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Photos by The Associated Press/  

Busch and Elliott incident could spark new NASCAR rivalry

Chase Elliott makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race Wednesday in Darlington, S.C.

Special meeting of City Council rescheduled

A special meeting of the City Council called by Mayor Sandy Roberson for 2 p.m. on Thursday is on hold until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, which will be two hours before a council regular meeting.

Roberson called the special meeting in the aftermath of a report of a probe of the City of Rocky Mount by state Auditor Beth Wood and her team.

Roberson in a brief statement on Thursday afternoon said he delayed the special meeting “as an expression of unity.”

“We should be focused on the findings in the N.C. State Auditor’s hard-hitting report, not arguing about when we talk about it,” Roberson said.

“The full council must publicly discuss it and determine together how we are going to regain the trust of our community,” Roberson said. “I expect all of the City Council members to attend this new time.”

One of the council members, T.J. Walker, who was elected in October, told the Telegram on Wednesday he had said he was not available for that special meeting.

Walker told the Telegram he had suggested the meeting be held the same day as the already-scheduled council regular meeting — and adjust the time.

Wood’s and her team’s report, which was made public on May 15, found instances of certain officials receiving preferential treatment and of failures to follow policies and regulations.

A key finding of the probe showed multiple city officials prevented the municipal Business Services Center from trying to collect $47,704 in utility bills owed by Councilman Andre Knight — and that the total eventually was taken off the books.

Another key finding of the probe showed that City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney spent taxpayer funds on unallowable travel expenses, including on lobster and steak dinners and on an individual steamed seafood bucket.

Roberson in a teleconference on Monday said he intended to call an emergency meeting for Thursday.

The Telegram during the daytime on Wednesday was only able to directly confirm that one council member was going to attend the special council meeting.

That councilman, Lige Daughtridge, later Wednesday evening appeared in a video posted on YouTube.

Daughtridge, who is a businessman and who served on the Planning Board, was elected to the council in October.

On camera, Daughtridge said Wood and her team discovered areas of improvement needed in Rocky Mount, including in ethics and transparency.

Daughtridge emphasized that he has been talking about both for years and included both as key parts of his campaign platform.

Daughtridge noted that Roberson, who was elected mayor in November, on Monday proposed that the mayor and each council member sign what Roberson is calling “Contract with Rocky Mount.”

Daughtridge said he is glad to do so and that he would encourage his fellow council members to do the same.

Roberson in the teleconference on Monday announced an extensive list of major reforms he believes should be put into place to help ensure good government in the city.

Daughtridge on camera Wednesday said shortly after he was sworn in as a council member, he took a class in ethics. He said he serves on a state board — the Rural Infrastructure Authority — and had to take a class presented by the state Ethics Commission.

Daughtridge also said that, as part of that state board he serves on, he and fellow board members have to fill out statements of economic interest each year and that the statements he has filled out are posted on the state Ethics Commission’s website.

Daughtridge said that after winning election to the council, he wrote a letter to Small-Toney stating he intended to end his companies’ business relations with the municipality.

Daughtridge said such continued relations of his businesses with the city would be both an appearance of and a conflict of interest.

Daughtridge said that while these businesses lost about $18,000 per year in revenues, this was the cost and the right thing to do.

Daughtridge also showed copies of utility bills to illustrate he pays what he owes for services at his residence and for services at properties he owns in the city.

“As an elected official, we need the trust from all of the citizens of Rocky Mount,” Daughtridge said.

“It’s expected, but … right now I think we have to prove it, because it also has been proven that certain City Council members are not adhering by ethics,” Daughtridge said. “And therefore, we need to be transparent.”

Daughtridge next signed the Contract with Rocky Mount.

The council meets every second and fourth Monday.

Due to this coming Monday coinciding with Memorial Day, this coming meeting was reset to 4 p.m. on Tuesday.


Ounce of Prevention

Tina Truong sells masks, face shields and hats outside 5 Star Nails in Cobb Corners.

NCC responds to findings of audit

Nash Community College has responded to three reported findings by the Office of the State Auditor concerning irregularities in the way it did business.

