The Central City Revitalization Panel is calling for a high-level representative of the city to explain in person to the panel what is going on given the city is reportedly being audited by the state and details of a proposed downtown development project that remains pending before the state.
After nearly half an hour of discussion and debate at a meeting on Thursday, panelist Jesse Gerstl said he believes he and his fellow panelists should ask for the city representative to provide an update in 30 days.
The panel lacked a quorum of members to take a vote. However, panel Chairman Garland Jones made clear he wants City Business Development Manager Kevin Harris, who was at the meeting, to go back to his bosses with a request for information about the process of where the downtown development project stands.
The discussion resulted from the City Council on Jan. 27 voting to authorize Mayor Sandy Roberson, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and City Attorney Jep Rose to ask the state Office of the Auditor for the full scope of what is going on regarding reports of an inspection and a review of city finances and operations.
The discussion also resulted from the state Local Government Commission not yet having taken up the matter of Tennessee-based developer David Hunt’s and his team’s proposed combination hotel, parking garage and residential and retail project adjacent to the Rocky Mount Event Center.
During the meeting on Thursday, panelist Charles Roberson wanted the panel to weigh in and state, “We don’t want to be in the dark anymore.”
Roberson also was speaking in the context of the majority of the previous City Council in July 2019 voting to seek LGC approval of a financing package to help Hunt and his team build the garage part of the downtown development project.
“No matter what side of the issue you sit, if you are for it or you are against it, still the process has been: We have no clarity,” Roberson said. “I think we should be demanding, as a body, clarity on what’s happening. Why aren’t we at this commission meeting? Why haven’t we been put on the calendar?”
Councilwoman Chris Miller serves on the CCRP as a representative of a pro-downtown rehabilitation group.
Miller said her understanding as a matter of practice is the LGC does not meet to consider any initiative while an audit is in progress.
Roberson made clear he believes if the CCRP as a panel is to be taken seriously, then the state Office of the Auditor or the LGC “need to speak to us and give us the respect on, ‘What’s the process? What’s the procedure?’”
“We need to know: What is the process of implementing things that are approved for the development and revitalization of downtown,” Roberson asked. “It should be a procedure and a process. If you vote on this, it’s going go to get on the commission in this amount of time.
“Why are we left in the dark?”
Miller said, “Supposedly because they haven’t finished the audit.”
“Supposedly,” Roberson said. “But we should know definitely.”
And Roberson asked, “So is the audit stopping progress of downtown development?”
Miller said, “To the extent that the LGC won’t move ahead if a city is under audit.”
Roberson said, “OK. And so that is, it’s definitely the LGC will not put anything on their agenda if the city is under audit.”
Miller said, “That’s my understanding.”
Roberson said, “OK. It’s your understanding or is that definitely what’s happening?”
Miller said that she is not an attorney and later in the meeting added she does not have a letter saying the LGC is not going to consider the downtown development project because the city is under audit.
A spokesman for the LGC told the Telegram for a story published on Jan. 9 that the LGC is anticipated to take up Hunt’s and his team’s proposal in the next 60 days. The LGC is scheduled to meet again on March 3.
Gerstl said he does not believe the CCRP ever voted on or expressed an opinion about Hunt’s and his team’s project.
Roberson wanted clarity about whether development downtown is being put on hold.
Gerstl said, “It’s not stopping any of our other work.”
Roberson said, “Yes it is” and said he has spoken to several developers who, just like the city, want clarity “because this feels like it’s being held hostage.”
Gerstl said, “I don’t disagree with that aspect of it, but I also don’t think it’s the CCRP’s role to get involved in the middle of this.”
Jones, while saying he is not against what Roberson was saying, said the CCRP’s job is not to demand clarity, but to give input and support the city in what the city is doing with development.
“I’m not a paid staff,” he said. “I’m not a paid board. They’ve got people that’s paid at the city to get that kind of clarity.”
And Jones told Roberson, “When we want that kind of clarity, we invite the city manager in here, the assistant city manager in here to give us clarity on that side of the government. That’s City Hall. That’s not us.”
Jones made clear he wants an update about the full scope of and status of Hunt’s and his team’s project.
“We’ve only had that one time,” Jones said.
Jones was referring to BWC Consulting Managing Partner Bridget Chisholm having appeared before the CCRP in July.