On March 12, the New Bern Post called for local governments to take leadership in the face of the spreading and deadly COVID-19.
They said they are going enough, denied anyone local was being tested, and said they were waiting for the state for guidance.
Within two days, Craven County had one COVID-19 case and, under a governor executive order, went to distance learning for K-12 and banned mass gatherings of 100 or more.
Meanwhile, other cities, counties, and school districts in the state WERE taking local initiative.
Waiting for cases to appear is too late. The key is prevention.
According to Dr. John Campbell, If China had responded to the crisis one week earlier, it would have reduced its death rate by 65 percent.
Here is an example of a small town taking effective action 100 years ago, during the Spanish flu.
The ONLY example of local leadership is at Craven Community College. Despite no executive orders to do so, it too switched to distance learning.
New Bern and Craven County need to stop following and start leading. Lives are at stake.
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Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Community issues, Craven Community College, Craven County, Craven County Schools, Mayor, New Bern
It is imperative that the City of New Bern lead in setting an example of social distancing and doing our part in reducing the risk to our citizenry and minimizing the impact on our local health care providers. With cases growing in number throughout the state, the City is taking proactive measures to assist with “flattening the curve” to help protect the health and well-being of our citizens. All staff will report Monday morning for duties and work will be performed as required to continue providing our citizens with expected high levels of service. However, changes to our normal way of providing such services must be modified to ensure the protection of both our citizenry and staff.
With this said, the following restrictions and changes to normal operations will be made and placed into effect beginning March 16, 2020. Understanding that this may be initially cumbersome and outside typical business operations, we respectfully request the public’s patience with City staff. Ultimately, this modification in operations is intended to protect both the public and our staff’s health. Loss or quarantine of staff during this time could be devastating to the City’s ability to respond to public requests when needed.
Information, instructions and contact numbers will be posted at each closed facility to assist citizens and visitors with making this temporary transition simpler.
The following are modifications to operations and will stay in effect until notified otherwise:
City Hall will be closed to the public and all business will be conducted via electronic methods such as email, fax, phone or any other virtual means to the greatest extent possible. Additionally, any necessary in-person meetings will be restricted to those initiated by City staff or Board of Aldermen only. It is requested that attendance at approved on-site meetings be limited to city staff and limited number of participants only unless otherwise arranged. Specific requests for such shall be made electronically along with the reason for
the requested meeting and a list of participants for review by staff before the meeting will be confirmed.
Meetings of Boards & Commissions
Below is a status report for most City advisory boards, commissions, and committees:
• Board of Aldermen: 3/24/20 meeting still scheduled at this point
• Board of Adjustment: 3/30/20 Meeting cancelled and business items will be
conducted at next regularly scheduled meeting on 4/27/20
• Planning and Zoning: 4/7/20 Meeting cancelled and business items will be
conducted at next Planning and Zoning meeting on 5/5/20
• Planning and Zoning: 3/26/20 Board Procedures Workshop with City legal, status
• New Bern Redevelopment Commission: 3/25 meeting cancelled, next meeting 4/8
• Community Development Block Grant (CDBG): 3/17 Public Hearing cancelled,
rescheduled date TBD
• Historic Preservation Commission: 3/18 meeting, status TBD at this point.
• Historic Preservation Commission: 4/1 meeting, status TBD at this point.
Public Safety Facilities (Fire & Police)
All public safety facilities will be closed to the public and all business considered non- emergent in nature will be conducted by electronic means beginning March 16, 2020.
If you are in need of assistance from the Police Department and it is an emergency, please call 911. If you do not have an emergency and need assistance or need to speak with someone from the Police Department regarding another matter, please call 252-633-2020.
If you are in need of the Fire Department and it is an emergency, please call 911. If you do not have an emergency and need to speak with someone from the Fire Department related to some other matter, please call 252-639-2931.
Public Utilities & Utility Business Office
The City of New Bern, Public Utilities has been closely following the COVID -19 outbreak and takes this matter very seriously. The utility will continue to provide electric, water and wastewater services throughout its duration. We do not expect any interruption with the delivery of electricity, water and/or the collection of wastewater services. However, the Utility will be implementing precautionary measures to ensure service to our customers remains reliable and of good quality standards. As a result, the Utility will be focused only on essential operations. Additionally, the utility will be closing walk-in service at the FT. Totten customer service office located at 606 Ft. Totten Drive. Customers may contact the Utility thru internet or telephone services. Payment of bills can made using direct mailings, online services, drive-thru services or the drop box at the exterior of the building. Requests for new service and other ancillary services can be arranged thru our telephone service.
In order to minimize the spread of the virus and other diseases, The City of New Bern Utilities is taking the following steps for our customers:
• Effective immediately, the Utility is discontinuing all disconnects due to non- payment for the next 30 days. Customers will still be obligated to pay for their consumption during this period of time.
• Customers may pay their bill using U.S. Mail services; City of New Bern- Payment, PO Box 63005, Charlotte, NC 28263; Online services or by using the drive-thru lanes or drop box outside of the building at 606 Ft. Totten Drive.
• We are suspending all services requiring employees to go inside a customer’s home or business to minimize risk for our customers and our employees.
• All energy audits have been postponed will be evaluated further at that time.
• Online service can be located at newbernnc.gov.
• Telephone services are available at 252-639-2750.
