions by carving a hole in the floor of his back bedroom and crawling through the crawl space under the house until he could flee the scene.

This time, deputies knew that Driver usually slept until about 3 p.m. so they coordinated efforts for multiple divisions to surround his home and lay in wait for him when he awoke to the knowledge that sheriff’s office personnel were at his door.

Still, the operation took several hours and ended when Driver was caught in the crawlspace beneath his home.

“It’s been aggravating to catch him, so we are glad he is finally caught,” Strickland said.

Driver was alone in his home at the time of his capture, Strickland said. He is being held under a $162,000 bond in the Nash County Detention Center.