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State House to weigh legislation inspired by city audit

The “Enhance Local Government Transparency Bill” co-sponsored by state Sen. Lisa Stone Barnes, R-Nash, is far from dead despite coordinated attempts to kill it, Barnes said this week in an interview.

Senate Bill 473, which was inspired in part by the findings presented by State Auditor Beth Wood regarding the mishandling of money within the City of Rocky Mount government, offers more options to regain public money lost in similar situations.

It also criminalizes situations where an elected official misuses his or her elected office for personal financial gain and legally restricts self-dealing by public officials who also serve on nonprofit boards.

As of June 30, the bill has been re-referred to the state House Judiciary I Committee. If that panel approves it, it will then move to the House Rules, Calendar and Operations Committee.

“There is an amendment to the bill floating around that would clarify some of the language surrounding public officers who serve on nonprofit boards, but that amendment can be voted in one of several committees,” Barnes said.

The work of the General Assembly resumes on Tuesday. Barnes said she hopes to be able to see the bill brought to the House floor for a vote soon.

“I am really pushing for that to happen,” Barnes said.

Barnes said she feels the bill, which strengthens penalties for local governments and public officials who abuse their positions and misuse public funds, is nearly ready for that vote. It has already sailed through the state Senate, passing on May 6 by a 42-6 vote after being approved by three state Senate committees.

“The bottom line is that this bill has been scrutinized by a lot of people from both parties,” she said.

Though the need for the bill was brought to light by the Rocky Mount audit report, which uncovered ethical issues that have never been addressed, the bill, if passed, will apply to all local governments and public officials across the state without regard for political affiliation or racial status.

However, some people see the bill as an attack on Black leadership in local governments.

The N.C. State Conference of Branches of the NAACP issued a statement on June 28 that said in part, “In the waning months of this year’s long session of the N.C. General Assembly, a bill was introduced in the N.C. Senate by a Nash County Republican legislator that promotes racial animus and targets duly elected Black officials under the guise of ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability.’”

The statement continued: “Could it be that the reason Beth Wood and Lisa Barnes are targeting these three individuals and OIC is because they have been key in the movement that has sparked the sustaining Black majority of the Rocky Mount City Council, the sustaining Black majority of the Edgecombe County commissioners and the second appointed Black city manager? Could it be that supporters of Wood and Barnes are upset that Blacks now hold the office of Rocky Mount police and fire chiefs, superintendent of the Edgecombe (and until recently Nash County) school system, president of the Edgecombe Community College, Edgecombe County sheriff, district attorney, judges and state representatives and senator?”

Wood is a Democrat who has repeatedly denied any racial focus for her audit report. Barnes, a Republican, has also denied any racial motivation for the bill.

The NAACP has called on state officials to reject the bill.

“The NC NAACP calls on Governor Cooper and every member of the General Assembly to see this bill for what it is and lump it with the rest of the GOP led voter suppression bills to strip Black voters of their right to vote and to choose their own leaders. We call upon them to oppose SB 473 and cease their efforts to target Black leadership in Rocky Mount and across our state. Your actions are being watched and monitored by our organization and every civil rights entity in our state. Your legacy is being defined by your votes, your words and your actions,” the statement concluded.

Barnes said she is not concerned about the impact of the NAACP’s statement on the passage of the bill.

“I don’t think that statement will change the minds of people,” Barnes said. “I am actually seeing more support for the bill because most people see it as a common-sense measure that applies equally to everyone.”

Barnes said the need to protect the integrity of local government is important to the political process.

“When people don’t trust their government, they either get angry or they get apathetic and refuse to participate in elections. We need to try to preserve the integrity and increase the accountability of these local government institutions so that citizens will trust the people who are governing them,” Barnes said in an earlier interview.

Another effort at opposing the bill has come in the form of a flyer that is being distributed locally by Black Power Coalition. The flyer was distributed last weekend at the city’s Independence Day celebration.

Among other statements, the flyer states, “SB 473 automatically criminalizes any finding in investigative audits with penalty of personal liability and jail time.”