The Utility has plans in place to ensure employees will be able to continue to provide reliable, life-sustaining utility solutions throughout this situation. We will continue to work with our customers on a case-by-case matter to resolve any problems that they may experience regarding our services. Further updates will continue to be disseminated to our customers as the situation develops.
Parks & Recreation
The following Parks and Recreation facilities will be closed to the public until further notice beginning March 16, 2020:
o Parks and Recreation Administration o West New Bern Recreation Center
All City Parks will remain open during normal hours; however, citizens are encouraged to maintain social distancing and refrain from large group gatherings. Additionally, all organized Parks and Recreation activities, programs, special events, youth and adult sports (games and practices) held at City of New Bern Parks are suspended until further notice.
The City of New Bern Cemetery Services will continue to process requests; however, all services will be provided electronically until in-person services are required. For any questions or service requests, please call 252-639-2904
Registration for upcoming athletic seasons and programs will continue, however, schedule modifications may be necessary should impacts from COVID-19 continue.
For any other Parks and Recreation related questions, please call 252-639-2901.
Development Services & Building Inspections
City offices at 303 First Street will be closed to the general public beginning March 16, 2020. A table will be placed in the front foyer area behind the entrance doors where all permits, plans, and application packets can be dropped off along with payment (check only, no cash). City staff will routinely collect all permits, plans and applications from the desk and contact each applicant via telephone or email once collected.
All permit applications are available at the City’s website at the following address,
Paper copies of each permit will be available in the front foyer also.
All inspections processes will be conducted normally; however, in-person meetings will be restricted to those initiated by City staff only. The Chief Building Inspector requests that attendance at on-site inspections be limited to the inspector only unless otherwise arranged. All building and permitting questions can be directed to 252-639-2942 or 252- 639-2945. All building and inspection related paperwork can be emailed to email@example.com and submitters are requested to use project address and permit type in subject line.
All planning and zoning questions can be directed to 252-639-7581 or 252-639-7587. Additionally, all planning and zoning processes will be conducted normally; however, in- person meetings will be restricted to those initiated by City staff only. It is requested that attendance at any on-site inspections be limited to the city staff only unless otherwise arranged.
Human Resources office at 303 First Street will be closed to the public; however, they will continue to process employment applications. All in-person interviews will be suspended temporarily; however, other technological means of communication may still be utilized to perform interviews. Employees will still be able to access Human Resources for their needs. For any questions regarding Human Resources related matters, please contact 252- 639-7571.
These closures and procedures will be in place until rescinded and notified otherwise. For any other matters of concern or questions regarding these modifications of normal operations, please contact City Hall at 252-636-4000.
Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Community, Health, Mayor, New Bern
Mayor Outlaw and Aldermen,
I wanted to give each of you an update as to preparations that are taking place internally and externally for the City of New Bern. As you know, the City does not play the lead role in this type of pandemic outbreak. This responsibility is with the Federal, State, and County governments. Locally, much of the decisions and lead are provided at the County level with the Craven County Health Department. However, the City will play a vital role in maintaining its operations and continuing to provide services to our citizens, as well as, support the County as requested when asked. To that end, the City must take measures to ensure its continuity of operations to ensure that we can respond when called on and that some of our basic services of fire, police, and public utilities are uninterrupted during this event. In order to do so, the City must take some actions to ensure that we can continue to provide these services and avoid unnecessary exposure of our staff to the virus should a local outbreak occur. I reiterate from yesterday’s email that there are still NO confirmed cases in Craven County or New Bern, but that could change at any moment. Just yesterday, there was a confirmed case at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville and one the day before in Johnston County.
Therefore, the following are some of the actions that staff are currently implementing to ensure our continuity of services. City staff are in the process of postponing all unnecessary meetings and functions throughout all of our departments (i.e., Athletic activities, Citizen Police Academy, Car Seat Safety Checks, Coffee with a Cop, etc. to name a few). Most of these activities are within the Parks & Recreation Department and our public safety departments of Fire and Police. However, some of these activities and programs occur in other departments that will need to be cancelled as well. While we understand that this may be an inconvenience for some, we feel that these proactive measures will protect our citizenry and ultimately our staff that will still be called upon to provide a high level of service when our community needs us. Staff are in the process of contacting all of these activity coordinators to answer any questions they may have and coordinate any future sharing of information for the foreseeable future until these events can be rescheduled or reconvened. Further announcements and closures may be necessary in the future as the evolution of the emergency heightens.
Additionally, staff are taking measures to ensure continuity of operations throughout whatever events may transpire during this outbreak. Public Utilities are investigating and implementing strategies to ensure a continuity of services and separate key staff from one another to limit exposure to one another so that the limited number of operators we have can continue to operate critical facilities as necessary over the next several weeks. Our IT staff have inventoried all employee workstations should the need arise that staff will be required to telework from their homes. Human Resources is also investigating various temporary policy measures that may need to be implemented if necessary regarding administrative leave and workers compensation matters. Also, I have ordered that all business related travel for the City be postponed for a minimum of 30 days unless necessary and approved through the City Manager’s office. This will take effect immediately.
Below are some of the informational items that will be released regarding programming. Further updates will be forthcoming as necessary and as always please feel free to contact me if you need anything further.
OPERATIONAL CHANGES DUE TO CONCERN FOR THE CORONAVIRUS
Effective Monday, April 16, 2020 and until further notice, the City of New Bern has implemented the following schedule changes to city facilities:
· West New Bern Recreation Center will be open Monday through Saturday from 8am-6pm.
