Category: Board of Aldermen

January 10th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

A plan called a “Road Diet” to reduce First Street from four to two lanes with a center turn lane was postponed on Tuesday by the two rookie aldermen in whose district the project is located.

The subject will come up again at the board’s Jan. 23 meeting.

Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Aster said he knew little about the project but was getting feedback from his constituents who were expressing reservations.

The project, a team effort by the City of New Bern and N.C. Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the street, would cost about $1 million, of which the city would be responsible for $260,000, using a combination of city funds and grants.

In addition to reducing the lanes, it would resurface the street, and add bike paths and sidewalks on both sides. The newly configured street would stretch from Neuse Boulevard/Broad Street to Pembroke Avenue in the Pembroke community.

The city’s primary responsibility would be to maintain the sidewalks and relocate any utilities necessary to make way for the project.

Said Aster, “I would like to postpone it until the Jan. 23 meeting to learn more about it and find out about it from the constituents.”

A delay in any decision of two weeks would not have an impact on the project, which still needs state approval. A state-level meeting is scheduled for early February and the First Street Road Diet is on the agenda.

But if aldermen were to reject the plan or postpone any decision once again, that would delay the project.

Speaking during the public petitions portion of the aldermen meeting Tuesday, Tom Braaten, a retired Marine major general and retired Coastal Carolina Regional Airport director, expressed concerns about the Road Diet plan.

He said First Street can get congested at times, particularly with events at Lawson Creek, Twin Rivers YMCA, or Temple Baptist Church. Two right turn lanes at the U.S. 70 offramp would have to merge into one lane. A sharp curve in the street limits visibility. First Street is the main alternate street should the bridge be out of operation. And finally, aldermen who were not part of the plan are being asked to approve it, Braaten said.

Like Aster, Ward 1 Alderman Sabrina Bengel said she would like to get more feedback from citizens before making a decision.

The Road Diet project has been discussed for most of a year after being pitched by N.C. DOT officials. An undivided four-lane surface street is considered unsafe due to confestion, turns and intersections, and a Road Diet would address those concerns as well as beautify a major entry into the downtown.

The reduced lane count could accommodate up to 20,000 trips along First Street per day, City Manager Mark Stephens said. First Street handles between 6,000 and 8,000 trips per day now.

The addition of bike lanes and sidewalks would make it easier and safer for low-income residents to get about, Stephens said.

“If it doesn’t work, all you’re dealing is is restriping, which is maybe $15,000 or $20,000,” Stephens said.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor Tagged with:

January 10th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

A tradition within the New Bern Fire Department and its ancestors since 1879, threatened by a row over former mayor Lee Bettis, is now no longer a habit, a tradition, or a whim — it’s city law.

Aldermen passed a resolution on Tuesday making it official city policy to add the name of the mayor in office when a fire truck is authorized for purchase. The policy gives a mayor the option to decline the honor.

The resolution passed on a vote of 5-2, with Mayor Dana Outlaw and Alderman Jeffrey Odham voting against the measure.

The controversy arose when the previous Board of Aldermen ordered Lee Bettis’ name removed from a fire truck that was bought when he was in office. Bettis later served time in jail for driving recklessly under the influence of a prescription drug while his stepchildren were in the car.

At the time, members of the board thought having the name on a fire truck of a mayor who served time in jail was inappropriate.

Bettis’ name was restored to the fire truck last month after new board members, led by Ward 1 Alderman Sabrina Bengel, voted as a bloc, joined by Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey.

There was no discussion among aldermen during Tuesday’s agenda item. But earlier in the meeting, during the public comment and petitions portion of the meeting, two members of the public spoke on behalf of keeping the tradition intact.

They included Buddy Wetherington, past volunteer fire chief and member of the Button Volunteer Fire Department (like his father), thanked aldermen who voted to maintain the longtime tradition.

The department has many traditions, he said, and asked the board to keep the naming tradition intact.

Richard Blythe, who joined the fire department in 1977 and was chief of volunteers for three terms, said the naming has been a tradition for years and years. “I just wish the board would see kind enough to leave it that way,” he said.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor, New Bern Fire Department

January 10th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

A plan that includes enforced two-hour parking in Downtown New Bern cleared a hurdle on Tuesday.