However, the law only criminalizes specific acts by public officers who abuse their power for financial gain.

The flyer also states that the bill “threatens current and future minority leaders with felonies and fines for mistakes and actions that happen outside of their knowledge, control or skillset.”

Barnes said the flyer is another example of the misinformation that is surrounding the legislation.

“There are a lot of gross inaccuracies in that flyer,” she said.

Councilman Andre Knight, whose actions were called into question by the audit report, also has proposed that the City of Rocky Mount adopt a resolution condemning the bill. That resolution has not yet been adopted and the impact of such a resolution on a state bill is unlikely to have much impact, especially considering the role Rocky Mount has played in highlighting the need for such a bill.

Such an action also may have some questioning the motive behind such a resolution.

“I question why anyone who is innocent would oppose this bill,” Barnes said.

Next generation takes helm of family business

Family-owned businesses are the primary form of business in the country, but few of them are able to last for a second or third generation.

One local business is proving that wrong.

Scott Tulloss, now president and CEO of Tulloss Equipment Co., is the third generation of Tulloss men in the role. At the helm of a company that was started in 1946, Scott follows his father, John Jr., and his grandfather, John, at the helm of the company.

Fresh out of college, Scott began a career in finance, where he worked for several years. Something, though, was missing, he said.

“Behind the desk just wasn’t my thing,” he said.

He was ready to leave the world of banking behind and join his father at the family business.

“I said to Scott, “This isn’t like the bank,’” John Jr. said. “Every two weeks you get a check, but here you’re only going to get a check if we have the money. My concern was when he started was if we could do enough business to pay us, pay the rent. But I guess it worked out alright since we’re sitting right here.”

Although Scott is now in the driver’s seat, John Jr. isn’t planning to retire anytime soon.

“I don’t want to retire,” he said.

Scott said that’s fine with him.

“We’ve already talked about it, and I told him he could come into the office for as long as he wants,” Scott said. “He’ll retire at his desk with his head down.”

John Jr. said building a career outside the family business didn’t even cross his mind. He said that he finished his last class at N.C. State University at noon and by 1 p.m., he was back in Rocky Mount working.

“One of the keys to us staying in business is being smart with our money and with the equipment we sell. We pride ourselves on getting our hands on product that people are proud to have,” Scott said. “When we’re selling good equipment and people are happy, you don’t hear much. But as soon as you put something out there that’s subpar, people talk. That’s when a business suffers and it’s not acceptable to us.”

Both John Jr. and Scott said they expect perfection and won’t settle for less.

“It’s unnerving to me when something’s not perfect. We try to be perfect and do the absolute best we can,” Scott said.

John Jr. echoed that sentiment.

“We take a lot of pride in what we do here, and we aren’t a multimillion-dollar corporation, so we can’t accept anything less than perfection,” he said.

It’s not likely Tulloss Equipment Co. will be passed down to a fourth generation. Scott’s two adult sons excel in their own careers of engineering and forestry management.

“I don’t see either one of them saying, ‘Hey, I want to come work over here.’ It’s just not going to happen,” Scott said. “I take a lot of pride in what I buy and what I sell, and for all of my clients, I owe it to them to be perfect. This attitude is why we’re three generations in. We owe it to our customers, and ourselves, to be better than the best.”

Local women's shelter upgrades safe house

My Sister’s House has completed a major two-part project at the local nonprofit organization’s safe house that replaced the windows with new ones and resulted in having better and more secure fencing.

My Sister’s House Director Emily Lemus told the Telegram that the windows project was paid for with $15,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding via the City of Rocky Mount and that the fence project was paid for with a $10,000 donation by Cummins Rocky Mount Engine Plant and $6,000 in CDBG funding via the municipality.

My Sister’s House is the program locally providing outreach and shelter services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Employees of the Cummins plant have long served on the organization’s board of directors.

Lemus noted CDBG funding via the municipality has been used to pay for replacing the roof at the safe house.

Lemus said of the benefits of the federal funding, “We shelter 100 to 125 people a year, so you’ve got a lot of wear and tear and moving in and out and families moving in and out.”