· The Afterschool Program will remain in operation while Craven County Schools are still in session.
· All other organized Parks & Recreation activities, programs, special events and youth and adult sports activities held at City of New Bern parks are SUSPENDED until further notice.
· All City parks will remain open during normal hours.
For questions, please call City of New Bern Parks & Recreation at (252)639-2901.
The City will continue to evaluate the Coronavirus situation and communicate further schedule and operational changes as necessary. We encourage everyone to heed the guidance and advice of health professionals at the CDC and the North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services (NCDHHS). To prevent the spread of illness, wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water and/or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your face. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or cough/sneeze into your elbow. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay home if you are not feeling well. And clean and disinfect objects and surfaces frequently.
The City has set up a Coronavirus resource repository, with links to information from the CDC, NCDHHS, World Health Organization (WHO) an the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on our website atwww.newbernnc.gov/coronavirus.
CITY OF NEW BERN CANCELLATIONS DUE TO CONCERN FOR THE CORONAVIRUS
Effective immediately and until further notice, the City of New Bern has implemented the following changes certain programming in our Police Department:
· All police/community meetings scheduled for the month of March are cancelled to include Citizen Police Academy, Neighborhood Watch Meetings, Coffee with a COP, and Faith Based Partnerships.
Sgt. Sneeden, will contact individual Citizen Police Academy participants and advise that it is our hope that the classes will resume at some future date. Sgt. Brice will contact individuals committed to the March 23rd Faith Base Meeting and advise that we hope to reschedule the meeting around the end of April or 1st of May. These individuals will remain the points of contact should any questions or concerns arise regarding these activities.
Subject: New Bern Fire Rescue – COVID-19 Preparations
In response to the challenges we currently face with the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), New Bern Fire Rescue has implemented the following precautions to minimize physical interaction between staff and the public:
– Front of all stations have been secured to detour walk-in or foot traffic (Headquarters is utilizing the intercom for public questions and assistance)
– Inventoried supplies potentially needed for isolation precautions while conducting patient care
– Evaluated Fire Inspection requirements (Reduced to essential inspections only, annual or scheduled inspections have been postponed)
– Postponed all Child Safety Seat inspections and Smoke detector installations (Only emergency needs will be considered, and will require the Duty Officer to approve with additional safety precautions)
– Educated staff on Social Distancing, home and work precautions and good practices, and disinfecting procedures
– Postponed all upcoming non-essential events and gatherings such as:
· Open house
· Retirement parties
· Any prescheduled station tours
– Began working on staffing and operational plans should staffing levels become temporarily reduced due to impacts of COVID-19
· If reduced by 25%
· If reduced by 40%
· If an exposure occurs at work
· If an employee is exposed at home
· If lifestyle challenges affect work schedules (school closings, sick family member, etc.)
Other gatherings that have already been postponed or canceled, and/or local actions taken:
· Fire Prevention School in Wilmington (Canceled)
· Vietnam Wall Tour (Canceled)
· Craven Job Fair (Canceled)
· Restricted visitation at all local hospitals
As our challenges change or increase, we will make the necessary modifications to staffing and operations to ensure to the continued service we deliver to the citizens of New Bern.
Mark A. Stephens, PE, MPA, ICMA-CM, city manager
Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Health, Mayor, New Bern
Mayor Outlaw and Aldermen,
I know many of you are getting questions regarding the coronavirus and possibly heard of rumors circulating around town regarding several topics. This email will hopefully clear up some of that and provide some information you may need to assist your constituents with accurate up-to-date information.
First, let me address some of the rumor mill information that is going around in our area so we can get that out of the way. Then I will discuss some of the operations and staff actions that we are taking to ensure our preparedness for Covid-19.
1. City facilities closing
This is untrue at this time and no call has been made to close any facilities or cease any operations at this point. However, there have been discussions internally about ensuring our public’s safety by reducing the risk of exposure through unnecessary meetings, recreational events, and other large public gatherings. It is imperative that we lead by example and not create situations that could potentially put our citizens at risk by creating such interactions. With all of this in mind, there may come a time where cancellations and closings may be necessary. Any and all of those decisions will be made through consultation with the Mayor and Board and ultimately will be made to protect our citizens from further exposure.
2. Current Cases in New Bern and Craven County
Based on a conversation with the County Manager this afternoon, there are NO confirmed cases of the virus in New Bern or Craven County at this time. This does not mean that there may be some currently that are undiagnosed or in the stages of development. There have been some investigations and testing done within the County, however, all have been negative at this point in time. In fact, Johnston County is the closest reported confirmed case to New Bern and Craven County at this time and there are only 14 confirmed cases in the State of North Carolina. It is imperative that we continue to share information and guidance regarding the best management practices for keeping the exposures to the virus minimized as mentioned above and through our attachments contained herein.
At this time, all operations are still running normally and will continue to do so until other measures are necessary to protect both our citizens and our staff. Our staff are discussing and preparing for whatever conditions we are presented with regarding the outbreak of Covid-19. Please keep in mind that the City does not have resources that the Federal, State, and County governments do for pandemic outbreaks, however, we stand ready to act at the direction of the State of NC and Craven County to assist in whatever way necessary. Until those assistance requests are made, practices and operations that we do have resources for are duly preparing for continuity of services and continued business as normal to every extent that is possible should an outbreak occur. We have had multiple meetings over the past few weeks of administrative and department head staff to discuss these topics and begin planning for actions necessary should they be needed to continue to serve our citizens with the level of services that they expect daily.
