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Hunter to become assistant to city manager


Longtime key city official Kenneth Hunter has been reclassified to serve in the position of assistant to the city manager, effective on Nov. 1.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney on Monday made the announcement about Hunter as part of her community update during the City Council regular meeting. Small-Toney also congratulated Hunter.

Hunter has been serving as assistant to the city manager for budget and evaluation for about a year and a half and has been employed by the city for nearly 15 years.

Councilman Andre Knight said he had not been notified in advance of the upcoming change in Hunter’s position and a brief verbal exchange between Knight and Small-Toney ensued.

Small-Toney, when she made the announcement about Hunter, said her action would allow her to assign Hunter additional duties, including supervision over several departments.

“Ken has certainly proven his competency working in the area of budget,” Small-Toney said. “And so, this is an opportunity for him to expand his career path as well as to bring a great deal of experience and knowledge of the existing departments with the city.”

Not long after Small-Toney made the announcement, Knight congratulated Hunter but at the same time made clear what he was about to say next was no offense to Hunter.

Knight said he would have appreciated if he had gotten the information before Monday so the council would have been prepared to altogether congratulate Hunter.

Knight told Small-Toney that, while she is the manager, to please let the council be informed regarding upper management positions.

Small-Toney told Knight, “Well, actually, sir,” but Knight interjected and told Small-Toney, “No comment needed, thank you.”

Small-Toney said, “No, a comment is needed.”

Knight, his voice rising, said, “No comment needed.”

Mayor Sandy Roberson, who chairs the council regular meetings, said, “Please, please, please, please,” in asking for order.

As Knight continued to speak, Roberson told Knight, “Please, sir.”

Knight said, “I don’t need a comment. Thank you, Mr. Hunter. Congratulations.”

Small-Toney, in a low tone of voice, could be heard telling Roberson the information about Hunter had been given to Knight.

Roberson told Knight he believed the information had been provided.

“Mayor, I just got it,” Knight told Roberson.

“All right, fair enough,” Roberson told Knight.

Roberson also told Knight his opposition was so noted.

“Thank you,” Knight said.

Hunter and his team prepare and manage the city’s operating budget and the municipal five-year capital improvement plan.

The capital improvement plan is particularly important because that document provides information for groups interested in Rocky Mount’s growth and development needs in order to make investment decisions.

The capital improvement plan also serves as a statement of intent to federal and state agencies that provide grants-in-aid to the municipality.

Hunter and his team also evaluate the municipality’s financial condition and do forecasting of revenues and expenditures.

According to information about Hunter on the LinkedIn career-oriented website, he joined the city in December 2006 as budget and evaluation manager and served in that position before moving up in May 2020 to assistant to the city manager for budget and evaluation after having been reclassified.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Tennessee Tech University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Georgia.

His resume includes having worked roughly a year and eight months as a finance analyst for the City of Elberton, Ga.; about nine months as a management analyst for the City of Manassas Park, Va.; and about two years and four months as a budget analyst for the City of Manassas, Va.

Hunter has been receiving $123,663 a year in base pay from the city, according to information the Telegram received in March from the municipality about the salaries of high-level municipal officials.

Small-Toney on Tuesday told the Telegram that Hunter’s yearly base pay will be set at $140,000.

City receives $25K award from national health foundation

The City of Rocky Mount is going to receive a $25,000 prize from the largest philanthropic organization devoted exclusively to health.

Municipal officials on Tuesday at City Hall announced the money is coming via the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health award, with the city to be one of 10 to receive such an honor for 2020-21.

The foundation is located in Princeton, N.J., and was formed in 1972 after the death of Robert Wood Johnson II, who formerly was the board chairman of health care giant Johnson & Johnson.

The Culture of Health awards honor and elevate communities in the nation working at the forefront of advancing health, opportunity and equity for all.

Councilman Reuben Blackwell said that the foundation is literally the defining health care organization in the nation that provides data and research for policy from the federal government to state governments down to local governments.

Blackwell said that the foundation analyzes and assesses what health means and what health looks like in communities across the nation.

Of the $25,000 to be awarded, Blackwell gave credit to City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and to Assistant to the City Manager-designee Kenneth Hunter for “having the foresight to understand that we have so many great things in Rocky Mount that get lost in negativity that sometimes is manufactured, such that data becomes not as important as what manufactured stories are.

“And what I want to say is the Robert Wood Johnson award for Culture of Health is like the Grammys of health care in America,” Blackwell said. “To have this award, it’s not the money — $25,000 is great, but we know $25,000 can’t change anybody’s true reality.”

He told of the foundation recognizing partnerships and collaborations that change communities from the inside out.