Following a public hearing during which a committee’s recommendations went largely unchanged, the board asked its staff to prepare an ordinance and bring it back for a vote at the board’s first meeting in February.

A committee met over several months in 2017 to come up with ways to solve a perceived problem with downtown parking, with any decisions on the committee’s recommendations put off until the Board of Aldermen’s first meeting in January to enable new aldermen to weigh in on the issue.

Alderman Sabrina Bengel, whose ward includes all of downtown New Bern, led the discussion. While she had some concerns about how much the city ought to charge for leased spaces, she agreed with most of the recommendations.

They include enforced two-hour parking; an increase in parking fines from $5 to $25, doubling to $50 if not paid within 30 days; and improved directional signage directing motorists to city lots on Hancock Street, South Front Street and at the Farmers’ Market.

Notable what the plans do not include is paid street side parking or a push for a parking structure.

Bengel estimated that there are 200 parking spaces downtown that go unused. “We don’t have a parking problem, we have a walking problem,” she said, describing people unwilling to walk an extra block or two to take advantage of areas where there is a surplus of available parking.

Alderman Jeffrey Odham expressed concerns about picking and choosing pieces of the committee’s recommendations, which he said were intended to look at the problem of downtown parking holistically.

He said his big concern is picking and choosing from the committee recommendations just to get the ball rolling, but creating a bigger parking problem six months down the road.

Previous coverage


Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor, New Bern, New Bern business and commerce Tagged with:

January 10th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin
Ward 1 Alderman Sabrina Bengel watches a television monitor on which former governor Pat McCrory was announcing he had named her to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.


The Request and Petition portion of the Board of Aldermen meeting took an unusual twist on Tuesday evening when it was announced an alderman had been the recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Following several citizens who spoke on subjects ranging from naming rights on fire engines to plans for First Street, downtown businessman Buddy Bengel took the microphone to announce that Sabrina Bengel, his mother, had received the award.

The award was given as one of former governor Pat McCrory’s last official acts. He announced it in a pre-recorded video that was played at the aldermen meeting.

“Your heart and your soul are all about the community,” McCrory said.

Former governor Bev Perdue, in a written statement, said the selection was well-earned.

As she watched the video of McCrory making the announcement, Bengel, who was clearly unaware this was going to happen, said simply, “Oh my goodness gracious.”

Alderman Bobby Aster, another Long Leaf Pine recipient, escorted Bengel to the podium to receive her award. Other members of the board offered their congratulations before the meeting resumed.

According to the Long Leaf Pine Society, the award is among the honors and awards the governor of North Carolina can bestow, but none is more valued than The Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

“Since its creation in 1963, it has been presented to honor persons who have a proven record of service to the State of North Carolina or some other special achievement, and to others as a gesture of friendship and good will. Upon being named to The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the honoree receives a certificate by which the Governor confers upon the recipient “…the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary privileged to enjoy fully all rights granted to members of this exalted order among which is the special privilege to propose the following North Carolina Toast in select company anywhere in the free world:

‘Here’s to the land
of the long leaf pine,
The summer land
where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong
and the strong grow great,
Here’s to “down home”,
the Old North State!”

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen Tagged with:

January 5th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

First off, the obvious

Things are getting back to normal now that the holidays are behind us.

Just kidding. With snow and ice blanketing the region, it’s like having an extra week off for the Christmas break. Schools have been closed since Wednesday. So much of New Bern was shut down on Thursday, it nearly felt like Christmas Day.

Though we were well supplied with food, cabin fever drove us from the house and we thank the folks at Sonic and Piggly Wiggly for braving the weather and serving our needs. Other businesses were open, too … these are just the two we happened to visit.

There was enough snow that sledders had more than enough for two full days of sledding on the U.S. 70/Country Club Road interchange, with more sledding days likely through the weekend.

And Tyson makes two

Craven County Commissioner Steve Tyson announced on his Facebook wall that he will not be seeking reelection this year. Scott Dacey is also not running for county commissioner, instead seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Walter Jones.

Beneath a picture of a torch being passed, Tyson said this on his Facebook wall:

I want to thank the citizens of Craven County for allowing me the privilege of serving as one of their County Commissioners for the past eleven years. It has been a wonderful experience and I feel like we, meaning the County Board and the 650 County employees, staff and department heads that work for the County, have accomplished quite a lot during my tenure. I have enjoyed working with all of the other Commissioners despite at times not always in agreement with them on all issues. When we disagreed on one issue we moved on to the next issue without remorse.

