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Candidates differ over results of city probe

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Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs, left, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney, center, and City Attorney Jep Rose watch as the review of Small-Toney is presented Monday during the city council meeting at City Hall.

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Opinions over the independent review of City Hall are a mixed bag among candidates for mayor and City Council.

A report summary presented Monday to the Rocky Mount City Council by the law firm Nexsen Pruet found no malfeasance on the part of City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney while identifying low morale among department heads.

Also released Monday was an internal audit of the city's relationship with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The audit found the city has had to repay at least $320,000 over the past six years but now has better policies in place.

The incumbent and challenger in Ward 1 have differing views of the review.

Councilman Andre Knight said the independent law firm researched all complaints registered by staff and some city residents.

"The review revealed nothing conclusive about Mrs. Small-Toney's leadership that is unethical or illegal," Knight said. "Our focus now should be directed toward downtown development, affordable workforce housing and job development for all our citizens. It is time to move forward."

Tarrick Pittman said he hoped the audit would be independent without instruction from the council. The outcome came down to employee moral and a difference in managerial style.

"These problems can easily be corrected with proper training and feedback from employees and superiors," Pittman said. "I am sending out a call to the community for patience and understanding as the state auditor completes her investigation. A unified Rocky Mount benefits everyone."

The candidates for Ward 3 see the reports as giving the council something to work on, digging in the wrong places and questioning whether employees felt free to truly express themselves.

Councilman Richard Joyner said the two audits have given the council some items to work on to overcome.

"There are things that have been invisible and unseen," Joyner said. "They've been brought into the open and we can improve on them."

Johnny Cunningham said the lawyers dug all around the “X” marking the spot, coming up with only fool's gold.

"Not to dig deeper into the Telegram's reports is not to find the truth," Cunningham said.

Gwen Wilkins said she was relieved to hear there was no malfeasance, but her gut tells her city employees were too afraid to expose their true opinions and feelings for fear of losing their jobs.

"Insofar as Rochelle Small-Toney not having terminated employees, we must consider employees may have been given the option to resign rather than be terminated and may have signed a confidentiality statement," Wilkins said.

The three candidates for mayor said they weren't surprised by the summary results.

Bronson Williams said he's of the opinion the audit provided answers to the questions raised by members of the community and city employees.

"The findings as shared were expressed consistently further strengthen the validity of the report," Williams said.

Kevin Jones said having worked in government for several years, he wasn't surprised by the summary.

"We don't need an audit to know that things are broken at City Hall," Jones said. "I believe that the people of Rocky Mount recognize this and will fix it on Oct. 8."

Sandy Roberson also said he isn't surprised.

"While I would like the opportunity to read the report for my own edification, I am not particularly surprised by the reported outcome of the review," Roberson said.

Lige Daughtridge, so far the only candidate to announce an intention to run in Ward 5, said the council directed Nexsen Pruet to limit its audit to specific areas.

"The results were expected," Daughtridge said. "My question is what about everything else? This review did not touch on areas of concern that have been reported in the newspaper or provide the transparency citizens deserve. It did not touch on what appears to be excessive departures beyond natural attrition with new management. I find it interesting that John Jesso’s leaving was considered voluntary but why was there no mention of the discrimination lawsuit?"

Daughtridge said it was disturbing that the City Council didn't ask any questions of the auditors during the public meeting.

"The auditor even admitted to discussing results with the manager," Daughtridge said. "This leads to the question, 'Is this truly independent?' We need leadership that is going to ask tough questions and challenge the status quo of government. My hope is this audit does not lead to a mass exodus of qualified experienced staff."

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