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Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey runs against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL game Sunday in Charlotte.

Residents call for more transparency from city

Two frequent speakers during City Council regular meetings recently made clear the City of Rocky Mount in the future needs to get ahead of stories instead of letting someone else provide the narratives.

During the public input phase of the Sept. 13 council regular meeting, the Rev. Nehemiah Smith commented in detail about the subject and Bronson Williams also addressed the matter.

Smith noted he was not wearing his hat as a pastor, but rather his former hats from having worked in public relations and as a teacher.

Smith also was commenting in the context of the Telegram reporting on Sept. 11 that the City of Rocky Mount — after months of requests by means of the state public records law — disclosed that the cost of the municipality’s 2021 retreat totaled $70,444.99. The retreat was held April 7-9 at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

During the Sept. 13 council meeting, Smith told the municipal officials he would be addressing them as his students. Smith also told interim City Communications, Marketing and Public Relations Director Jessie Nunery if he started to lie, then to raise a hand as a signal and he would sit down.

Smith is a graduate of Grambling State University in Louisiana and for a time he worked in Grambling’s Office of University Relations.

Smith said he learned from his mentor the following about public relations or any organization: “You never allow anyone else to tell your story. You tell your story because if you tell the story, then that’s the story that people are going to first and foremost look at.”

As for the retreat, Smith told the municipal officials, “You should have taken the information that you got in April, no later than May, given it over to the Tell-A-Lie — I’m sorry, Freudian slip, Telegram — allowed them to run the story, and then you wouldn’t be talking about a spring event in the fall.

“Now, that makes all the sense in the world to me as a PR professional,” Smith said.

“You’ve got to start putting the information out in a timely manner so that you won’t have to deal with the Tell-A- — there I go again with that Freudian slip, Telegram — because allowing them to tell your story or someone else to tell your story is like giving an arsonist gasoline and a book of matches,” he said.

“The arsonist is going to do exactly what he has set out to do, that is, burn down your organization,” he said. “You have enough enemies as it is. Don’t be your own worst enemy.”

Smith in the past has criticized the Telegram while speaking during City Council regular meetings and has been supportive of the present 4-3 council majority.

Smith on Sept. 13 emphasized that there are many other issues needing to be dealt with, such as the municipal garbage collection, which has been operating with a shortage of employees.

“You don’t need to deal with something that happened in April in September,” he said. “Get the information out and let it be over with because if not, you’re going to see the arsonist with the gasoline and the matches. And they’re going to burn down your organization because they’re going to tell it how they want to tell it.”

He ended his remarks by saying, “Class dismissed.”

Williams, a broadcast journalist who has twice run for mayor, told the municipal officials that year after year — and time after time — he has always asked the city to do better in having transparency.

Williams added that he believes the pattern seems to be for the municipality to hold off releasing information to the public and news organizations.

“And delaying information, as the teacher, Nehemiah Smith, said, allows someone else to tell your story,” Williams said. “That’s a bad position to be in.”

At the same time, Williams spoke of the more than $70,400 having been spent on the retreat in the context of the city’s current operating budget being more than $200 million.

He told the municipal officials that when they speak about community development items — such as a proposed community land trust and a proposed bond issue — and the long-term impacts that can really benefit Rocky Mount, then they would have been able to tell how that $70,000 was best spent.

“But again, when someone else tells your own story, it’s hard to make that argument,” he said. “Be in front of it. Be the leaders in which every citizen in this community elected each and every one of you to be. That is your task.”

Also during the Sept. 13 meeting, Tom Harris, a retired banker who is seeking election to a seat on the council, told of being quite surprised in getting the news via the Telegram about what he believed was the excessive cost of the gathering in Asheville.

Harris said his recollection was that the public was told early on the cost of the retreat would be budgeted at $18,500.

“Obviously, it went over $51,500, or 270-something percent,” he said. “And that is just not a good way of how our city manages the taxpayers’ money.”

Harris made clear he realizes state law gives the city or any public entity in North Carolina a reasonable period of time to respond to requests for public information.

“But six months is maybe too long,” Harris said.