It is with some sadness that I am announcing that I will not seek reelection next year. I will have served 12 years when I finish my current term and It is time to pass the torch. The County is well managed and in excellent financial condition.

I utilized my 35 years of business experience and exercised a businesslike approach in my decision-making for the County government and I would hope my successor will also take that approach.

When my term is up I will forever remain a cheerleader and advocate for the city and County in which I was born and love.

Again, thanks for your past support, and may 2018 be a blessed year to all.

Tyson will undoubtedly remain busy. He is a Realtor, owns an inn, hosts a weekly TV program, is an amateur historian. Am I missing anything? I feel as though I am missing a lot.


Things get rolling

The first Board of Aldermen meeting of the new year, and the first full meeting of the newly constituted board, is on Tuesday, and its agenda is just packed with interesting stuff. Packed!

Highlights include:

Public hearing on recommendations from the Master Parking Plan Advisory Committee. At least one alderman, Sabrina Bengel, has expressed reservations about at least a portion of the recommendations. Fun fact: a member of the committee, downtown New Bern businessman Buddy Bengel, is her son.

Discussion of potential lease of the old Firemen’s Museum building at 408 Hancock St. It’s an interesting series of twists. The previous board sped (synonym for “bum’s rush”) the Firemen’s Museum’s departure from the building ostensibly to sell the property during a period which the city sought to shed surplus properties. But in the end the city could not sell the building. A group of local artists, meanwhile, approached the board hoping to lease the building. Now it looks like the building could be taken over by Parks & Recreation.

Consider adopting a policy for naming city fire trucks. The city started doing this in 1879, but Mayor Dana Outlaw expressed doubt whether that long tradition is actually a policy.

Consider a resolution leading to reducing First Street from four lanes to two (“Road Diet”). The latest trend among transportation boffins is not to add lanes to accommodate more city traffic, but to reduce lanes. It makes surface streets safer, they say.

Speaking of fire trucks

Alderman Jeffrey Odham had a poll on his Facebook page that ended Friday. Here is the question (more of a leading statement, really) and the results:

New Bern has a long tradition of putting the sitting Mayor’s name on fire trucks purchased while they are in office. Most are aware of the controversy surrounding this tradition due to the issues of the former Mayor. Evidently there are two Aldermen that feel we should issue a resolution supporting this tradition. Some of the ideas that hat (sic) have been discussed are a Fireman of the Year from within the NBFD, honor fallen firefighters, name them after non-profits throughout the community, etc.

27%Keep the tradition

73%Do something different

171 Votes

In the interest of full disclosure, I had to vote in the poll in order to see the results. I was among the 27 percent who voted to keep the tradition.

Pat Schaible phoned home

In response to my commentary, Why New Bern’s ward system is necessary, a sitting alderman and a former alderman weighed in.

The two focused on a particular passage in the commentary:

So what did (former alderman E.T.) Mitchell accomplish during her year as an alderman?

She worked on goals set out for her by the mayor and other members of the board (which means, mainly, Ward 6 Alderman Jeffrey Odham).

On its face that sounds great, but it put her in a sort of unique position on the board: no other alderman or the mayor had their agenda set for them by other members of the board.

While Ward 3 may have been represented, it was the only ward during that year whose alderman’s main purpose was accomplishing tasks set out for her by aldermen from other wards.

Alderman Jeffrey Odham took issue, leading to the following exchange between him and me:

Odham: Randy, I’m curious as to what you mean when you say that Alderman Mitchell worked on goals laid out for her by the mayor and other board members, mainly me. What do you mean by that exactly and where do you get that idea

Me: She said so in her final comments on the board.


Interesting. I’ll have to go back and watch ch because I don’t recall those comments. Thanks for bringing it to light. Although I don’t remember setting out any specific goals and objectives for Alderman Mitchell. She came in with her own agenda for Ward 3 based on things her and Alderman Schaible had discussed (flashing lights at Taberna, widening of Old Airport Road, etc.)

