Ethics and transparency in government

Councilman Lige Daughtridge shows paperwork to illustrate he pays his utility bills for services at his residence.

A special meeting of the City Council called by Mayor Sandy Roberson for 2 p.m. on Thursday is on hold until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, which will be two hours before a council regular meeting.

Roberson called the special meeting in the aftermath of a report of a probe of the City of Rocky Mount by state Auditor Beth Wood and her team.

Roberson in a brief statement on Thursday afternoon said he delayed the special meeting “as an expression of unity.”

“We should be focused on the findings in the N.C. State Auditor’s hard-hitting report, not arguing about when we talk about it,” Roberson said.

“The full council must publicly discuss it and determine together how we are going to regain the trust of our community,” Roberson said. “I expect all of the City Council members to attend this new time.”

One of the council members, T.J. Walker, who was elected in October, told the Telegram on Wednesday he had said he was not available for that special meeting.

Walker told the Telegram he had suggested the meeting be held the same day as the already-scheduled council regular meeting — and adjust the time.

Wood’s and her team’s report, which was made public on May 15, found instances of certain officials receiving preferential treatment and of failures to follow policies and regulations.

A key finding of the probe showed multiple city officials prevented the municipal Business Services Center from trying to collect $47,704 in utility bills owed by Councilman Andre Knight — and that the total eventually was taken off the books.

Another key finding of the probe showed that City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney spent taxpayer funds on unallowable travel expenses, including on lobster and steak dinners and on an individual steamed seafood bucket.

Roberson in a teleconference on Monday said he intended to call an emergency meeting for Thursday.

The Telegram during the daytime on Wednesday was only able to directly confirm that one council member was going to attend the special council meeting.

That councilman, Lige Daughtridge, later Wednesday evening appeared in a video posted on YouTube.

Daughtridge, who is a businessman and who served on the Planning Board, was elected to the council in October.

On camera, Daughtridge said Wood and her team discovered areas of improvement needed in Rocky Mount, including in ethics and transparency.

Daughtridge emphasized that he has been talking about both for years and included both as key parts of his campaign platform.

Daughtridge noted that Roberson, who was elected mayor in November, on Monday proposed that the mayor and each council member sign what Roberson is calling “Contract with Rocky Mount.”

Daughtridge said he is glad to do so and that he would encourage his fellow council members to do the same.

Roberson in the teleconference on Monday announced an extensive list of major reforms he believes should be put into place to help ensure good government in the city.

Daughtridge on camera Wednesday said shortly after he was sworn in as a council member, he took a class in ethics. He said he serves on a state board — the Rural Infrastructure Authority — and had to take a class presented by the state Ethics Commission.

Daughtridge also said that, as part of that state board he serves on, he and fellow board members have to fill out statements of economic interest each year and that the statements he has filled out are posted on the state Ethics Commission’s website.

Daughtridge said that after winning election to the council, he wrote a letter to Small-Toney stating he intended to end his companies’ business relations with the municipality.

Daughtridge said such continued relations of his businesses with the city would be both an appearance of and a conflict of interest.

Daughtridge said that while these businesses lost about $18,000 per year in revenues, this was the cost and the right thing to do.

Daughtridge also showed copies of utility bills to illustrate he pays what he owes for services at his residence and for services at properties he owns in the city.

“As an elected official, we need the trust from all of the citizens of Rocky Mount,” Daughtridge said.

“It’s expected, but … right now I think we have to prove it, because it also has been proven that certain City Council members are not adhering by ethics,” Daughtridge said. “And therefore, we need to be transparent.”

Daughtridge next signed the Contract with Rocky Mount.

The council meets every second and fourth Monday.

Due to this coming Monday coinciding with Memorial Day, this coming meeting was reset to 4 p.m. on Tuesday.