Sometime next year, people entering the Rocky Mount Event Center lobby are going to notice that part of the inside of the downtown multi-use facility is named in honor of former City Manager Charles Penny.
During the Nov. 25 City Council meeting, Councilman Reuben Blackwell, who is a staunch supporter of the event center, said he believes the location is a great boon to Rocky Mount and will be a great leverage for an increased return on investment in the community.
The event center opened in October 2018.
Blackwell said, “There’s a person that I don’t think that we’ve all adequately recognized who was important in seeing this come to pass.”
Blackwell next proposed naming the event center lobby in honor of Penny, with the dedication to be on a yet-to-be-determined date in 2020.
Penny was city manager from 2011 to 2017 and prior to that had been an assistant city manager since 1995. Penny had been named an assistant city manager after having been hired in 1994 as the planning and development director.
Blackwell said honoring Penny would be in line with the lobby in the train station having been named in honor of Peter Varney, who served as an assistant city manager from 1977 to 2012.
Blackwell’s motion in honor of naming the event center lobby in honor of Penny was seconded by Councilwoman Chris Miller.
Councilman Tom Rogers inadvertently seconded immediately after Miller, then humorously said, “Third,” and the rest of the council voted yes.
Penny’s support for the event center is well-documented.
In 2016, Penny wrote he believed the future facility would be a catalytic project and should create amenities for the community.
Penny made clear he believed this would, in turn, help create a vibrant downtown, create life after 5 p.m. and make the Rocky Mount community attractive for young people to consider raising their families.
Penny wrote he believed the future facility should be a recruitment tool for local industries competing with areas larger than the Rocky Mount community.
Penny also wrote he believed the future facility would serve to incentivize private investment in the central business district and further enhance what the municipal government already had started with revitalizing and restoring downtown.
Penny made news this spring when he was hired as manager in Statesboro, Ga., which is located northwest of Savannah. Penny started his job there in July.
During the Nov. 25 Rocky Mount City Council meeting, Blackwell also called for naming the municipal public works headquarters in honor of the late sanitation employee Alexander Evans, who was the focal point of the 1978 sanitation workers strike.
Councilman Andre Knight made a motion, seconded by Councilman Richard Joyner, with the rest of the council voting yes.
The strike protested the arrest and suspension of Evans, an African-American, for allegedly stealing a man’s suit left out on his garbage route in the predominately white Englewood residential area.
Evans, of Whitakers, was convicted in Rocky Mount District Court of committing misdemeanor larceny but eventually was cleared by a jury in Nash County Superior Court. Evans resumed working for the sanitation department and eventually retired.
Evans died in 2007 at age 72 after an ongoing illness.
The strike also became a catalyst for the voting rights lawsuit a group of African-Americans filed in 1983 that eventually led to a fairer and racially balanced ward system for African-Americans to win elections to positions on the city council.
Earlier in the meeting, the council approved a resolution to make restitution to sanitation workers who were fired as a result of the strike but reinstated after a week, or to the workers’ families.
During the council meeting, Blackwell was moved to call for naming the municipal public works headquarters in honor of Evans after hearing extensive remarks from City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney praising the striking workers.
Blackwell said the striking workers not only sacrificed their jobs, but their dignity also was compromised.
“But their work of standing up, even when they were falsely accused, and going forward in the action of not allowing anyone to bully or intimidate them because they were right, not only changed Rocky Mount, it changed this entire state,” Blackwell said.