Harris also asked the municipal officials whether it would be more prudent in scheduling events and making sure when a budget amount is publicly disclosed that such events be held within close proximity to that budgeted amount.

“And hopefully we can see that going forward,” Harris said.

He also said that he went to the Sept. 9 meeting about the proposed community land trust and that he supports affordable housing.

Harris said that in the future he would like for there to be a disclosure of those who would receive inducements to build houses, the intended uses of the funds and the specific locations of those houses.

He said that overall, “Transparency and openness leads to accountability — and accountability leads to credibility.”

The council, in a 4-3 vote on Feb. 8, chose Asheville as the location for the 2021 retreat, with the council majority wanting to see how officials in the Buncombe County seat have addressed issues of affordable housing. Council members Lige Daughtridge, W.B. Bullock and Chris Miller voted no.

What followed was an outcry locally via social media against the decision.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney then gave an interview to television station WRAL to explain in more detail why the retreat was going to be held in Asheville.

WRAL reported that Small-Toney said the budget for a retreat ranges anywhere from $16,000 to $18,000.

WRAL, citing a public records request, reported that the cost of the 2019 retreat was $14,212.54 and that the cost of the 2018 retreat was $16,185.81.

The 2019 retreat was held at the Rizzo Center in Chapel Hill and the 2018 retreat was held at the Embassy Suites Wilmington Riverfront.

The Telegram reported in 2016 that the retreat for that year, which was held at the Marriott in Greensboro, cost $12,824.81.

The newspaper reported that the cost of the 2016 retreat was high when compared to more recent retreats.

The 2015 retreat cost $6,189.81. That retreat mostly was held at the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill, where the space was free, but that retreat was cut short due to ice storms. That retreat concluded at the Aloft Hotel in Chapel Hill, where the participating Rocky Mount municipal officials had been staying.

The 2014 retreat, which was held in Durham, cost $9,225.12.

The 2020 retreat was to be held in Raleigh but was canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Up, Up and Away

A hot air balloon floats above the Red Oak Classic Tractor Show on Sept. 11 at W.B. Ennis Memorial Park in Red Oak.

Nash UNC launches community paramedic program

The Nash UNC Health Care Foundation has funded a new program at Nash UNC Health Care to help patients decrease their chances of being re-admitted to the hospital.

“One of our goals as a hospital is to reduce patient readmissions to the hospital,” Nash UNC Health Care President and CEO Lee Isley said in a news release. “The Community Paramedic Program increases access to primary and preventative care for patients who are at high risk for readmission, such as patients with heart failure, diabetes and other medical ailments identified as needing additional assistance by their care team.”

The community paramedics provide wellness visits to the homes of patients to provide follow-up care and patient education once a week for four weeks following a hospital stay.

During a typical visit, the community paramedics will check the patient’s medications, take their blood pressure, listen to their heart and lungs and discuss findings with the patient’s care team. The paramedic also links the patients with important community or medical resources to ensure the patient is safe and able to recover at home.

“We often find that patients aren’t sure how to take care of their specific disease process and don’t have the resources to keep up with their health,” community paramedic Teal Jacobs said. “This program allows us to sit in their home with them, take the time to answer questions they may have and help them find the resources they need to stay on top of their health.”

Nash UNC officials said they have already seen improvements in readmission rates for the patients enrolled in this program.

“Without this program, many of these patients would return to the hospital within just a few days of discharge. The current (community paramedic) is able to conduct 25 visits a week and unfortunately, the need is much higher in our community,” said Dr. Viola Pierce, readmissions manager at Nash UNC Health Care. “Ideally, we would like to reach 150 visits a week and that requires more community paramedics.”

Nash UNC Health Care currently has two community paramedics covering three counties. The foundation has committed to raising funds to bring on additional community paramedics to the program as well as provide funds for the purchase of an additional vehicle.

Latest report shows crime decreased in August

The Rocky Mount Police Department’s crime report for August contains a mix of good news and bad news, which has generally been a continuing pattern.

The bad news is that reports of shots fired persisted, while the good news is that crime as a whole in August was down when compared to August 2020.