Blackwell is president and CEO of the Opportunities Industrialization Center, which seeks to help provide residents with employment training and health care.

As he spoke, he was flanked by an OIC team that included Councilman Andre Knight, who chairs the OIC’s board.

Blackwell said that the OIC was quite fortunate years ago to be selected by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, in an OIC collaboration with the N.C. Community Development Association and Legal Aid of North Carolina, to form what was named Transforming Rocky Mount.

Blackwell said that the OIC took data the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided about Rocky Mount and analyzed the data with the City of Rocky Mount’s analyst.

“And we understood that there was racial segregation that occurred in years past that impacted how people were living today,” he said. “And we intentionally looked for opportunities to connect the dots to say that we can undo what was done intentionally if we intentionally work at it.”

He said that the OIC understands health is a sum of lived experiences along with genetic predispositions.

“And if we change the experience that people are living through every day in their homes, their neighborhoods, their schools, their communities and workplaces — and then we help people understand how they are genetically predisposed to something — then we can begin to provide information that will alter behavior and create a momentum and a dynamic movement, hopefully, that will bring life and health to where there was disinvestment and lack of hope,” he said.

City Management Analysts Keyana Walston and Chase Norwood were instrumental in the municipality applying for the money from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Small-Toney expressed appreciation to the foundation for recognizing the Rocky Mount community.

“Winning the Culture of Health prize highlights so much of the work that has been done behind the scenes, as well as in the forefront,” she said. “The ideals of which we have been recognized — opportunity, health, equity — are all parts of what makes a thriving community.”

Mayor Sandy Roberson said that, “My hope today is that we not only celebrate this award, but let it be a reminder of how far we’ve come and the work we will continue to do with the resources that we have.”

Councilman Richard Joyner, who is doubling as mayor pro tem this year, in part spoke of Rocky Mount engaging in opportunities for community wealth building, which focuses on having collaborative, inclusive and locally controlled economies.

Joyner also spoke of partnerships with community investors and the community in taking what looked like a problem and turning it into an opportunity for sustainability for health and wholeness for the entire community.

“I encourage our residents, as you are involved, to stay involved,” Joyner said. “We still have a lot to be done, but let’s do it. And let’s show that Rocky Mount is the model citizen and city that we are proud of.”

Small-Toney will accept the prize on the municipality’s behalf from the foundation on Nov. 9.

More information is included with the online version of this story at www.rockymounttelegram.com.

Man charged with assaulting woman while she was driving

A local man with a prior record — and with a driving while impaired case already pending against him — is accused of attacking a woman, records said.

Marlon Batts, 41, is charged with felony assault inflicting serious bodily injury and misdemeanor assault on a female, Nash County District Court records said.

According to the records, Batts is accused of punching Syntheia Renolds multiple times in her face while she was driving, causing severe lacerations to her face and mouth and possible damage to her nerves.

The incident occurred on Sunday, the records said.

Batts was arrested the same day in the 700 block of South Franklin Street, which is in the Little Raleigh area, a posting on the local Police to Citizen online link said.

Batts had listed an address in the 700 block of South Franklin, Nash County District Court records said.

Batts is being held without bond at the Nash County Detention Center and he is due today for a first appearance in Nash County District Court, Chief Deputy Brandon Medina told the Telegram.

According to Nash County District Court records, Batts is charged by Rocky Mount police with DWI on June 13 on South Franklin in the area of Western Avenue.

The records also said that police cited Batts for driving while his license was revoked.

Statewide judicial system records online also said that Batts was cited on Jan. 4 in Wake County for driving without an operator’s license.

Additionally, state Public Safety records said that Batts was convicted in 2000 in Nash County for possession of illegal drugs.

Nash County to hold public hearing on redistricting

Nash County commissioners will hold a meeting at 2 p.m. today that includes a public hearing on the county’s proposed redistricting plans and an announcement of a new county manager.

County officials said Tuesday in a statement that a public hearing on the redistricting plans will be added to the agenda for the recessed board meeting. This is the fourth time this month the board has met in a recessed meeting since its regular meeting on Oct. 4.

Most of the intervening meetings have been related to interviews for the hiring of the next county manager. Commissioners plan to announce that decision at today’s meeting. However, the issue of redistricting was not on the agenda for any of those meetings.

The only time that any public discussion of specific county population data or proposed district maps occurred was at the Sept. 20 board meeting.

One version of the redistricting plan was presented to commissioners at the Sept. 20 meeting. Attorneys Craig Schauer and Amanda Hawkins with the Brooks Pierce law firm were on hand at that meeting. Peter Morrison, the lead demographer on the team, was present remotely.

