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Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball works around Memphis Grizzlies forward Kyle Anderson during the second half of a preseason NBA game on Thursday, in Charlotte.

City files response to EEOC about woman's harassment complaint

City Attorney Jep Rose said during Monday’s City Council regular meeting that the municipality has filed a response to a former municipal employee’s charge that she filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the municipality.

Rose made the statement after Councilman Reuben Blackwell asked Rose about the process and where the City of Rocky Mount is in relation to the complaint, within the bounds of what can be publicly shared.

Blackwell made the inquiry minutes after the former employee, Jacqueline Barnes, addressed the council during the public input phase of the council’s regular meeting.

Barnes, who is retired from working for the city, claims that Elton Daniels sought sexual gratification from her when he was the director of parks and recreation prior to being promoted to an assistant city manager position.

Barnes also claims that no disciplinary action was taken after she filed a complaint with the city.

Barnes also claims that Daniels began to retaliate against her for the complaint, passing her over for promotions, refusing to grant requests for expenses needed to run the parks and recreation department and keeping her listed as an interim manager.

During Monday’s meeting, Rose said Barnes’ allegations are part of the charge with the EEOC and part of a confidential proceeding whose outcome is pending.

Rose said that the municipality is awaiting a response from the EEOC.

The EEOC is the federal government’s watchdog against discrimination, harassment and retaliation in the workplace. According to the EEOC’s website, if the EEOC finds that discrimination has occurred, then the EEOC will try to settle the charge but if the EEOC is not successful, then the EEOC has the authority to file a lawsuit.

According to the EEOC’s website, when deciding to file a lawsuit, the EEOC considers several factors, such as the strength of the evidence, the issues in the case and the wider impact the lawsuit could have on the EEOC’s efforts to combat discrimination in the workplace.

During the public input period of City Council regular meetings, residents can sign up to address the seven-member panel for three minutes.

Barnes told the council Monday that in January 2019 she stood in the council chamber and spoke in support of a then-embattled City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney.

At the time, Small-Toney had become a focus of much public scrutiny due to questions about the competency and lack of local residency of a major hire, then-Community and Business Development Director Landis Faulcon, and about departures of key municipal officials.

Barnes recalled having been proud at the time of Small-Toney, who is the first Black woman to serve as the administrative head of the city.

Barnes, who presently has to use a wheelchair to move about, told of now ironically being unable to stand and of regretting “every single word” she spoke about Small-Toney.

Barnes said she was sitting with a total understanding of what was allowed to happen to her, taken as a joke by some, misrepresented as a race thing by a few, invalidated by others and questioned by so many.

Both Barnes and Daniels are Black.

Barnes said of her allegations against Daniels, “Let me be clear, I am not the only one. I just happened to be the first to report it in 2019, but you all are already aware of that.

“Maybe if the white employee from parks and recreation will report him, you all will give it more credence,” Barnes said. “But I can understand why she may not. This city manager lied to my face and left me in the lion’s den—”

Mayor Sandy Roberson, who chairs council regular meetings, interjected and directed Barnes not to make allegations of a personal nature.

“OK, well, I was left in the lion’s den unaware and with no one caring what was happening to me in the process,” Barnes said.

Barnes made clear she believes if an investigation by a qualified third party had been conducted as recommended, then “none of us would be discussing this right now.”

“And many of the nights that I’ve had — and deep discussions that I’ve had with my husband and with my parents — would be a distant memory,” she said. “Or maybe if I were a woman of a different hue, things would have been handled much differently and much more responsibly.

“None of that matters now because we are here.”

A group of protesters was outside City Hall calling for the removal of both Small-Toney and Daniels.

Barnes said that everyone who sent emails, text messages and direct messages and who made phone calls were there.

She said that although they could not come into the council chamber, she should not have had to retire from a job she loved due to extra mental stress because someone chose to abuse his power and another one refused to exercise hers.

After the end of the public input period, Blackwell said the council, Roberson and Small-Toney have been respectful and have attempted to be open to the process of any allegation of wrongdoing by any member of the municipality.