The crime report said that there were 52 reports of shots fired in August. Twenty-nine of them resulted in shell casings being found and a total of 181 shell casings being found.

The count of shots fired is based on ShotSpotter activations and people alerting the police about having seen or heard shots being fired. ShotSpotter is a system of sensors designed to detect, locate and alert the police of gunfire in real time.

The August crime report also said that police made seven arrests for weapons-related violations and seized 33 firearms, and that 276 firearms had been seized for the year as of the end of August.

The crime report said there were 47 victims of violent attacks, with 14 people having suffered injuries as a result.

The positive news in the report was that there were 175 instances of crimes in August compared to 193 in August 2020. That was a decrease of more than 9.3 percent.

In particular, the report said there were 54 instances of violent crimes in August compared to 71 in August 2020. That was a decrease of more than 23.9 percent.

A key reason for the decline in the instances of violent crimes was because there were 46 instances of aggravated assaults in August compared to 59 in August 2020. That was a decrease of 22 percent.

In the category of crimes against properties, there were 14 instances of break-ins of residences in August compared to 22 in August 2020. That was a decrease of nearly 36.4 percent.

Overall, for the year to date as of the end of August, there have been 1,188 instances of crimes compared to 1,296 instances of crimes in 2020 as of the end of August 2020. That was a decrease of more than 8.3 percent.

Of the 11 types of crimes listed in the report, there has been a decrease in six of those types of crimes this year as of the end of August when compared to 2020 as of the end of August 2020.

There also appears to have been quite a decline in the occurrences of larcenies.

There were 582 instances of larcenies this year as of the end of August compared to 647 in 2020 as of the end of August 2020. That was a decrease of 10 percent.

Chamber expo showcases community diversity in Tarboro

TARBORO — The first Live, Work, Play Chamber Expo held Thursday on the Tarboro Town Common appeared to be a success based on the number of people who milled about the 25 or so vendors’ tents during the five-hour event.

While Tarboro Edgecombe Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Elizabeth Burns was visiting with people at the chamber’s table, chamber representative Tom Cox was out and about among the vendors making sure things were going smoothly.

“It looks like it’s going well, especially for a new event,” Cox said as the expo headed into its second hour.

Burns, who constantly looks for ways to get her chamber members and their goods and services in front of potential customers, fine-tuned an event once held at the former Parkhill Mall and turned it into the expo.

“We wanted a mechanism to allow our members to let our residents know what they do and what they sell,” she told the Telegram in a previous interview. “We have a lot to offer and we need to do everything we can to make potential customers aware.”

Vendors at the expo were as diverse as the Town of Tarboro, and a large “We Are Hiring!” banner was displayed by WorldCat, the local boat manufacturing company that makes some of the best-performing catamarans in the world at its West St. John Street facility.

In between were financial institutions, community service organizations, nonprofit groups and more, including the Edgecombe County Memorial Library, Pilot Club, United Way of the Tar River Region, Providence Bank and Edgecombe-Martin Electric Membership Corp.

Food was available for purchase at the Rollin’ Munchies food truck and for people with a sweet tooth, Cakes by Nita had a variety of cake slices and cupcakes as well as cookie decoration kits for children. There were also frozen confections and fruit-based drinks available.

While the crowd did not rival that of a Happening on the Common, it was steady and an almost continuous stream of people moved from vendor to vendor.

The expo also featured a new business and new residents to Tarboro — Tanama Beauty — which relocated from Springfield, Va.

Marlou Coker of Providence Bank said that traffic was steady.

“I think people are just glad to be able to have somewhere to go,” she said.

Other booths, like the Vidant Edgecombe Hospital one, had material available on a free prostate cancer screening for men on Sept. 25.

“It’s a drive-through,” said Amy Dixon, the hospital’s manager of marketing and volunteer services. “You make your appointment and come to the (Vidant Multispecialty) clinic and they will draw your blood. After they do that, it will go to the lab and if anything unusual shows up, they will call you to come in to see the doctor. While registration is required, there is no cost.”