Former alderman Pat Schaible chimed in, as well. She was the alderman who resigned and who was replaced by Mitchell. Schaible wrote:

Alderman Odham is correct in that I had lengthly conversations with Alderman Mitchell about the concerns of Ward 3 (including the flashing lights at Taberna and the widening of Airport Road). In fact, I gave Alderman Mitchell my entire file cabinet with everything fully documented.

Comments and Tips for Friday free-for-all

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Craven County Board of Commissioners, Mayor, New Bern, New Bern business and commerce, New Bern Fire Department

January 5th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

January 9, 2018 Agenda and Explanations 

1.   Meeting opened by Mayor Dana E. Outlaw.  Prayer Coordinated by Alderman Bengel.  Pledge of Allegiance.
2.   Roll Call.
3.   Request and Petition of Citizens.
This section of the Agenda is titled Requests and Petitions of Citizens.  This is an opportunity for public comment, and we thank you for coming to the Board of Aldermen meeting tonight to share your views.  We value all citizen input.

Speaker comments are limited to a maximum of 4 minutes during the public comment period.  At the conclusion of 4 minutes, each speaker shall leave the podium.  Comments will be directed to the full board, not to an individual board member or staff member.  Although the board is interested in hearing your comments, speakers should not expect any comments, action or deliberation from the board on any issue raised during the public comment period.
In the board’s discretion, it may refer issues to the appropriate city officials or staff for further investigation.  If an organized group is present to speak on a common issue, please designate one person to present the group’s comment, which shall be limited to a maximum of 4 minutes.
Consent Agenda
4.   Approve Minutes.
Minutes from the December 12, 2017 meeting are provided for review and approval.
5.   Recognition of Graduates from Citizens Police Academy.
Graduates of the recent Citizens Police Academy will be in attendance to give an overview of their experience.  The latest academy marked the 21st session that has been conducted. (See Backup)
6.   Recognition of 2017 Badge, Faith and Fun Day Coordinators.
Badge, Faith and Fun Day was held on September 16, 2017 at Lawson Creek Park. The event was a one-day festival aimed at bringing the community together with the New Bern Police Department in a neutral, fun environment.  Event coordinators will be recognized, which included the following:  Copy and Print Warehouse, Chris Goodgin, Armstrong’s Grocery, Piggly Wiggly, Three Guys Signs, Publix, Craven Coffee House, Cotton Funeral Home, the Sun Journal, CTV-10, KISS-FM 102, Civitans, Boy Scouts of America Troop 299, NBPD Volunteers, Inc., Bender Apparel, Bouncin’ Time Rentals, New Bern Sporting Goods, Bear Towne Tents, Pastor Hazel Royal, Father Thomas Tully, Dana Tabbarini, Dr. James Herring, and Minges Bottling Group. (See Backup)
7.   Presentation of and Conduct Public Hearing on Recommendations from Master Parking Plan Advisory Committee.
The Master Parking Plan Advisory Committee (“MPPAC”) made a presentation before the Board of Aldermen at the Board’s work session on November 21, 2017.  The presentation included a list of recommendations relative to parking issues in the downtown area.  One of the recommendations was for the Board of Aldermen to conduct a hearing for the purpose of obtaining public input on the subject of parking and the proposed recommendations.  Members of the MPPAC will be in attendance to again share the presentation, after which the Board is asked to open the floor for public comment.  A copy of the presentation is provided. (See Backup)
8.   Presentation of Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and Fiscal Year 2016-17 Audit.
Copies of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (“CAFR”) and Auditor’s Discussion and Analysis will be distributed to the Board prior to the meeting on January 9th.  A representative from Mauldin & Jenkins, the firm that performed the City’s audit, will be present to discuss the findings of the CAFR and audit.  This report will also be made available on the City’s website on January 10, 2018. (See Backup)
9.   Discussion of Potential Lease of 408 Hancock Street.
(Ward 1) At the December 12, 2017 meeting, the Board discussed the potential lease of 408 Hancock Street to Community Artist Will, Inc., a local nonprofit that sells art, offers classes, etc.  Their initial offer proposed a base rent of $1,200 monthly for a three-year term with conditions that the City complete specific alterations to the building.  A later discussion evolved around a 5-year lease at a rate of $500.00 month with the lessee maintaining the interior of the building and the City maintaining the exterior and HVAC system.  It was also suggested a public component be included to provide for the nonprofit to work with Craven Arts Council to promote and educate the arts to school-age children, provide programming and space for the City’s Parks and Recreation summer youth program, and promote the building as a community arts center.
At the December 12th meeting, the Board voted to form an ad hoc group consisting of Aldermen Bengel, Harris and Aster to meet with Community Artist Will, Craven Arts Council & Gallery, and Foster Hughes, Director of Parks and Recreation.  The outcome of those meetings was to be reported to the Board at its January 9th meeting.
As a reminder, NC General Statute §160A-272 requires a 30-day notice be provided on any leases with a term greater than one year. (See Backup)
10. Discussion of Possible Ordinance Amendment for Cul-de-sac Radius Requirements.
Previous ordinances allowed for a cul-de-sac radius to be 63’ in cases where an island is not provided and 80’ in cases where a planting island is placed in the center of the cul-de-sac.  The Board since adopted Appendix D of the NC Fire Prevention Code, which provides for a recommended cul-de-sac radius of 96’.  Some developers have expressed concerns regarding the newly-required size for cul-de-sacs and associated costs.  The intent of the 96’ radius was to allow for a fire apparatus to make turnarounds in the cul-de-sac without having to back up; thus, reducing response times.  Fire Chief Boyd and Jeff Ruggieri, Director of Development Services, will be available to discuss this further and answer any questions. (See Backup)
11. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving a Policy for Naming of Fire Apparatus.
