The vice chairwoman of the Opportunities Industrialization Center Board of Directors took to the podium during the public input phase of the recent City Council regular meeting and said the board is “not a rubber-stamp group.”
“We govern vigorously for the well-being of our students, patients, customers and communities,” Donna Johnson said. “We take exception to the well-planned attack on the reputation of our organization, our work and our leaders.”
Additionally, Johnson said, “We have decided and determined as a body that we will no longer allow false information and half-truths to (be) the predominant voice in this body and in our community about who we are and what we do.”
“We define ourselves by our work and our partners,” she added.
The OIC seeks to help provide residents with employment training and health care.
Early in her remarks, Johnson expressed the OIC board’s unanimous support of the work and dedication of the City Council for prioritizing housing, business, transportation, water, sewer, community safety, recreation and the development of minority- and women-owned businesses.
Johnson also expressed the board’s appreciation to Councilmen Andre Knight and Reuben Blackwell for what she said was their decades of sacrifice and service for the betterment of the entire region.
Blackwell is president and CEO of the OIC and Knight chairs the OIC board.
Johnson also said she and fellow OIC board members stand behind Blackwell and Knight, as well as Councilmen Richard Joyner and T.J. Walker, “as they support our collective agenda.”
Johnson also expressed the board’s appreciation to City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney “for her leadership and efforts to build and strengthen our community.”
Johnson said the OIC’s work educates and employs people everyone else has overlooked and creates pathways for young and seasoned entrepreneurs of color.
She said the OIC has brought the health and well-being of poor people and people of color to the front and center in the community and around the state.
She said the OIC has been the first line of defense against the coronavirus pandemic for more than 9,000 mostly Black people and their families in Rocky Mount and beyond.
And she said the plan in March is to bring a mammography and imaging center online in the OIC’s specialty care center, located at the Rocky Mount Event Center, with the collaboration of Nash UNC Health Care.
“We will continue to advocate for full service, civil, social, economic and health care rights for Black people and all people,” she said.
“This is who we are — and this is who we plan to always be,” she said. “We hope that all of you will continue to work with us and continue as we have done to help people help themselves.”
Attorney Clay Turner also took to the podium and said that he has served on the OIC board for approximately a couple of years and that he has been wanting to come to the council chamber to speak.
“And I wanted to let folks know because there have been things said in this chamber that reflect poorly on OIC,” Turner said. “But OIC is an entity that’s governed by a board of directors. I’m one of those directors — and we’re governed by a majority vote of the directors.”
Turner said he is quite proud of the work the OIC is doing, especially amid COVID-19, and said vaccines are going to be administered to people who are really in need locally in the coming weeks.
“And so I did just want to briefly come in and say if folks have a problem with OIC, they can come not to a City Council meeting. They can come talk to one of the board members who are making the real decisions. Thank you,” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Turner,” Mayor Sandy Roberson said. “I couldn’t agree more.”
Johnson and Turner appeared before the council on Feb. 8.
Johnson did not cite examples of false information or half-truths about the OIC and Turner did not cite statements reflecting poorly on the OIC.
However, their remarks came nearly two months after Nashville area man Clint Williams told the council he believed ethics violations occurred in connection with the OIC.
Williams specifically said he believed a conflict of interest occurred when Blackwell and then-Councilman Lamont Wiggins voted in May 2015 to set in motion what would be a successful bidding process by the OIC to acquire the former China American Tobacco Company location downtown.
Williams said he believes City Attorney Jep Rose may have been mistaken in his advice to the then-council.
The Telegram quoted Rose as saying that state law prohibits an official who would receive a direct benefit from voting on a project, but that Blackwell could vote in this instance because he is not an owner of the OIC.
Williams also said what was not disclosed was Wiggins was representing the OIC in the transaction of the property.
Knight, in response to Williams, called him “a liar” and “racist.” Williams retorted Knight as he left the council chamber.
Resident Samuel Battle during council meetings also had been asking about the status of the mammogram equipment before Blackwell eventually provided an update.