My Sister’s House has had the safe house since 1986.

The organization is quite busy with the safe house, which is a 24/7 service. The organization also has a crisis call line, which also is a 24/7 service.

Lemus is one of eight full-time employees — and she said about a dozen part-time employees work in shifts at the safe house.

During the June 14 City Council work session, interim Community and Business Development Director Peter Varney showed a list of four organizations that the council was being asked to approve for CDBGs for local public service projects.

CDBG funds assist urban, suburban and rural communities to improve housing and living conditions and expand economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income persons.

At the same time, 15 percent of CDBG funds to be awarded via the City of Rocky Mount have to be made available for public services.

The list of eligible activities associated with those services includes crime prevention, daycare, employment services, health services, homelessness prevention, housing counseling, recreational services and other human services that would lessen poverty.

The providers of such services need to be either a nonprofit, a governmental agency or a faith-based organization and they have to be able to serve neighborhoods or households within the Rocky Mount city limits.

During the June 14 council work session, Councilman Andre Knight wanted to know whether My Sister’s House asked for funding.

Varney said the organization did not.

Knight spoke about how the coronavirus pandemic affected women in terms of subsequent domestic violence and about women and children suffering from conditions they did not cause to occur.

Knight made clear he would like Varney’s staff to reach out to My Sister’s House.

“We can’t make people apply and I don’t know the reason why they haven’t,” Knight said.

At the same time, Knight made clear he believes My Sister’s House is a good service being utilized in the community because there is a lot of suffering under that kind of abusiveness.

Varney told the council that American Rescue Plan funding via the HOME Program can be used for services in response to domestic violence and that My Sister’s House may have the chance through that source to apply.

The American Rescue Plan was successfully advocated by the Biden White House to provide roughly $1.9 trillion in additional relief to deal with the continued effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy.

HOME is the largest federal block grant to state and local governments designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households.

Varney told the city council on June 14 that he anticipates the funding via the American Rescue Plan will take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to be processed.

Varney also told the council that funding from the plan would help fully fund requests by two of the four organizations that sought CDBG funding and would fund a request by a fifth organization that sought CDBG funding.

The council on June 28 signed off on the requests for the federal funding for the fiscal year 2021-22.

Lemus told the Telegram her organization did not seek CDBG funding via the city for fiscal 2021-22 because of the two projects at the safe house having been in progress at the time.

Lemus said the two projects were delayed in part because of COVID-19 in terms of being able to get the needed materials and parts.

Lemus made clear her organization has been in communication with the city about moving forward in seeking American Rescue Plan funding once more information is released. She also made clear her organization has every intention of applying to seek that funding.

Lemus has been directing for My Sister’s House for more than four years. Prior to that she served on the board of directors and prior to that she served as a volunteer.

Lemus said plans call this October for a celebration of My Sister’s House having been in existence for 40 years, with the gathering to also be timed with Domestic Violence Awareness month.

“And we are actually event-planning now,” she said.

Filing period underway for most area municipal elections

Local elections boards are in the midst of the filing season for most municipalities in the Twin Counties, and some election races are heating up faster than others.

Spring Hope Town Commissioner Prudence Wilkins was the first candidate to formally announce her candidacy. Wilkins announced at a news conference before the filing season began that she plans to run for mayor during the November election.

That seat is currently occupied by longtime Spring Hope Mayor Buddy Gwantley III. Wilkins has served two years on the Spring Hope Board of Commissioners.

“Being the person that I am, many of you know that I am very much in the community, very much love the Town of Spring Hope and love what Spring Hope has to offer,” Wilkins said on June 29 at her news conference. “I am not going to stand here and tell you guys that I am going to do this or I am going to do that because it takes an entire community to do the things that we need to do here within Spring Hope. We have a ways to go, but I do feel like, as a team, we can actually take Spring Hope where we envision Spring Hope being,”

Wilkins formally filed to run for mayor on July 2, the first day filing began. The filing period ends at noon on Friday.