Information regarding Coronavirus (Covid – 19)
Please share with your constituents the information below to assist them in best management practices to help with reducing the spread of the virus in our community. Below is the new guidance Governor Cooper and DHHS are recommending that was released today.
As the number of cases of COVID-19 rise in North Carolina and the United States, and with the designation of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, the state is responding with a whole government response.
COVID-19 is a new infection that is particularly severe in older persons and those with medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and weakened immune systems.
At this time there are no approved treatments and no vaccine to prevent it.
However, there are known methods to reduce and slow the spread of infection.
Individuals can practice everyday prevention measures like frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, and covering coughs and sneezes.
Community-based interventions can also help slow the spread of COVID-19. This includes measures collectively known as “social distancing.” Social distancing measures aim to reduce the frequency of contact and increase physical distance between persons, thereby reducing the risks of person-to-person transmission.
These measures are most effective when implemented early in an epidemic. We are at a critical inflection point where we may have the opportunity to slow the spread of this epidemic by taking proactive steps now.
NC DHHS is making the following recommendations to reduce the spread of infection while we are still in an early stage in order to protect lives and avoid strain on our health care system. NC DHHS is making these recommendations for the next 30 days and will re-assess at that point.
The following recommendations pertain to persons statewide.
NC DHHS recommends that people at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should stay at home to the extent possible to decrease the chance of infection. People at high risk include people:
If you need medical care and have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or suspect you might have COVID-19, call ahead and tell your health care provider you have or may have COVID-19. This will allow them to take steps to keep other people from getting exposed. NC DHHS recommends that persons experiencing fever and cough should stay at home and not go out until their symptoms have completely resolved.
HIGH RISK PERSONS WITHOUT SYMPTOMS
Over 65 years of age, or with underlying health conditions including heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, or with weakened immune systems.
CONGREGATE LIVING FACILITIES
NC DHHS recommends that all facilities that serve as residential establishments for high risk persons described above should restrict visitors. Exceptions should include end of life care or other emergent situations determined by the facility to necessitate a visit. If visitation is allowed, the visitor should be screened and restricted if they have a respiratory illness or potential exposure to COVID-19. Facilities are encouraged to implement social distancing measures and perform temperature and respiratory symptom screening of residents and staff. These establishments include settings such as nursing homes, independent and assisted living facilities, correction facilities, and facilities that care for medically vulnerable children.
We do not recommend pre-emptive school closure at this time but do recommend that schools and childcare centers cancel or reduce large events and gatherings (e.g., assemblies) and field trips, limit inter-school interactions, and consider distance or e-learning in some settings. Students at high risk should implement individual plans for distance or e-learning. School dismissals may be necessary when staff or student absenteeism impacts the ability to remain open. Short-term closures may also be necessary to facilitate public health investigation and/or cleaning if a case is diagnosed in a student or staff member.
NC DHHS recommends that employers and employees use teleworking technologies to the greatest extent possible, stagger work schedules, and consider canceling non-essential travel. Workplaces should hold larger meetings virtually, to the extent possible. Additionally, employers should arrange the workspace to optimize distance between employees, ideally at least six feet apart. Employers should urge high risk employees to stay home and urge employees to stay home when they are sick and maximize flexibility in sick leave benefits.
MASS GATHERINGS, COMMUNITY, AND SOCIAL EVENTS
NC DHHS recommends that organizers of events that draw more than 100 people should cancel, postpone, modify these events or offer online streaming services. These events include large gatherings where people are in close contact (less than 6 feet), for example concerts, conferences, sporting events, faith- based events and other large gatherings.
Mass transit operators should maximize opportunities for cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces. People should avoid using use mass transit (e.g. buses, trains) while sick.
We have posted information on our social media outlets and have dedicated a specific page to Covid-19 to assist our citizens with resources that are available for more information regarding the virus and its outbreak. Below is the link to this address.
Further updates will be given as they are necessary …
Mark A. Stephens, PE, MPA, ICMA-CM
City of New Bern
300 Pollock Street
Post Office Box 1129
New Bern, NC 28563-1129 (252) 639-2700
Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Community, Health, Mayor, New Bern
Residents in the Ghent neighborhood are begging for help from City Hall to do something about cars using residential streets as cut-throughs, raising the question, why wouldn’t City Hall help?
Could it be that City Hall doesn’t want to be seen as responsive when residents ask for help? That’s actually been an argument (“We don’t want to help you because then we’d have to help everyone”).
Could it be that City Hall thinks that throttling back on Ghent cut-through traffic will only push the problem elsewhere? (That actually happened recently when through-traffic was blocked and cars — temporarily — used nearby streets as a detour until they found that First Street is faster).
The real reason is something else, a mile away and an apparently unrelated issue — Farmers Market.
Farmers Market sits on a piece of prime real estate valued at $471,880, according to the county tax office. But that tax value figure belies its true value.
Located on railroad frontage and fixed between the N.C. History Center and Downtown Proper, this 1.2 acre parcel has been occupied by New Bern Farmers Market since 1984 (note: typo corrected from 1994).
The property was acquired by the Redevelopment Commission and then sold to the city for $10 in 1978. The enclosure on the property was purpose-built for the Farmers Market.
