Out (for now): Hotel and parking structure at Craven and Pollock
Policy wonks from the UNC School of Government are urging the City of New Bern to turn its attention from a possible parking structure and hotel across from City Hall, and return its attention to a vacant lot at the corner of Craven and South Front streets.
UNC SoG special projects managers Marcia Perritt and Omar Kashef appeared before the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday to advise on behalf of the pivot.
The Pollock and Craven parking structure/hotel SoG had been advocating has been put on hold while Craven County officials decide whether they want to participate. Participation for the county is no small matter. It includes moving the county tax office, donating the property on which the tax office resides to the project, and pooling its tax revenues from the ensuing project until the city pays off the seven-figure costs to build the parking deck.
Editor note: My notes are incomplete, and the PDF the city originally posted online for the project is offline at the moment. Link
The vacant lot at the corner of Craven and South Front streets was acquired by the city as two separate purchases totaling $209,000 in 2000 and 2001. Tax value of the property is now listed at $567,630.
In the mid-2000s, Talbots looked at the property to build a department store, but opposition to the plan put a stop to that. Since then, the lot has been home to grass and one stately tree, with occasional events being held there.
SoG envisions a hotel being built on the property, assuming that some agreement could be made with the city to lease nearby public parking spaces for hotel guests.
SoG apparently is unaware that nearby municipal parking lots are part of a proposed parking master plan tied in with enforced two-hour parking streetside and a push to get visitors and downtown workers to use the municipal parking lots.
Kashef said the goal of SoG’s efforts is to keep people downtown after 5 p.m. by finding projects that serve the public interest and that are financially feasible.
Other areas needing attention, he said, are undeveloped and under-developed parcels and buildings, insufficient parking, and development of second-story uses such as residential and office space. The
Alderman Sabrina Bengel pointed out that downtown’s second-floor spaces are being developed “one right after another. I don’t see that holding us back as much as development of empty lots, vacant buildings and underutilized buildings.”
Bengel also urged SoG to make sure there is public participation in the process.
Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey reminded that the Five Points area continues to lack any attention from the city in terms of economic development.
“It would be good to see the city grow together,” he said.
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!
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
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.
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.
Odham: 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.
Note: This has been corrected since originally posted to reflect that there had never been more than two women on the board, not one.
The glass ceiling was cracked, if not shattered, on Tuesday, as three women took their seats on a Board of Aldermen that had never had more than two female members throughout its existence.
And one of the first things the more feminine board did on Tuesday was vote unanimously to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment.
In 1972, a proposed Equal Rights Amendment (“ERA”) to the Constitution passed both houses of the U.S. Congress and was sent to the states for ratification. To add the ERA to the Constitution, ratification was needed by 38 states prior to 1982. Only 35 of the required 38 states ratified the ERA by this deadline.
Earlier this year, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the amendment. (More)
North Carolina has not ratified the ERA. In 2015 and 2017, bills supporting state ratification were introduced to the N.C. General Assembly in both the House and Senate, but the General Assembly has still yet to ratify the amendment. U.S. Representatives G. K. Butterfield, David Price, and Alma Adams cosponsored bills in the 114th Congress to pass an ERA and lift the time limits on the states for ratifying the ERA.
The resolution aldermen approved on Tuesday calls on the N.C. General Assembly to ratify the amendment and for Congress to remove the time limit for ratification and pass the ERA.
Ward 2 Alderman Jameesha Harris introduced the resolution, saying that she had approached the all-male Craven County Board of Commissioners to seek support without success.
“I hope to set the tone and show the Board of Commissioners that this is how you do it,” she said.
Ward 1 Alderman Sabrina Bengel said she was in school protesting for equal rights in 1972: she wore pants, and was sent home.
Earlier in the meeting, Bengel pointed out that women make up 53.3 percent of the population in New Bern, and though she said she didn’t think she needed a piece of paper to give her equal rights, she supported the motion and seconded it. The motion passed on a 7-0 vote.