County board Chairman Robbie Davis said the county hired the Brooks Pierce team to redraw the maps because of its reputation for fairness.

“The county manager picked a firm that had two attorneys working on the team. One is a Democrat and the other is a Republican,” Davis said.

At the Sept. 20 meeting, county commissioners approved a resolution stating the need to redraw the maps based on the most recent census data. That resolution was approved by a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Fred Belfield casting the lone no vote.

Schauer said that resolution was necessary under state law because of the clear inequities in population between the districts revealed by the last census.

The overall population figures in Nash County did not change much, with the county’s 2010 population at 95,840 and the 2020 population at 94,970. However, most of the seven districts in the county had “substantial inequality” under the current district map because of population shifts, Schauer said.

“When we looked at the data associated with the current map, we determined that one or more districts are not within the bounds required by the Equal Protection Clause. In other words, they either are below 95 percent or above 105 percent of the ideal district size,” Schauer said.

Four of the seven districts are either below or above the 5 percent bounds, Schauer said.

District 2, which is represented by Belfield, is currently underpopulated according to the 2020 census numbers, he said. District 5, which is represented by Commissioner Wayne Outlaw; District 3, which is represented by Commissioner Dan Cone; and District 6, which is represented by Commissioner Gwen Wilkins, are all overpopulated according to the most recent census data, Schauer said.

“There are certainly grounds to redraw the districts,” he said.

County commissioners discussed the map proposed by the team at the Sept. 20 meeting but also asked to see other options.

Another plan was released Tuesday and has not been formally presented to commissioners, though they have been given individual copies.

The public hearing will be open to the discussion of both proposed maps, Nash County Manager Zee Lamb said Tuesday afternoon in an interview.

Lamb said that the public hearing had been also announced in local newspaper notices over the weekend.

A final vote on the new county district maps could come as early as today.

“It will be up to the county commissioners, based on what happens at the public hearing,” Lamb said. “They can approve one of the maps tomorrow or they can delay the vote until the meeting on Monday. Nash County Elections Director John Kearney has requested that we get the maps to him as soon as possible so he can input them because his office is dealing with so many new maps this year.”

The maps also have to be approved in time for potential candidates to learn which district they are in before they have to file for election or re-election in December. Four of the seven Nash County commissioners will face a possible primary in March and an election in November 2022.

Davis of District 7, Belfield of District 2, Outlaw of District 5 and Wilkins of District 6 all occupy seats that will expire in 2022.

For more information about the current and proposed maps, population data and a link to the Sept. 20 presentation, go to https://www.nashcountync.gov/746/Nash-County-Redistricting.

Man sentenced to federal prison on drug, gun charges

A Scotland Neck man was sentenced last week to federal prison in connection with an incident that took place in 2019 in a Rocky Mount hotel.

Gerard Roderkus Fenner, 40, was sentenced Friday to 192 months in prison for narcotics and firearm violations while on post-release supervision for a prior federal felony for which he was sentenced in 2013.

G. Norman Acker III, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III.

The Rocky Mount Police Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated the case.

According to documents and other information presented in court, Rocky Mount police officers responded on Nov. 26, 2019, to the Days Inn after receiving a 911 call about a fight involving a firearm. The caller said the fight was over drugs, according to a news release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Officers responded to the hotel room in question and found the door locked. The occupant, eventually identified as Fenner, refused to open the door. Concerned Fenner was tossing evidence out the third-story window, officers went to the outside window just in time to find Fenner jumping from the window. Fenner was immediately arrested after he landed hard on the ground after the 30-foot jump, the news release said.

During the investigation, police found more than $4,000 in cash stuffed in Fenner’s underwear. Officers discovered heroin and fentanyl mixtures, marijuana, more than 800 methamphetamine pills and a loaded firearm in the hotel room.

At the time of the incident, Fenner was serving a term of post-release supervision stemming from an earlier federal firearm charge.

In April 2021, Fenner pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute heroin, fentanyl, marijuana and methamphetamine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of a firearm by a felon.

In issuing a 168-month sentence for the conviction and a 24-month consecutive sentence for the revocation of supervision, the court noted the danger posed by the narcotics and firearm involved in Fenner’s trafficking.

Rocky Mount Police Chief Robert Hassell said in the news release his department is working with other agencies to protect the residents of Rocky Mount.

“Our mission here at the Rocky Mount Police Department is to improve the quality of life in the City of Rocky Mount by building partnerships to reduce crime,” he said. “We value our partnership with our federal law enforcement agencies, who assist us in creating a safe environment for all citizens who reside in and visit Rocky Mount.”