Blackwell said as it relates to this issue, “several of us have had concerns about adherence to process when anyone feels their rights have been violated.”

Blackwell asked Rose to give an overview and let the council and the public know whether anything is awry at this point as far as the process is concerned.

Rose made clear that the city does not tolerate discrimination, harassment, bullying or retaliation against employees or applicants for employment and that the municipality has supporting equal employment opportunity policies in place.

Additionally, Rose said that each municipal employee is made aware of the policies while undergoing orientation after being hired and that the city periodically circulates reminders of the policies to the employees.

Rose also said that under the policies, employees are instructed to report alleged discrimination to the director of human resources and alleged harassment or bullying to the managers, supervisors or to the Human Resources Department.

Rose said that managers and supervisors are required to forward the complaint to human resources and that appropriate corrective action is taken if human resources determines that violations of the policies occurred.

“Based on what we have determined, the policies have been followed in this case,” he said.

Natasha Hampton, who was an assistant city manager until resigning in April, has said that she had encouraged Small-Toney to bring in an outside investigator because she did not believe the current human resources staff and director were equipped to investigate such allegations.

Peacemakers to open new private school

Because the annual Peacemakers fundraising banquet was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, organizers were determined this year to bring people together for a night of celebration and worship.

Picnic for Peacemakers was the theme for the event on Thursday where attendees wore jeans and dined on fried chicken, baked beans and potato salad at Englewood Baptist Church.

Executive Director Jesse Lewis said Peacemakers of Rocky Mount looks to “empower members of the South Rocky Mount community and surrounding areas with the knowledge and skills necessary to live successful and sustainable lives.”

“We strive to tangibly demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ in such a way that it results ultimately in the complete transformation of the community and its people,” he said. “We want to see our neighbors thrive. We do this by focusing on three areas: education, job readiness and housing development.”

Over the past four years, Peacemakers has been cultivating a vision to start a private school in South Rocky Mount. Head of School Imani Cooper announced Thursday that Southside Academy will open its doors in 2022.

Cooper said that “music and dance will be a part of the learning experience, where you can learn more about God while receiving an education where the cost of attendance is at little cost to our families.”

Cooper went on to say that the need for a school in that community is necessary because many schools don’t meet the needs of students.

“To help steer children away from self-perpetuating cycles that lead to continual socioeconomic disadvantage and loss of hope, Southside Academy will provide comprehensive support to students year-round,” she said.

Peacemakers board member Kay Gurganus told attendees how Peacemakers has been supporting education efforts by offering Freedom School, which is a seven-week, full-time summer enrichment program that helps students master reading skills, increase their self-esteem and generate a more positive attitude toward learning.

Peacemakers also offers a free after-school program for 40 neighborhood elementary students four days a week, two hours per day during the school year. The program provides students with homework assistance and individual tutoring.

Michelle McNeil, program coordinator for Hometown Hires, talked about how Peacemakers helps the community with job readiness.

Hometown Hires is a program that seeks to move families out of generational poverty through job training, education and a network of community partners. It was launched in 2019 in partnership with Nash Community College, the United Way of the Tar River Region, N.C. State University and the Upper Coastal Plain Learning Council.

Peacemakers also offers adult education and job readiness courses in partnership with Nash Community College.

Hometown Hires participant Charlie Williams said he felt at peace walking through the doors of Peacemakers for the first time. Coming from a life of detention, drug abuse and homelessness, Williams said he not only learned skills that would prepare him for work but also soft skills such as managing money.

“Through Peacemakers, I’ve developed relationships with people who care about me, who want to see me succeed,” he said. “That’s something I’ve never experienced before.”

Director of Housing and Community Outreach Lemanuel Williams said that housing in South Rocky Mount is not about profitability or popularity.

“Our bottom line is to see our neighbors flourish to the glory of Jesus’ name,” he said.

The housing development program strives to improve and expand the quality of housing, increase the overall homeowner percentage and keep people in their homes.