Farmers Market was originally seen by City Hall as an asset that attracted people downtown during a time when Downtown New Bern was getting back on its feet following years of decline.
The waterfront along the Trent River, once teeming with industry, had become derelict, nothing like what it is now today, and Farmers Market was one of the first improvements that helped downtown revitalization.
The city charged Farmers Market $1 a year to use the property, but when Dana Outlaw became mayor, something changed.
Outlaw, the son of a former New Bern city manager, started ridding City Hall of what he perceived as surplus properties.
He also ended city contributions to non-profits that had been helping the city in numerous ways, such as Swiss Bear Downtown Development Corporation, which was primarily responsible for downtown’s turnaround, and New Bern Firemen’s Museum, which was in a city-owned building and also charged $1 rent.
The city sold the Dunn Building kitty-corner from City Hall and moved offices around to other city-owned buildings, including a former elementary school on First Street between Spencer Avenue and Trent Boulevard.
City Hall owns other properties — numerous houses that it foreclosed on when cash-strapped owners were unable to afford repairs and then the demolition costs when the city bulldozed the houses, and a large parcel of wetlands between the Pembroke Community, U.S Highway 70, Carolina Avenue, and Trent Road that it is selling part of to the New Bern Housing Authority to build low-income apartments.
City success in the real estate business is hit and miss. The houses in its inventory earn nickels on the dollar when sold compared to the cost the city incurs in legal fees, demolition, and marketing.
It has been having trouble selling the old Firemen’s Museum on Hancock Street, and when a group of artists offered to rent it from the city, the city stole the idea but then failed at starting its own artist studio.
That wasn’t the first time City Hall tried to muscle in on the success of local non-profits.
Which brings us to the old Power Plant between First Street, Rhem Street, and Park Avenue.
After years of industrial use, the 3.8 acre parcel is an environmental nightmare beneath a thin layer of asphalt. No one in their right mind would ever buy such a property, given the high clean-up costs, although the county tax office values it at $339,720.
Stuck with surplus property that it could never sell, leaders at City Hall came up with an idea that they thought would kill two birds with one stone.
They would move, voluntarily or otherwise, Farmers Market from its attractive property downtown to the Power Plant property, once the city completed various improvements to accommodate Farmers Market needs.
The First Street property is a turd, but they would make it a shiny turd.
Unsurprisingly, members of the New Bern Farmers Market and downtown businesses and visitors resisted the idea. The timing was all in the Farmers Market’s favor.
Even if City Hall evicted the Farmers Market at the end of its lease, the Farmers Market had a one-year extension option that, if it exercised the option, would have them being evicted the month before municipal elections in 2017.
The city backed down and granted another 5-year lease, but this time increased the rent to $500 a year (ed. note: corrected from per month).
Meanwhile, City Hall hunkered down. It claimed that instead of there being a farmers market-style City Market, it would partner with Craven Community College to hold courses at the newly branded VOLT Center.
But secretly, some city leaders held on to the idea of a farmers market, seeking grants and other funding using a technique called fraud. At least one grant application withheld key information, not the least of which was the implication that New Bern didn’t have a farmers market and City Market would fill that void.
Chemical contaminants and misleading grant applications aside, City Hall faced other obstacles in creating a new farmers market to put the existing one out of business.
The old electric generation plant, located between Country Club Road/First Street, Park Avenue, and Rhem Street, has access issues.
First, Country Club Road/First Street was butt ugly.
In fixing that problem (you may have guessed already, the city got someone else to foot the cost, namely N.C. Department of Transportation, aka state taxpayers), street engineers employed a concept called “Road Diet,” which is the latest thing at street engineer cocktail parties.
They took the street, a four-lane monstrosity with occasional sidewalks and plenty of eyesores, and spiffed it up, turning it into a two-lane street (with center turn lane), bike lanes, and sidewalks on both sides.
That led to another problem. N.C. DOT said it would do the work, but resisted the idea of there being an entrance to City Market off First Street. It would be too close to freeway onramps and offramps, they said.
That forced City Hall to figure out a different way for hundreds of visitors to get to their future farmers market, which left one choice: Rhem Street.
Rhem Street is one block long and located within a commercially zoned district, although there are just as many houses on Rhem Street as there are businesses.
The two main ways to get to Rhem Street are from Country Club Road, and from (drum roll) Second Street.
See what they did there?
To put New Bern Farmers Market out of business, City Hall has to keep Second Street open to commercial traffic, even though Second Street, just two and one-half blocks long, is located entirely in a residential district.
Connecting the dots, it leads directly back to the property on which New Bern Farmers Market is now located.
For some reason, forces inside City Hall want New Bern Farmers Market off the property on South Front Street really, really badly, either by moving it to another location, or by putting it out of business.
The question is, who wants that downtown Farmers Market property so badly that they have City Hall in their back pocket, fighting fiercely to get it done?
The answer is reached the old fashioned way: Follow the money.
Stay tuned for Part II.
Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Business, Commentary, Community, Community issues, Craven Community College, Farmers Market, Mayor
Ever since Jeffrey Odham, then a candidate for Ward 6 alderman, ran on a campaign of running city hall like a business, I was apprehensive.
Once he took office, I started to see exactly what he meant.
