The old saying about an official’s word being law appears to be the case with the top day-to-day operations executive at City Hall.
During Monday’s City Council work session, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney made clear to the council that if any members of the panel have a request related to any city staff members, the council member has to communicate with her on the front end.
The subject came up after Councilman Andre Knight, who as mayor pro tem chairs council work sessions, moved to an item about council members’ requests for information from Small-Toney and the city staff.
Knight and Councilman Reuben Blackwell next blasted Councilman Lige Daughtridge for having, on Oct. 6 and Oct. 7, posted YouTube videos.
The videos show Daughtridge speaking about what he said he sees as a lack of response to his requests for information from Small-Toney about crimes and finances.
On one of the videos Daughtridge posted, he also referred to Small-Toney not allowing city employees to talk to him.
During Monday’s work session, Knight told Daughtridge that to state he cannot speak to the city staff is “very misleading.”
“I think we all can speak to staff, but it’s not our role, your role or any of our roles to get directly involved with employees and request information, because all employees report to the city manager,” Knight said.
Rocky Mount has a council-manager form of government, with Mayor Sandy Roberson serving as chairman of council regular meetings.
During Monday’s work session, Small-Toney spoke about her protocol to check with her in advance before dealing with any staff member.
Small-Toney acknowledged that in an ideal world, “certainly you know that everybody talks to everybody.”
“And my requirement is that, if you interact with the staff, my staff, that you copy me or they copy me, so that I’m aware of what’s going on, because you know what happens sometimes? You might hear something from one individual or they might hear something from one individual,” Small-Toney said.
“And then at the end of the day, everybody’s looking at the manager to sort through it and get it back on track,” Small-Toney said.
“So it’s not a prohibition,” Small-Toney said of this part of her system of rules. “It’s an opportunity to help get you the information that you need.”
Additionally, Small-Toney said, “Please do not make requests to meet with the staff unless you’ve talked to me, meaning: Don’t bring in the animal control people to talk to a lieutenant about animal control issues unless you have spoken to me.
“And that’s a meeting that was established and has been pushed around several different times,” Small-Toney said. “But I’m going to have staff there because I need to be able to help sort through whatever the issues the Animal Control Advisory Board is having. That’s just an example.”
Small-Toney did not elaborate further about what that was all about.
Small-Toney also has a strict procedure about the Telegram’s access to news-related information.
Specifically, the newspaper’s questions about city business — and routine requests for comments from department heads and senior-level staff — have to be submitted in advance to the City of Rocky Mount Communications, Marketing and Public Relations Department.
There was a case of a reporter with another news organization having had difficulty reaching Small-Toney and previous elected city officials for comment for a major news story at the time.
That was when Small-Toney came under intense scrutiny in January 2019 from residents (primarily, but not exclusively) about her having hired an official she long knew, Landis Faulcon, as director of community and business development.
Faulcon resigned in September 2019 after questions surfaced about her competency and her continuing to live in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area and in Halifax County.
During a City Council meeting in January 2019, Kelly Kennedy, at the time a reporter for Raleigh-Durham area television station WNCN, appeared at the speaker’s podium for the public input phase of that meeting.
Kennedy, while at the podium, said she requested interviews with then-Mayor David Combs, the then-council members and Small-Toney and said those requests were denied.
However, when the city management wants to communicate information to the public via the news media, they apparently can do so in an unorthodox way.
That became evident on May 14, the day before State Auditor Beth Wood released a report of her and her team’s findings of a probe of the city’s finances and operations.
The city issued a seven-page news release providing the city’s summary of a draft report by Wood’s office, along with a summary of the city’s responses.
Daughtridge, when reached by the Telegram for comment at the time, said he was shocked to know the city had issued a news release prior to Wood releasing her and her team’s report.
During Monday’s council work session, Daughtridge cited extensive concerns he has about city government and noted many issues brought up in the report issued by Wood and her team.
Knight, in response to Daughtridge’s reference to the report, said, “We know the reason why she was sent here — and it was a targeted investigation. She reported her findings, we responded — and that was it.”
Wood, in the May 15 report, showed that the city’s news release the day before did not include additional details found as a result of the probe.
The key findings of the probe alleged that Knight, Blackwell and Combs received advantageous treatment.
Specifically, the report alleged that $47,704 in utility bills owed by Knight eventually was taken off the books and that Knight since accumulated an additional $2,989 delinquent balance.
The report also alleged that Small-Toney spent taxpayer funds on lobster and steak dinners and a steamed seafood bucket.