Annual fundraiser to benefit Boys & Girls Clubs

Each year community leaders in the Twin Counties come together at the annual Steak & Burger Dinner to raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region.

The fundraising event is designed to honor the youth and provide an opportunity for donors to experience firsthand the impact the club is making on the lives of young people in the Twin Counties.

This year, the Boys & Girls Club of the Tar River Region will hold its 27th annual Steak & Burger fundraising event virtually at 7 p.m. Thursday streaming on Facebook Live.

“This is a night where we normally would have donors and our club members interact face to face at beautiful Rose Hill,” Boys & Girls Clubs CEO Ron Green said. “Because of COVID, we will broadcast this event through your TVs, computers and mobile devices so that all can see the magic of the Boys & Girls Club.”

The virtual format will allow a broader audience to learn what the organization has accomplished throughout the year. The evening will include appearances from Boys & Girls Clubs members, staff and board members. Also featured will be co-hosts Mayor Sandy Roberson and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region and North Carolina State Youth of the Year Elijah Sellers.

The evening also will feature a special appearance by international recording artist and co-host of the television show “The Song,” Damien Horne. Horne is a top-20 hit songwriter and has shared the stage with artists like John Legend, Keith Urban, The Commodores and others. Horne has given two TED Talks, shared his “Rise and Shine” journey at numerous events and travels the globe inspiring others with his gifts and abilities.

To assure local young people have access to technology, adequate food, school supplies and mentorship, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region needs community support now more than ever. Proceeds from the Steak & Burger event will directly impact the club and the more than 1,200 young people who walk through the doors.

Log on to www.bgctrr.org for more details about the event and see all the items offered on the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region’s online auction.

Mailing of city utility bills delayed

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney told the viewing audience at the start of the City Council regular meeting Monday that due to an issue with the vendor, utility bills are on a delayed mailing schedule.

In the meantime, all utility billing statements that have not been received with an end of October or November due date will not be subject to the imposition of late payment penalties.

Customers may phone 252-972-1250 to ask the amount of the bill and the due date. Customers also may go in person to the Business and Collections Services Center at 224 S. Franklin St. or go online to https://ipn.paymentus.com/rotp/crm to make payments.

Small-Toney did not specify what the issue is with the vendor but she apologized for the inconvenience and said the City of Rocky Mount is working diligently with the vendor to resolve that issue.

This is not the first time there have been problems with utility billing.

The Telegram on Aug. 19, 2020, reported that police were having to fill out incident and offense reports by hand and that the city’s system enabling a customer to pay his or her utility bill online was not functioning.

The municipal Facebook page said customers could use the drive-up service at the Business Services and Collections location of South Franklin and pay bills with cash, check or money order.

The municipality eventually confirmed the disruption was an “unprecedented event” and of having been the victim of a sophisticated cyberattack that involved the encryption of certain municipal systems.

Eventually the municipality called a news conference, which was led by Small-Toney, then-City Finance Director Amy Staton, Mayor Sandy Roberson and then-Police Chief George Robinson.

The public learned that hackers had demanded a ransom payment in Bitcoin digital currency from the municipality in return for a tool to decode computer files for the municipality to regain access to them and for any data possibly taken from the network.

The municipality, based on recommendations from authorities, refused to make such a payment.

Man in critical condition after being shot

A 24-year-old man is in critical condition at a hospital in Greenville after he was wounded by gunfire in the early morning hours of Monday in Rocky Mount, police said.

Officers about 1:20 a.m. responded to a report of shots fired in the 1500 block of Fountain Street in the Hillsdale area, police spokesman Cpl. Ricky Jackson said in a news release.

Shortly after officers arrived, they were told of a shooting victim arriving at Nash UNC Health Care, Jackson said.

The man was transported to Vidant Medical Center, Jackson said.

Jackson did not provide the man’s name, but said a probe is continuing.

Anyone with any information about this case is asked to phone police at 252-972-1411 or Twin County Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111.

Tips also can be texted to police via Text-A-Tip at 274637 by beginning messages with RMPOL and typing up to 155 characters about the information.