For several weeks, the Telegram has been seeking information via state Public Records Law about the Rocky Mount Event Center, with no results, except in one instance.
The newspaper has extensive requests pending to see specific details about the massive multi-purpose downtown facility, which opened in October 2018.
City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney, who started at Rocky Mount City Hall in July 2017, has publicly maintained the municipal government is as transparent as can possibly be.
Rocky Mount’s government has a strict protocol when dealing with the Telegram about access to news-related information.
Specifically, answers to questions about municipal business have to be obtained by submitting the questions in advance to the municipal Communications and Marketing Department.
The Telegram, in an email on Nov. 21 to interim city chief spokeswoman Dorothy Brown Smith, asked for the event center’s financial statements by 5 p.m. on Nov. 27.
The request included profit and loss reports and any other associated revenue and expense paperwork, as related to the municipal government and Florida-based Sports Facilities Management, which oversees the event center.
Additionally, the Telegram, in the Nov. 21 email, asked Smith for a copy of the contract between the municipal government and Sports Facilities Management.
The Telegram also asked Smith for a copy of a reported contract between the municipal government or the event center and Florida-based Royal Hanneford Circus.
That particular request for the document about Royal Hanneford Circus originally was sent approximately a month before to a city spokesman, with the email including city Attorney Jep Rose. There were not any results from that request.
The Telegram, in the Nov. 21 email, asked for copies of those two documents by 5 p.m. the next day, with no results.
Finally, in the middle of the afternoon of Nov. 26, the newspaper received a copy of the contract with Sports Facilities Management from Brown. The contract is for five years, with an automatic renewal included in the wording.
As of Monday, the newspaper still had not received a copy of any agreement with Royal Hanneford Circus or any data or financial records about the event center.
State Open Records Law does not specify a time to compel a state or a local official to produce public documents.
An overview of Open Records Law by the UNC School of Government specifies copies of requested public records are to be provided as promptly as possible.
The School of Government specifies what constitutes a reasonable or prompt response is going to depend on the nature of the request, along with the available personnel and other resources available to the agency receiving the request.
The School of Government specifies a prompt response to a fairly simple records request ranges from immediate, within a few hours or within a day or two.
And the School of Government specifies unless a request is extraordinary, the custodian of the records probably should respond within a week or two at most.
Smith is temporarily filling a position left vacant by the departure of chief city spokeswoman Tameka Kenan-Norman.
Smith, in email correspondence with the newspaper on Nov. 13, said she did not have access to Kenan-Norman’s emails to see requests still pending from the Telegram.
The municipal government on Oct. 23 announced Smith was named to temporarily succeed Kenan-Norman, who left for a job in the Delmarva region.
However, the newspaper, in an email on Oct. 21 to Kenan-Norman’s address, which included the addresses of the city spokesman and Rose, asked for a copy of the contract between the municipal government or the event center and Royal Hanneford Circus.
That request was significant because a day earlier, on Oct. 20, the Telegram had reported the circus, which was planned for the middle of November in the event center, had been called off.
Adrian Poema, a part owner of the show, told the Telegram he and his team had a contract with the event center.
And there were two contradictory stories from Poema and the municipal government about why the event had been called off.
Additionally, the newspaper, in an email on Oct. 25 to the city spokesman, said the newspaper was planning to cover the first-ever Downtown Rocky Mount Food Truck Invasion, which was set for the next day in an area adjacent to the event center.
The Food Truck Invasion, which was sponsored by the municipal Community and Business Development Department, offered a wide variety of foods and an area for people wanting to sample craft beer on tap.
The newspaper, in the email to the city spokesman, also was trying to find out whether the Food Truck Invasion was associated in some way with the one-year anniversary of the event center.
As part of the email, the newspaper asked the spokesman how many major events have been held at the event center since the opening.
The newspaper also asked the spokesman how many games have been played on the courts at the event center and how many birthday parties and similar events have been held at the event center.
And the newspaper asked the spokesman for an estimate of how many people have used the event center since the opening and how much revenue the event center has taken in since the opening.
In that Oct. 21 email, the newspaper also asked the spokesman for specifics about the cost of running the event center this year.
The newspaper followed up with an email on Oct. 31 to the spokesman, with the email including Rose as well as Small-Toney.
The email sought any comments or data about the event center from the municipal government — and requested an interview with the leaders or key officials of the facility to get their direct perspectives.
The email also asked about letting a Telegram photographer in the event center to take photographs.
At that time, the newspaper first asked for a copy of the municipal government’s contract with Sports Facilities Management.
The newspaper, also in an Oct. 31 email to the spokesman, with the email including Rose and Small-Toney, re-emphasized the Oct. 21 request for the copy of the contract between the municipal government or the event center and Royal Hanneford Circus.
In an email correspondence with Smith on Nov. 15, the newspaper pointed out the Telegram was still awaiting responses to the Oct. 21 and Oct. 31 emails.
Smith acknowledged the requests about the event center and said she would provide the information the next week.
In that same Nov. 15 email correspondence, Smith asked, “Do you still need information on the circus event? I am not familiar with this, but will work to get the contract to you. At this point, is this old news or something you still want to cover?”
In an email on Nov. 21, the newspaper learned from Smith the copies of the two documents would not be made available that week.
While Smith’s position is she was not privy to the requests until Nov. 15, the newspaper pointed out to her that communications and marketing staff and Rose were included in the Oct. 21 email and Small-Toney was included in the Oct. 31 email.
The Telegram still has not received a copy of that circus contract.