As of this Friday, Gwaltney had not yet filed for re-election as mayor. He could not be reached for comment as to whether he plans to run in the coming election.

But the Spring Hope race is the most active so far in the filings in the Twin Counties. Not only does the current mayor face an opponent this year if he chooses to run, but five Spring Hope residents also have already filed to run in an election where only four seats are open.

Spring Hope commissioners Brent Cone and Drew Griffin have both filed to run again this year. Commissioner Ricky Tucker has not yet filed to run. Wilkins’ commissioner seat was not set to expire until 2023. Since she is running for mayor, that seat is open this year as well.

Three newcomers to the race have filed to run in the Spring Hope commissioner’s race: Eric Gainey, Jason Himmelright and Tony Jeffreys.

The Town of Castalia has a mayoral seat and three commissioner seats up for grabs this year, and only one resident has come forward to run.

Castalia Mayor James Alston was appointed to his post as mayor in January 2020 after serving multiple terms as a town commissioner. He has not yet filed to run for election to that post.

The term of Castalia commissioner Brian Hinkle is set to expire this year, and he has not yet put in a bid for re-election. In addition, two commissioner seats are currently vacant on the Castalia Board of Commissioners, according to information provided by the Nash County Board of Elections.

Sadie Harvey Atkinson is the only Castalia resident to file to run for the position of commissioner so far.

In the Town of Dortches, three seats are open this year. All current officials have filed for re-election but there are no opponents so far. If no one files to run, Dortches mayor Jackie B. Vick and town commissioners Bruce Smith and Boyce Varnell will retain their seats on the board.

Middlesex Mayor LuHarvey Lewis Jr. and Middlesex Town Commissioner Harold Meacombs have both filed to run for re-election this year. But so far, Town Commissioner Ann Mitchell Lewis has not. No one else has filed to fill any of these three expiring terms.

Two town commissioner seats are expiring in Momeyer and only one commissioner had filed for re-election as of Friday. Richard Matthews has filed to run for commissioner after filling an unexpired term in 2019. Martha Lucas has not yet filed to run to retain her seat, and no other candidates are on the horizon so far.

Red Oak Mayor Levell Langley has filed to run for re-election to his post. Red Oak Town Commissioner Sandra Russ, who was appointed to fill Barbara Tyre’s seat in November 2020, also has filed to run for election to retain that seat. Red Oak Town commissioner Craig New has not yet filed to run for re-election. However, newcomer to the race Todd Mallory threw his hat in the ring Thursday and hopes to join the Red Oak Board of Commissioners this year.

Three Nash County towns with expiring terms have had no one yet file for election this year.

No one has filed to run in the Nashville election so far though two seats on the Nashville Town Council are up for grabs. The terms of Council members Kate Burns and Larry Taylor expire this year, according to information provided by the Nash County Board of Elections.

Two seats also are opening up on the Town of Bailey Board of Commissioners. The terms of Shelley B. Carroll and Dwan Hope Finch are expiring this year with no filers so far.

The Town of Sharpsburg, which falls into Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties, also has three seats up for election this year. No one has filed to challenge commissioners G. Randall Collie and Beverly Davis, and the incumbents have not filed to run. Mayor Robert Williams Jr. also has not filed for re-election though his seat is set to open.

In Edgecombe County, little interest has been shown in filing so far.

“We have only had two candidates file to run this week,” Edgecombe County Elections Director Jerry Spruell said Friday.

Emily Stallings Turner has filed to run for mayor of Macclesfield. Current Mayor Dennis Sanderson was appointed to that post in June 2020 and the term is set to expire this year. Sanderson has not yet filed to run to retain the office of mayor.

The terms of commissioners Ernest Polling and Patricia Keel also are set to expire this year with no one filing for those seats so far.

In the town of Whitakers, Town Commissioner Sammy Lee Hopkins Sr. is the only candidate to file for re-election as of Friday. The terms of commissioners Doris Lindsey and Janice Bellamy also are set to expire this year.