He wasn’t talking about a business that puts customer satisfaction first. He was talking about the American concept of business efficiency — low cost, high profit, declining customer service, cut-throat competitiveness, and poor responsiveness to customer needs and wants.
There are numerous examples that bear this out.
There’s the example of City Hall pushing the Firemen’s Museum out of its old location on Middle Street into the old fire station on Broad Street. This was part of a push by the Board of Aldermen to get rid of surplus properties, even if the property is being used for the betterment of the community.
Once the Firemen’s Museum finished moving, the old building sat vacant. Despite some initial interest from buyers, the city was simply unable to sell the building.
Then a group of artists who had been forced out of their previous studio approached the city about renting the old museum property.
That brings us to another example, one of cut-throat competitiveness.
The artists wanted to rent the building for the non-profit rate (usually $1 a month or a year) or if not that, as low as possible, and in turn would provide numerous services and amenities to the community.
City Hall refused the offer, and instead tried to go into the art studio business itself. But it couldn’t find any takers and the old museum property continues to gather dust.
Something similar is happening with New Bern Farmers Market. The city tried to force it from its city-owned location on South Front Street to the old electric generation plant off First Street. City strong-arm tactics to get its way failed but only due to the proximity of municipal elections, which would occur at precisely the same time City Hall would be evicting the Farmers Market. Rather than face the wrath of angry voters, city leaders extended the Farmers Market lease for five years but increased the rent from $1 a month to $500 (the only example of the city charging a non-profit anything other than token rent).
City Hall plays the long game, however. If it can’t get New Bern Farmers Market to move, it plans to start its own, fraudulently going after government grants to help pave the way, with the ultimate goal of putting New Bern Farmers Market out of business so it can sell the property on which it operates.
Let’s not forget the city’s habit of tearing down houses of poor people and then foreclosing on the properties when the owners couldn’t pay the demolition costs.
Let’s also not forget the draconian utility deposits the city imposes on people having a hard enough time as it is keeping up with high utility costs.
Let’s not forget the place where you pay your electric bill. Until complaints came to light, they locked their doors 15 minutes before closing time and even closed their public restrooms.
The pettiness just keeps on coming.
These are not the only examples of City Hall being “run like a business,” they are just some examples.
Except where the law requires public participation, City Hall treats city residents (those without wealth, at least) as annoyances. City officials treat citizens disdainfully and ignore their requests whenever the law allows it.
Paradoxically, city workers continue to provide high levels of customer service despite what their management forces on them. Utility workers, police patrolmen, firefighters, desk clerks, street workers and more, they all get the job done.
My belief is that a city should not be run like a business, but should be run like a cooperative.
Citizens are stakeholders, not customers. The money they pay for their rents and mortgages, along with taxes they pay for goods and services, fund an organization that provides for the safety and well-being of these stakeholders.
They are represented by a board of directors, which in this case is the Board of Aldermen. It is each board member’s responsibility to interpret and represent the needs and wants of their constituency to the city executives that carry out those tasks.
But that’s not how it has been working.
Instead, ambitious city officials have been launching a series of vanity projects that will look good on their resumes and that they can point to with pride when it comes time for asking for raises.
Meanwhile, New Bern becomes less and less affordable, with some of the worst housing affordability rates in the state. That should worry everyone.
If entry-level workers can’t afford to live here, New Bern won’t have the entry-level workforce that is the foundation of New Bern’s commerce and tourism.
It takes a community to be a community, but go ahead, Alderman Odham and the rest who stand behind him, keep running the city like a business, searching for profits, and discouraging “undesirables” from living here.
City Hall may play the long game, but it doesn’t play the sustainable game.
Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Commentary, Community, Community issues, Economy and Employment, Mayor, New Bern
New Bern aldermen will start discussion on Tuesday over whether to change the method used to elect aldermen and the mayor from the nonpartisan election and runoff method it has been using, to the nonpartisan plurality method.
Under the present system, a candidate avoids a runoff if he/she wins 50 percent of the vote plus one extra vote.
The proposed system proclaims whomever wins the most votes as the winner.
If the city used this proposed method in the 2009 municipal election, then-Mayor Tom Bayliss would have won reelection, since he was the top vote getter in a three-way election.
Lee Bettis came in second, and the two faced each other in a run-off that Bettis won.
Under the proposed method, the chances of a fringe candidate winning an election go from unlikely, to much more likely, particularly if there are several candidates running.
On the other hand, a nonpartisan plurality method could increase the chances of African American candidate being elected mayor of New Bern, in cases where there is one African American candidate running against two or more white candidates.
The stated reason for the change is to save money. New Bern municipal elections are expensive enough already, being held in election years between any other elections.
Compounding that expense are runoff elections, which happen in New Bern more often than not.
Together, they cost New Bern taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Still, a run-off gives voters the chance to have a say in who represents them on the Board of Aldermen from among the top two candidates should there be a run-off.
Is that worth the added expense? Some may say yes. But judging from actual voter turnouts for municipal run-off elections, practically speaking, the answer may be no.