Beginning in 1879, New Bern’s fire engines were traditionally named for the Mayor seated in office at the time the purchase of an engine was approved.  The proposed resolution will establish a policy to carry this tradition forward.  The resolution does provide an option for the Mayor to respectfully decline the honor, if so desired.  In such event, the apparatus would remain unnamed. (See Backup)
12. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving an Agreement with East Carolina University for an Internship Training Program.
The City desires to enrich its internship training program through an educational relationship with East Carolina University (“ECU”) and its students by providing appropriate learning experiences to students who are enrolled in ECU’s internship programs.  Internship opportunities will be consistent with the City’s existing internship policy.  A memo from Sonya Hayes, Director of Human Resources, is attached. (See Backup)
13. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving a Transportation Improvement Project – Municipal Agreement with NC Department of Transportation Under Project 47112.3.1.
(Wards 1 and 3) This agreement is for the First Street Road Diet project.  The terms of the agreement provide for NCDOT to design and construct the entirety of the road diet, which will reduce four travel lines to three and will add bike lanes and sidewalks along First Street from Neuse Boulevard to Pembroke Avenue.  Upon completion of the project, the City will reimburse DOT $260,000.00 of the cost.  Additionally, the City will assume maintenance of the sidewalks and will relocate and adjust all City-owned utilities that conflict with the project.  A memo from Jeff Ruggieri, Director of Development Services, is attached. (See Backup)
14. Consider Adopting a Resolution to Initiate the Upset Bid Process for 1111 Williams Street.
(Ward 5) Amanda Hurst has submitted an offer of $1,000.00 for the purchase of a vacant lot at 1111 Williams Street.  The offer represents 25% of the tax value, which is $4,000.00.  The property was acquired by the City and Craven County in March 2008 through tax foreclosure.  At the time of foreclosure, taxes were due to the County in the amount of $3,850.42 and $3,726.69 to the City.  The foreclosure costs totaled $2,273.83, and the City also incurred $3,200.00 in demolition costs.
If no other bids are received and the property is sold for the initial offer, the County will receive $528.63 and the City will receive $471.37.  The City will also be reimbursed the cost to advertise the offer.  Attached is a breakdown of the anticipated proceeds as provided by the City Attorney and a memo from the City Clerk. (See Backup)
15. Consider Adopting a Resolution to Initiate the Upset Bid Process for 1112 Grace Street.
(Ward 5) Amanda Hurst has submitted an offer of $1,000.00 for the purchase of a vacant lot at 1112 Grace Street.  The offer represents 25% of the tax value, which is $4,000.00.  The property was acquired by the City and Craven County in March 2008 through tax foreclosure.  Foreclosure costs totaled $2,098.71.  At the time of foreclosure, taxes were due in the amount of $1,810.41 to the County and $6,849.70 to the City, of which $4,750.00 represents a demolition lien.
If no other bids are received and the property is sold for the initial offer, the County will receive $543.10 and the City will receive $456.90.  The City will also be reimbursed the cost to advertise the offer.  Attached is a breakdown of the anticipated proceeds as provided by the City Attorney and a memo from the City Clerk. (See Backup)
16. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving a Code of Ethics for the Board of Aldermen.
NC General Statue §160A-86 requires local governing boards to adopt a resolution or policy approving a code of ethics.  The proposed code of ethics is the same as one previously adopted by the City and meets with the City Attorney’s approval. (See Backup)
17. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving Rules of Procedure for the Board of Aldermen.
At its December 12, 2017 meeting, the Board voted to begin its regular meetings at 6 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.  As a result, the Board’s Rules of Procedure must be amended to reflect this change. (See Backup)
18. Consider Adopting an Ordinance Amending Section 2-41 of Chapter 2, Article II, Division 2 Regarding the Board of Aldermen’s Regular Meetings.
Similar to the previous item, this amendment will revise the existing ordinance to reflect the change in time from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. for the Board’s regular meetings. (See Backup)
19. Consider Adopting an Amendment to Part IV “Appearance Commission” of Article III, Appendix A of the “Land Use” Ordinance.
The ordinance pertaining to the Appearance Commission currently requires five members be appointed to the commission.  To comply with state statute, the proposed amendment will increase the number of members to seven.  All members shall be residents of the City’s planning and zoning jurisdiction at the time of appointment.  For reference, attached are copies of state statutes pertaining to appearance commissions.  The City Attorney will answer any questions the Board may have. (See Backup)
20. Appointment(s).
a) As reflected in the previous item, the Appearance Commission will now consist of seven members instead of five.  As a result, two additional appointments are needed.  Appointees shall be residents of the City’s planning and zoning jurisdiction and shall, when possible, have had special training or experience in a design field such as architecture, landscape design, horticulture, city planning, or a closely-related field.  Members of the Appearance Commission serve a three-year term. (See Backup)
b) Victor Taylor represented the Board of Aldermen on the New Bern-Craven County Public Library Board of Trustees.  The Board is asked to make an appointment to replace Mr. Taylor.  The new appointee shall serve as a trustee for the duration of their term of office.  The Library Board meets the first Tuesday of alternate months beginning with February.  The meetings begin at 7:30 p.m. and are held at the library.  Any Board member who is absent for more than three consecutive meetings during the year will be removed from the Board. (See Backup) 
21. Attorney’s Report.
22. City Manager’s Report.
23. New Business.
24. Closed Session.
25. Adjourn.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor

December 28th, 2017 by newbernpostadmin
The concrete front steps at New Bern City Hall is the first obstacle for people with mobility issues. Google Street View image


For those with mobility issues who want to attend a Board of Aldermen meeting, the seven steps they have to climb to reach the front door at New Bern City Hall is just the beginning of a perilous journey.

Those seven concrete steps get you barely a third of the way to the second-floor room where the board meets.

I’m thinking that there are one of two thoughts that cross people’s minds when they want to attend a Board of Aldermen meeting in New Bern: What a lovely City Hall, or, how in the world am I going to climb those stairs?

City Hall, built in 1889 as a federal courthouse and repurposed as New Bern’s center of government, is about as out-of-compliance from the American’s With Disabilities Act as Marine Boot Camp.

The Board of Aldermen meet in a large room called the courtroom (because it really was a courtroom) on the second floor, reached by two flights of hardwood stairs. There is no elevator.

Because of the historic nature of the building, the cost to retrofit it, and the damage a retrofit would do to the building’s structure, City Hall has been exempted from some ADA requirements and instituted workarounds to enable wheelchair-bound citizens to have access if they call in advance.

City Hall has a special device with which a city worker basically drags a wheelchair-bound person up the stairs. It could make for an unsettling ride, and a lot of people with mobility issues simply avoid meetings or watch them on TV.

Richard Friend, a former Rhode Island attorney, brought up the issue during the Board of Aldermen meeting on Dec. 12. He joins a chorus of people who have brought up the issue over the years. But two things irked him about that meeting.