The entire town board of Conetoe is up for grabs this year with all terms of the mayor and four commissioners set to expire. Officials in the town are elected to two-year terms, which expire concurrently. The mayor’s seat in that town is currently vacant, according to information provided by the Edgecombe County Board of Elections.

Two commissioner terms in Pinetops will expire this year. Neither Commissioner Barbara Taylor nor Donald Webb have yet filed to run for re-election and no newcomers have come forward.

The Edgecombe County towns of Speed and Leggett have no posts up for election this year.

Elections for the City of Rocky Mount, the Town of Tarboro and the Town of Princeville have been delayed by state law until new census information is provided and new ward lines can be drawn based on that data.

Interested candidates for these positions must file to run for office by noon Friday at the elections board in their county of residence.

Council OKs reappointments to city panels

The City Council recently quickly voted for keeping in place a number of people who made clear their availability to continue serving on boards and commissions.

During the June 28 council regular meeting, Garland Jones and Jean Almand Kitchin were reappointed to the Central City Revitalization Panel and William Sharpe and Nehemiah Smith were reappointed to the Human Relations Commission.

Also, the council reappointed Clara Knight and Johnnie Mayo Jr. to the Planning Board, Carl Revis to the Board of Adjustment and Darlene Spencer-Harris to the Community Appeals Board.

The council also reappointed Chantelle Mosley to the Utility Services Review Board.

The Central City Revitalization Panel advises about matters regarding the preservation of and improvements to the downtown area.

Jones was appointed to the CCRP in 2006. Jones serves as a representative of property owners in the central part of the city and also has been serving as the CCRP’s chairman.

Kitchin was appointed to the CCRP in 2014 and serves at large.

During the June 28 council regular meeting, Councilman Lige Daughtridge brought up that Jones and Kitchin were available to be reappointed to the CCRP.

The purpose of the Human Relations Commission is to promote understanding, respect and harmony among all people.

Sharpe was appointed to the commission in 2009 and is in Ward 5, which is represented by Daughtridge.

Smith was appointed to the commission in 2017 and is in Ward 1, which is represented by Councilman Andre Knight.

During the June 28 council regular meeting, Knight noted Smith being in the audience and told him, “Thank you for serving, sir.”

Smith also has been a frequent speaker during the public input phase of council regular meetings and a supporter of a four-member council majority that includes Knight.

The purpose of the Planning Board is to conduct a comprehensive and continuing program to direct Rocky Mount’s growth.

The purpose of the board also includes establishing policies and principles for guiding development in Rocky Mount and the municipality’s extraterritorial planning and zoning areas in Edgecombe and Nash Counties.

Clara Knight was appointed to the board in 2011 and is in Ward 1.

Mayo was appointed to the board in 2006 and is in Ward 3, which is represented by Councilman Richard Joyner.

The Board of Adjustment hears and decides appeals and reviews any order, requirement or determination made in the enforcement of the city’s Land Development Code.

Revis was appointed to the board in 2015 and is in Ward 3.

The Community Appeals Board hears appeals resulting from any decision or order of the municipal housing code inspector.

Spencer-Harris was appointed to the board in February 2020 and represents Ward 3.

The Utility Services Review Board hears appeals from utility customers who may contend the municipal staff failed to follow established customer service policies.

Mosley was appointed in 2016 and is in Ward 5.

The reappointments were approved without opposition after a motion by Daughtridge and a second by Councilwoman Chris Miller.

Positions available on the boards or commissions are included in the council’s regular meeting agenda and can be viewed on the City of Rocky Mount’s website by clicking on “Government,” “Mayor & City Council” and “Agendas & Minutes.”

Those interested in learning more about serving on the boards or commissions may submit an application in writing to City Clerk Pamela Casey’s office, P.O. Box 1180, Rocky Mount NC 27802-1180 or via email to pamela.casey@rockymountnc.gov

A resume of each applicant may accompany a personal history form signed by the applicant indicating his or her willingness to serve should he or she be appointed.

Personal history forms are available at the city clerk’s office or on the City of Rocky Mount’s website by clicking on “Government” and “Boards & Commissions.”

For more information, call 252-972-1319.