Here’s the city attorney’s memo to the board with details:
TO: Mayor and Members of the Board City Manager
FROM: Michael Scott Davis, City Attorney
RE: Amendments to City Charter to Change Election Method
DATE: April 17, 2019
The Board recently directed me to draft a resolution to change the municipal election method from the nonpartisan election and runoff method to the nonpartisan plurality method. Since North Carolina has a state statute that authorizes municipalities to amend their charters to change the election method from one of the four basic options (all on odd years), the Board has the ability to proceed with the charter amendment by following the statute, or by seeking a local bill from the General Assembly. The Board also has the option to call for a special election for the purpose of submitting the ordinance to a vote. Presuming that the Board wants to proceed to amend the charter consistent with the statutory authority, here are the required steps:
- Adopt a resolution of intent to consider an ordinance amending the charter which also includes a call for a public hearing on the proposed charter
- A notice of the public hearing shall be published at least once not less than 10 days prior to the date fixed for the public hearing, and shall contain a summary of the proposed amendments.
- Following the public hearing, but not earlier than the next regular meeting and not more than 60 days from the public hearing, the Board may adopt an ordinance amending the charter to implement the amendments proposed in the resolution of
- Within 10 days after an ordinance is adopted, the Board shall publish a notice stating that an ordinance amending the charter has been adopted and the notice must summarize the contents and effect of the
- City clerk shall file a certified true copy of the charter amendment with the Secretary of State and the Legislative
In order for the ordinance to be effective at the next election, the amendment must be finally adopted and approved at least 90 days prior to election day.
RESOLUTION OF INTENT TO CONSIDER AN ORDINANCE AMENDING THE CHARTER OF THE CITY OF NEW BERN TO CHANGE THE METHOD OF ELECTION FROM THE NONPARTISAN ELECTION AND RUNOFF METHOD TO THE NONPARTISAN PLURALITY METHOD AND SETTING THE DATE FOR A PUBLIC HEARING THEREON
THAT WHEREAS, pursuant to G.S. §160A-101 and §160A-102, the Board of Aldermen of the City of New Bern may adopt an ordinance to amend the Charter of the City of New Bern to implement any of the optional forms set out in G.S. §160A-101; and
WHEREAS, G.S. §160A-102 requires that proposed Charter amendments first be submitted to a public hearing and that due notice thereof be published not less than ten (10) days prior to the date fixed for the public hearing.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE BOARD OF ALDERMEN OF THE CITY OF NEW BERN THAT:
Section 1. The Board of Aldermen of the City of New Bern hereby intends to consider an ordinance amending the Charter of the City of New Bern, as set forth in Session Law 2016-41 of the General Assembly of North Carolina, to change the method of election from the nonpartisan election and runoff method to the nonpartisan plurality method as authorized by G.S.
- 160A-101(7)b. It is proposed that at the regular municipal election to be held in 2021, the mayor and members of the Board of Aldermen shall be elected according to the nonpartisan plurality method.
Section 2. A public hearing on the proposed ordinance is hereby called in the City Hall courtroom at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.
Section 3. Following the public hearing called hereby, the Board of Aldermen shall consider passage of the ordinance at its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. in the City Hall courtroom.
Section 4. The City Clerk is hereby directed to cause to be published in the Sun Journal a proper notice of the public hearing called, which notice shall contain a summary of the proposed Charter amendments.
ADOPTED THIS 23rd DAY OF APRIL, 2019.
DANA E. OUTLAW, MAYOR
BRENDA E. BLANCO, CITY CLERK
Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Elections
N.C. DOT work on U.S. Highway 70 and the Pembroke Road offramp on Monday caused the worst traffic jam in Downtown New Bern in decades on Monday.
The roadwork included closing down the Pembroke offramp. The repaving and repair work being done on U.S. 70 has caused backed up traffic, but the offramp closure compounded the problem by an order of magnitude.
Some motorists had a great idea. Instead of slogging through backed up traffic on 70, they opted to take surface streets and go through the downtown. “Some” being defined as thousands.
The ensuing traffic all converged on the two-lane Cunningham Bridge, creating a funnel effect that magnified the problem.
Traffic was backed up for several miles on Broad Street, Neuse Boulevard, and Trent Boulevard. Many motorists took side streets through neighborhoods to avoid the jam.
Alderman Bobby Aster, during Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, described the event as “unspeakable.”
He said it took one driver one hour and 12 minutes to get from Pollock Street to Cunningham Bridge three blocks away.
City officials said they were caught off guard by the situation and were not contacted by DOT in advance of the closure (cough-cough-there were electric signs all over the place days before-cough).
Aside from that, Aster wondered why the Police Department didn’t do more … or rather, didn’t do anything … to deal with the traffic jam.
“I’m just wondering the reason why our police department didn’t get out and start directing traffic and moving this traffic outside of our city.
He said one citizen stuck at an intersection for 18 minutes saw a police car drive up, turn around and leave.
“…If you think that it’s bad now, wait ’til the construction starts in James City. I hope our Police Department’s got a plan.”
N.C. DOT is getting ready to upgrade U.S. 70 through James City from a surface street with intersections, to a controlled access expressway (jargon for “freeway”) with frontage roads on either side. See video
Aster, a retired fire chief, wondered what would have happened if there was a major accident blocking access. He said the Police Department needs to develop an action plan.
“It’s going to happen again,” he said.
Oldtimers remember when U.S. 70 came through downtown. Traffic was so bad during summer months that downtown workers either left work early or waited until the evening to get home.
Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Community issues, Traffic
CITY OF NEW BERN
BOARD OF ALDERMEN MEETING
FEBRUARY 26, 2019 – 6:00P.M.