First, because it was the meeting when new aldermen were sworn in, there was a rare over-capacity situation and virtually all the public seats in the courtroom were reserved and taken up by family and friends of incoming aldermen.

“These meetings are supposed to be open to the public, not reserved seats,” Friend scolded board members during the Public Comments portion of the meeting. “If there is overflow, you need to move the meeting to a more accessible site.”

The other irksome thing was longer term, and that was the ADA-accessibility issue.

“This meeting is being held in violation of ADA requirements,” he said. Even the phone number a handicapped person can call for assistance to reach the courtroom doesn’t count according to ADA rules, he said. He urged City Hall to fix the problem.

“It’s much easier to do it voluntarily,” he said.

As a rule, city staff, aldermen and the mayor don’t respond or take action during the Public Comments portion of the meeting, presumably because the comments are unexpected and unagendized and city hall officials are unprepared. (Note: the same considerations don’t apply to the “New Business” portion of meetings, but I digress.) Thus, Richard Friend’s comments received no response.

Posted in Board of Aldermen, New Bern Tagged with:

December 28th, 2017 by newbernpostadmin

The following chart is the salary and travel allowance provided to each board member:

The Fiscal Year 2017/18 budget includes $2,000 for travel and training and $1,000 special appropriation for discretionary spending for each Board Member.  As board members, they are also eligible to participate in the Employee Health Benefits plan.

Although not a compensated item, the entire Board has city-issued iPads. The mayor (Dana Outlaw) and aldermen from Wards 2 (Jamee Harris), 3 (Bobby Aster), 4 (Johnnie Ray Kinsey) and 6 (Jeffrey Odham) have accepted city-issued cell phones. Aldermen Sabrina Bengel and Barbara Best have not opted for for city-issued cell phones.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor Tagged with:

December 26th, 2017 by newbernpostadmin
The board of aldermen without a ward system might as well look like this photo, taken just before new board members took their seats on Dec. 12. Post photo


I keep hearing that New Bern’s ward system is outdated and unnecessary, and that all members of the Board of Aldermen should be elected at-large, the same way the mayor is elected.

Getting rid of the ward system would accomplish two things:

  • It would put serving on the board out of reach for all but anyone who is wealthy enough to buy their way into office.
  • It would leave New Bern’s less affluent neighborhoods without local representation and focus the spending of tax dollars on parts of the city that need it the least.

Imagine a city without a ward system in which you have a problem and aren’t getting anywhere at city hall. Who would you call? Would you pick an alderman at random? Or call the mayor?

Now, at least, you have an advocate who lives in or near your neighborhood and who is directly responsive to your needs and, if he or she fails to do the job, can be unseated much more easily than someone who is elected at-large.

Without the ward system, money would flow to a specific few who would do the best job representing those who have money.

The closest we have come to an at-large alderman just left office: E.T. Mitchell. When Pat Schaible resigned her seat as Ward 3 alderman, Mitchell was hand-picked by certain members of the Board of Aldermen.

During one of those “public meetings” when it is clear the board had no interest in listening to what the public said, the board room was filled with people supported one applicant for the job: Retired New Bern fire chief Bobby Aster. A petition was presented with hundreds of signatures from people supporting Aster.

E.T. Mitchell wasn’t at the meeting, and there was not one person in the audience there to support her being appointed as alderman.

In short, the board ignored the wishes of Ward 3 residents by appointing Mitchell over Aster.

Mayor Dana Outlaw said Mitchell brought experience and skills to the board, whereas all Aster brought was his experience as fire chief (his job before he retired). Never mind that Aster had filled many key positions in city hall, up to and including city manager.

So what did Mitchell accomplish during her year as an alderman?

She worked on goals set out for her by the mayor and other members of the board (which means, mainly, Ward 6 Alderman Jeffrey Odham).

On its face that sounds great, but it put her in a sort of unique position on the board: no other alderman or the mayor had their agenda set for them by other members of the board.

While Ward 3 may have been represented, it was the only ward during that year whose alderman’s main purpose was accomplishing tasks set out for her by aldermen from other wards.

Ward 3 is a fairly affluent ward: it includes New Towne, parts of Ghent, Taberna and Carolina Colours — just the sort of people who would spend money to elect their kind of alderman. Yet their wishes went ignored. I wonder, how did that make them feel?