While the state audit of the City of Rocky Mount has drawn a great deal of attention, audits of government agencies and institutions that receive government funds commonly are conducted.

Nash Community College underwent such a routine audit last year and several findings emerged concerning its financial aid process.

This was the first time the college had been audited concerning these issues in more than 30 years, said Kelley Deal, dean of marketing at Nash Community College. The reason this audit happened, Deal said, is unknown.

“The college could not find documentation of NCC having a financial aid audit conducted by the Office of the State Auditor after investigating back to 1987. The college undergoes numerous audits each year, several concerning financial aid, so is well audited by many state, regional and federal bodies. The question as to ‘why now’ is simply not answerable by the college except that these particular items most likely were not covered in the scope of the other audits,” she said.

According to the report summary of the audit, there were three procedural findings.

First, the college did not reconcile Federal Direct Loan disbursements to students to the Department of Education records, the report stated.

Second, the audit reported that the college did not timely report enrollment status changes to the National Student Loan Data System.

Third, the audit found that the college’s risk assessment over protecting students’ financial aid information did not include all of the elements as required by federal regulations.

With regard to the question about the Federal Loan Disbursements, Deal said the issue primarily was one of timing.

“Auditors tested monthly reconciliations during the audit period and found that the reconciliations were not performed for five months in the fall of 2018. At the time of the audit, all loan reconciliations were correct as to their monetary amounts, just not on the proper schedule. The college accepted the Office of State Auditor’s finding and recommendation and implemented the indicated corrections with no negative implications,” Deal said.

The issue of timely reporting of students’ financial aid information also has been corrected, Deal said.

“The college did not timely report enrollment status changes for five students to the National Student Loan Data System for students who received federal financial assistance. The college accepted the Office of State Auditor’s finding and recommendation and implemented the indicated corrections with no negative implications,” she noted.

The third issue involved items that recently had been amended in the federal regulations and which the college overlooked, Deal said.

“The college’s risk assessment processes for protecting student financial aid information did not include all of the elements as required by federal regulations. The college was unaware at the time of the audit that federal regulations had been amended to require a risk assessment that identifies risks to employee training and management over the security, confidentiality and integrity of students’ financial aid information. The college accepted the Office of State Auditor’s finding and recommendation and implemented the indicated corrections with no negative implications,” Deal said.

None of the findings have affected the college financially or in any other way, Deal said. But they did serve to help the college correct these issues so that it could improve operations and better serve students.

“The state audit resulted in no fines and no return of federal funds,” Deal said. “Nash Community College appreciates the efforts of the Office of the State Auditor to assist us in maintaining best practices in the area of financial aid as well as all other college operations.”

In a letter to State Auditor Beth Wood dated Dec. 19, 2019, Nash Community College President Lew Hunnicutt said much the same thing.

After detailing all of the corrective actions taken by the community college to comply with the findings of the audit, Hunnicutt said, “Through the above practices, Nash Community College adheres to the requirements of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act to take ongoing, proactive and well-documented measures to educate its employees regarding security, confidentiality and integrity of student financial aid data. Corrective actions were completed on Nov. 15, 2019.

“The college appreciates your assistance through this audit process,” Hunnicutt stated in his letter to Wood.

Ebenezer Baptist to hold first outdoor service

Ebenezer Baptist Church will hold its first outdoor worship service this weekend since the coronavirus pandemic began.

“While we recognize the importance of assembling as a congregation, we realize that the health and safety of our congregation is our greatest charge as faith leaders,” said the Rev. Thomas L. Walker. “We have been using FaceBook Live, YouTube and our church website, along with our television and radio broadcasts, as a way to continue delivering messages of hope to our congregation and the community.”

The service will take place at 11 a.m. Sunday. Worshippers will have an opportunity to worship in their vehicles or stand outside, while practicing social distancing. Worshippers are encouraged to wear face masks if they plan to stand outside.

The Rev. Timothy J. Walker will bring the message, and Minister TJ Walker will lead in worship music.

“These are challenging times, and the church continues to be that beacon of hope for so many people,” Thomas Walker said. “We want to continue serving the community in a responsible manner. 

For the past two months, Ebenezer Baptist Church, along with other institutions of faith, have complied with Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order regarding the holding of large gatherings.