CITY HALL COURTROOM
300 POLLOCK STREET
1. Meeting opened by Mayor Dana E. Outlaw. Prayer Coordinated by Mayor Outlaw. Pledge of Allegiance.
2. Roll Call
3. Consider adopting a Resolution Calling for a Public Hearing to Rezone 4526 US Highway 17 South.
John Thomas of Thomas Engineering has requested 2.40+/- acres located at 4526 US Highway 17 South be rezoned from R-20 Residential District to C-3 Commercial District. The property is further identified as Tax Parcel 8-206-079, which is located in the City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. It is requested a public hearing be held on March 12, 2019 at 6 p.m. to consider this request. A memo from Morgan Potts, City Planner, is attached.
4. Approve Minutes.
Minutes from the February 12, 2019 work session and February 12, 2019 regular meeting are provided for review and approval.
5. Presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.
Copies of the Comprehensive Annual Finance Report (“CAFR”) and Auditor’s Discussion and Analysis were previously distributed to the Board. 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 February 27, 2019.
6. Update on Resiliency Plan.
The City Manager will provide an update on the City’s efforts with respect to a resiliency plan and the hiring of a consultant.
7. Consider Adopting a Resolution to Initiate the Upset Bid Process for 1620 National Avenue.
(Ward 1) In July of 2016, after being vacated by Parks and Recreation’s administrative staff, the Board declared the City’s property at 1620 National Avenue as surplus property. A minimum reserve bid of $85,000 was established. The property has since received substantial damage as a result of Hurricane Florence. An insurance payout is anticipated in the amount of $65,833. Freddie Mercer has submitted an offer of $15,000 to purchase the property in its current condition. If this resolution is approved, the offer will be duly advertised as required by state statute. If no upset bids are received and the property is sold for $15,000, the City will receive approximately $80,833 from the proceeds of the sale and the insurance funds.
8. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving a Contract with James L. Cayton Utilities, Inc. of New Bern, NC for Infrastructure Improvements.
(Ward 1) Aging water and sewer infrastructure is being replaced on Johnson Street between Craven and East Front Streets and King Street between Craven Street and Edgerton Drive. Once the infrastructure has been replaced, the streets will be resurfaced. The improvements will eliminate deteriorated mains and service lines, increase the reliability of the domestic water supply, reduce the potential for sewer backups, and improve drainage in the project area. Bids for this project were sought and obtained. After reviewing the bids, James L. Cayton Utilities, Inc. of New Bern, NC had the lowest bid at $635,320. It is requested the contract be awarded to this bidder.
9. Consider Adopting an Ordinance Amendment to Division 2 (Police Civil Service Board) of Article IV of Chapter 2 of the Code of Ordinances.
The City’s charter was amended in 2016, at which time changes were made in part to the section regarding the Police Civil Service Board. It has since been discovered the ordinance addressing the Police Civil Service Board was not amended to reflect the charter changes. By adopting this ordinance, the charter and Code of Ordinances will be consistent.
- Raymond Layton’s second term on the Planning and Zoning Board has expired, and he is ineligible for reappointment. Alderman Kinsey is requested to make a new appointment to fill this vacancy. The new appointee shall serve a three year term.
- Carol Williams’ second term on the Planning and Zoning Board has expired, and she is ineligible for reappointment. Alderwoman Harris is requested to make a new appointment to fill this vacancy. The new appointee shall serve a three year term.
- Rose Williams’ appointment on the New Bern Appearance Commission expired February 8, 2019. She is eligible for reappointment, or a new appointment can be made to allow others an opportunity to serve. Mayor Outlaw is asked to make an appointment to serve a three-year term. The ordinance provides 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.
- Mattie Tatum’s appointment on the New Bern Appearance Commission will expire February 22, 2019. She is eligible for reappointment, or a new appointment can be made to allow others an opportunity to serve. Alderman Bengel is asked to make an appointment to serve a three-year term. The ordinance provides 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.
11. Attorney’s Report.
12. City Manager’s Report.
13. New Business.
14. Closed Session.
Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor
Request will be made at Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting
New Bern community members and non-local activists will urge the New Bern Board of Aldermen to “Ban the Box” for hiring city employees at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
“Ban the Box” is a hiring practice that encourages employers to identify potential hires with the best skills and experience and delay asking applicants about their criminal records until after a conditional offer is made.
Durham and Carrboro are among cities in North Carolina that have already adopted this “fair chance” hiring practice.
Ban the Box is a movement started in the early 2000s by All of Us or None, a national organization created and led by individuals directly impacted by incarceration and the criminal legal system.
People who have been involved in the criminal justice system often face collateral consequences, difficulties people face in finding housing, education, and employment because of a criminal record.
Trouble finding employment is one of the most common collateral consequences that people face upon release. Those who have a record and disclose it on their initial job application are 50 percent less likely to receive a callback than their peers without a record.
Ban the Box programs do not prevent employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record, but rather calls for employers to remove the initial question about criminal records from job applications (“the box”) and delay any related questions until after a conditional offer is made. This process ensures the best person is being hired for the job and also allows the employer to continue to make decisions about the relevancy of the record to the job.
What: Public comments on ‘Ban the Box’ at New Bern Board of Alderman meeting
When: Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m.
Where: City Hall Courtroom, 300 Pollock St., New Bern
Who: New Bern community members and representatives from All of Us or None – NC and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice Clean Slate Project
Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Community, Community issues, Crime, Economy, Economy and Employment, Housing, Mayor, New Bern