Now imagine a board of aldermen where all seven members come from New Bern’s most affluent neighborhoods. How well do you think those members would represent residents of New Bern’s middle-income and low-income neighborhoods?

I remember a “let them eat cake” conversation between Pat Schaible and my wife. This was at a time when the Board of Aldermen was trying to shove the City Market idea down the throats of the Farmer’s Market board.

My wife was alarmed that the City Market concept included a band shell. City Market, located on First Street, backs up to the Ghent neighborhood, and my wife pointed out to Schaible that there are babies living right across the street from the band shell location, not to mention a whole neighborhood of families nearby.

Schaible said she would love to have a band shell in her neighborhood. I rather doubt that.

But Schaible wasn’t representing residents of her ward. She was representing “the city.”

You have to be careful when your elected leaders represent “the city” over its residents. Just ask people in Ferguson, Mo., and Flynt, Mich., about that.

Keep power as local as possible, and the only way to do that is preserving the ward system.



Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor, New Bern Post, Opinion Tagged with:

December 26th, 2017 by newbernpostadmin
The outgoing Board of Aldermen shortly before four aldermen surrendered their seats on Dec. 12. Post photo


Dec. 12 was the last Board of Aldermen meeting for four aldermen.

They included:

  • One-term Ward 1 alderman Dallas Blackiston, who sought reelection but came in third in a three-person race won by his predecessor, Sabrina Bengel
  • Two-term Ward 2 alderman Victor Taylor, who did not seek reelection and who was replaced by Jamee Harris.
  • Half-term alderman E.T. Mitchell, who was appointed to the board and who did not run for reelection; she was replaced by Bobby Aster.
  • Two-term Ward 5 alderman Bernard White, who lost his reelection bid to Barbara Best.

The Dec. 12 Board of Aldermen meeting was really three meetings. The first was a meeting of the outgoing board and actually included some real business before concluding with departing aldermen’s comments; an interim meeting during which all the aldermen, both newcomers and returning incumbents, took their respective oaths of office; and then a final meeting that also included some real business.

But unless you were at the Dec. 12 meeting, or watched a video of it, you probably didn’t get to hear about what the outgoing aldermen had to say in their final moments as elected representatives.

Dallas Blackiston made comments echoing something that is commonly stated by people who serve on the Board of Alderman: It’s more than a part-time job.

“These are not part-time positions,” Blackiston said. “You should try it for a week.”

He pointed out that the mayor could get a part-time minimum wage job and make more than he makes as mayor (here’s how much board members make and their perks).

He called for a $1,000 per year increase in aldermen and mayor compensation, which he said would have a minuscule effect on the city budget but would make a difference for people who serve on the board.

Blackiston followed up with a second recommendation: that the city do away with its ward system of representation, which he said only 12 percent of the 550 municipalities in North Carolina use. He thinks every alderman should be elected at-large, just like the mayor.

He said it would increase accountability to all citizens and “strengthen the leadership team.”

Victor Taylor said he served to make a different for Ward 2 and the city. Taylor, who was civically involved before he became an alderman, said he was not stepping down as an advocate for the people of his ward and the city, but that he would “take a break … . I need to sit down and think.”

He pointed out that he was in communication with the city public works director every other day for eight years bringing up maintenance issues in his ward.

“I’m going to be in the community like I was before I was on the board,” Taylor said.

E.T. Mitchell gave a reminder that she served on the New Bern Housing Authority Board and played an instrumental role in the rehabilitation of Craven Terrace before she was appointed to the Board of Aldermen.

She said her fellow aldermen and the mayor set goals for her that she hopes she accomplished “finding ways to make progress possible.”

“I’m smarter and more capable for having worked with them,” she said, describing the relationship on the board as “respectful.”

“Not all boards operate in that professional manner,” she said.

Bernard White said serving his two terms as alderman was “more than a job. “I’m really not a politician,” he said. “I was here to serve and work for the people. I tried to do the best fo the people in my ward.

“I can’t tell you how I feel because I don’t really feel anything. … The night I lost, I slept like a baby.”

“You can’t come into New Berna and not come into contact with something that I haven’t had something to do with,” he said.

He was paid a $376 stipend every two weeks, he said. For that, there were times he would stay until midnight working as an alderman and come back the next day having solved all kinds of issues.



Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor

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