But in response to a federal lawsuit filed by a group of churches and religious officials, Judge James C. Dever III issued a temporary restraining order Saturday blocking enforcement of the restrictions affecting indoor religious services.

Cooper said earlier this week that he would not appeal that ruling and on Wednesday loosened many of the pandemic restrictions.

Thomas Walker said the church's worship services will still be provided on radio, television, FaceBook Live, YouTube and the church website for those who wish to continue worshipping remotely.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to return to our sanctuary on the first Sunday in June,” he said.

Edgecombe County reports ninth COVID-19 death

COVID-19 is killing Edgecombe County residents at triple the rate of Nash County residents, according to information released Thursday by the Edgecombe County Health Department.

Michelle Etheridge, deputy director of the Edgecombe County Health Department, released information concerning the county’s most recent COVID-related death Thursday.

“We are sad to report that we now have nine deaths,” Etheridge said.

The Nash County Health Department has reported three COVID-related deaths among Nash County residents so far, even though its population is almost double that of Edgecombe County.

Though one additional person died, no new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday in Edgecombe County. That number remains at 173 positive cases, of which 133 people are considered recovered.

The Nash County Health Department reported one new case on Thursday, bringing the total number of positive test results in that county to 164. Of that number, four people are hospitalized, 50 are isolated at home and 107 are considered recovered.

In response to the growing number of people testing positive in the Twin Counties, Nash UNC Health Care officials announced Thursday that a new layer of safety measures will be implemented at the hospital to protect patients, staff and visitors from the spread of the virus.

Beginning on Tuesday, all patients and visitors will be issued a mask upon arrival if they do not already have one and will be required to wear the mask while in patient care areas unless special circumstances warrant alternative protective measures, according to a press release from the hospital.

Nash UNC Health Care continues to limit visitors and requires screening of all patients, visitors and staff before entering its facilities. Details on visitor restrictions, entry points and screenings can be found on the nashunchealthcare.org/coronavirus webpage.

“These measures are added layers of protection against the spread of COVID-19 and allow us to continue to provide safe and quality medical care to our community,” Lee Isley, president and CEO of Nash UNC Health Care, said in the release. “We continue to adapt our operations and approach based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, UNC Health’s infectious disease experts and state and local health departments.”

Patients who go to an outpatient appointment or undergo an outpatient procedure also are affected by these more stringent policies.

These patients are asked a series of medical screening questions when they call for the scheduling or registration of the appointment and again when they arrive at the facility. If the patient or visitor demonstrates risk factors during the entry point screening process, they may be subject to a temperature check or directed to self-isolate and contact their primary care provider or their local health Department.

Select outpatient clinics are requiring temperature checks of all patients based on the risk profile of their patient population or the type of medical service they will be receiving. For example, the Cancer Center is taking temperatures for all patients due to the immunocompromised status of its patients.

Patients undergoing outpatient rehabilitation also have to undergo such checks due to the close proximity of the staff member and patient for prolonged periods of time.

Other safety measures in place include the spacing of appointments and of chairs in lobbies to ensure social distancing, encouraging proper hand hygiene and enhanced cleaning between patients, including more frequent deep cleaning of facilities.

Additionally, all staff continuously are self-monitoring for temperature and symptoms, are screened upon entry for every shift and wear proper personal protective equipment throughout the entire care process to protect patients and themselves, the press release said.

Conetoe slaying ruled self-defense

What started as a homicide investigation on Saturday turned into a determination of self-defense following completion of the investigation, according to Lt. William Muse of the Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office.

No charges will be filed.

Late Saturday afternoon, deputies responded to a call about a shooting victim at Bob’s Fuel in Conetoe. Formerly Conetoe Discount, the convenience store is located at the intersection of U.S. 64 Alternate and N.C. 42.

When deputies and the Edgecombe County Rescue Squad arrived, they found 24-year-old Raekwon Hines with a gunshot wound to the head.

Hines was transported to Edgecombe Vidant Hospital by the Edgecombe County Rescue Squad but later died.

According to his Facebook page, Hines was a 2015 graduate of Tarboro High School and listed Princeville as his place of residence.