A community activist recently pleaded for City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney to reconsider her proposal to merge the Community and Business Development Department with the Human Relations Department led by Archie Jones.

Dr. Kim Koo told the council during the Nov. 22 council regular meeting that she believes the City of Rocky Mount needs someone who “can think out of the box and break out of the confines of old ideas and hierarchical thinking” to lead community and business development in the future.

The Community and Business Development Department was created as standalone operation after Small-Toney reported for work in Rocky Mount in 2017, but she has gone through two directors and the department has been operating with a temporary director.

Small-Toney wanting to merge community and business development with human relations surfaced as part of the Nov. 8 council work session. That is when the council and the viewing audience heard details about a proposed compensation and classification study for the municipality.

Small-Toney during that work session said that the city advertised for candidates to permanently fill the community and business development director position but that she did not receive anyone qualified to perform at that level.

The Telegram in a story July 8 about the municipality’s search for a new director reported that a posting by a Washington, D.C., executive recruiting firm, POLIHIRE, said the person hired to serve as the director could be paid anywhere from $88,849 to $133,273 a year.

During the Nov. 22 council regular meeting, Koo told the council nobody seems to want the job at the price offered.

“It seems to me that this job calls for more than just salary considerations,” she said. “There seems to be a higher level of difficulty involved that has been overlooked.”

Koo spoke about the continuing effects of the coronavirus, saying, “We are living in a time when the pandemic is still not under control and crises after crises are all occurring at the same time, new ones over old ones.

“The pandemic is our unresolved public health crisis, not to be swept away by the magic bullet of vaccinations while other public health measures are more or less ignored,” Koo said.

She said the housing crisis in Rocky Mount remains unsettled, while workers are now speaking out and taking to the streets not just for better pay, but also demanding to be treated with dignity.

And she said the climate crisis, overwhelmingly present but largely ignored and dismissed, is looming over all of this.

“Any future community and business development must take this into account or suffer at their own peril,” Koo said. “It is in this setting that the person hired for community and business development has to work in.”

Koo also said this person is going to be responsible for finding continuing solutions to Rocky Mount’s affordable housing needs.

“This person needs to integrate solutions with the crisis around us — and overcome the different levels of resistance from old and new entrenched powers that have and are still fighting any change to the established order, a person who can think out of the box and break out of the confines of old ideas and hierarchical thinking,” she said.

Koo said she believes it is no wonder few if any are up to the challenge and the job opening has remained unfilled.

“It is unfair to force this difficult problem on the shoulders of the head of the human relations department, who already has his own set of responsibilities, which are very different from that of community and business development,” she said.

During City Council meetings, local residents can address the council for up to three minutes, each as part of a public input phase, and Koo is a frequent speaker.

Neither Small-Toney nor any of the council members responded to what Koo said on Nov. 22, but the Telegram has reported about the problems resulting from the creation of the community and business development director position.

Small-Toney’s first hire for the position, Landis Faulcon, ended up resigning after having eventually reached a settlement after having been placed on administrative leave amid questions about her competency and lack of local residency.

Small-Toney’s next hire for the position, Cynthia Jones, eventually resigned and former longtime assistant city manager Peter Varney was brought in to serve as director in the meantime.

During the presentation at the Nov. 8 council work session, the council also was told the particular proposal to merge community and business development with human relations includes incorporating a community development division, a community wealth-building division and a neighborhood redevelopment division.

During that work session, Small-Toney said she wants to merge community and business development with human relations because when one adds in the new initiative of community wealth-building and adds in working with neighborhood associations, one starts to see an overlap.

Small-Toney also said she believes there is a way to look at a larger, more efficient operation by setting out divisions of what would be a new department.

Small-Toney also emphasized Jones is a seasoned, experienced and well-known municipal department head.

Jones has been a municipal employee since 1997 and since 2010 he has been directing human relations, whose job is to investigate complaints of discrimination and develop programs to promote good community relations to assure equal opportunity for all residents.

As part of a special council meeting on Nov. 16, Councilman Lige Daughtridge led a council vote, made without dissent, in favor of holding off on considering action on the proposed compensation and classification plan.

That action also is pending the outcome of a council request for certain additional specifics and a council work session in March 2022.

Daughtridge also successfully called for the council to authorize $1.71 million be spent by the end of the Fiscal Year 2021-22 to provide all of the municipality’s employees with a 4½ percent cost-of-living adjustment in their pay, with the remainder to be as a performance bonus.

Daughtridge also successfully included a request to put on hold any proposed combinations or restructuring of municipal departments.