Here is the resolution:
RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
WHEREAS, the City of New Bern forthrightly supports equal rights for the citizens of New Bern; and women constitute over 53 percent of the citizenry of New Bern; and
WHEREAS, women play a critical role in families, the workplace, and in society, contributing to our economy and advancing our city and our nation; and
WHEREAS, women continue to confront a lack of political parity, workplace discrimination, health care inequities, disparate rates of poverty, rape and domestic violence assaults; and
WHEREAS, the US Constitution does not explicitly guarantee that all rights that it protects are held equally by all citizens without regard to sex; and
WHEREAS, the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause has never been interpreted to guarantee equal rights for women in the same way the ERA would, by situating sex as a suspect category invoking strict judicial scrutiny, just as race, national origin and religion do; and
WHEREAS, state laws are not uniform and federal laws are not comprehensive; additionally, these laws can be repealed or reduced; and
WHEREAS, the Amendment would help correct systemic sex discrimination; and
WHEREAS, the ERA was passed by Congress in 1972 and ratified by 35 of the 38 states necessary to put it into the Constitution, yet was assumed to have expired in 1982; and
WHEREAS, Congress can alter time limits in the proposing clauses of amendments; and the deadline for ERA appeared only in the preamble and not in the actual legislation; and
WHEREAS, US Representatives G.K. Butterfield, David Price and Alma Adams co-sponsored the bills in the 114 Congress to pass an ERA and to lift the time limits on the states for ratifying the ERA.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City of New Bern calls on Congress to pass into law a bill to pass an ERA and remove the time limit for ratification of the ERA so that ratification shall be achieved upon the affirmative vote of 38states, of which 35 have already ratified; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the City of New Bern calls on the NC General Assembly to pass into law a bill to ratify the ERA to the US Constitution as proposed by Congress on March 22, 1972.
This the 12th day of December, 2017.
(Signed Mayor Dana Outlaw and City Clerk Brenda Blanco)
Belk, the North Carolina-based retailer that relies so much on holiday receipts to meet investor expectations, got into some hot water over its decision to ban Salvation Army bell ringers, so much so that it has reversed course and decided bell ringers are welcome, after all.
Here’s the Tweet that Belk sent out on Dec. 2:
Merry Christmas! The picture Belk included in its Tweet that it had restored bell-ringing privileges to its stores.
Christmas truly is the giving season and we’d like to welcome Salvation Army bell ringers to all 294 Belk stores. Merry Christmas!
Happy ending to a story that started badly for the retailer, which has a store at New Bern Mall.
Belk was once a family-owned chain, but no more. It is now owned by Sycamore Partners, which also owns Staples, Dollar Express, Coldwater Creek, Talbots and a bunch of other things.
Steve Tyson, a New Bern real estate agent, Cable TV show host, amateur historian, and county commissioner, was among the first to squawk about the bell ban on Dec. 1.
“I was very disappointed to hear today that the new manager at the New Bern Belk store will not allow the Salvation Army to have their bell ringers there this year. The Salvation Army raises about 1/3 of their funds through the bell ringing campaign,” Tyson said on his Facebook page.
“Good news is that J.C. Penney is allowing the Salvation Army at their store so shop at J.C.Penney and you will see my smiling face doing the ring-a-ding. If this info is disappointing to you please share and shop at J.C. Penney.”
Tyson’s post got some traction. Since he posted it on Saturday morning, his post was liked or wowed or sadded by 117 people, had 128 shares and 51 comments, not counting the comments others made to comments.
Later Saturday, Tyson posted this update:
“The manager of the NB Belk store called me and said that the decision not to allow the Salvation Army to ring bells at Belk was a corporate decision, not hers. I believe her and we had a good conversation. There are some stores that had committed to the Salvation Army prior to the corporate decision and that is why they are ringing bells at the store in Morehead. Belk was once a family run store. They were recently bought out by a large private equity firm called Sycamore Partners firm based out of New York. I personally believe, but have no proof ,the decision was made because the Salvation army is a Christian based organization. Their decision will cost the Salvation Army, a great charity, in excess of $1,000,000. I bet it will cost Belk more than that.”
Tyson and his Facebook followers weren’t the only ones complaining about the Belk ban on bell ringers.
“Hundreds of Wilsonians — and thousands of shoppers throughout the Southeast — expressed their outrage with Belk after news that charitable contributions would be taken at the register as part of a Home for the Holidays campaign with Habitat for Humanity in lieu of the Salvation Army’s red kettles being placed outside the stores,” the Wilson Times reported.
“‘As you know, Belk decided to focus our giving this holiday season with our Home for the Holidays campaign, and during the process of making that commitment stronger, we mistakenly left out the Salvation Army at some stores,” said Belk public relations manager Tyler Hampton in a statement Monday and reported in the Wilson Times. “But we have fixed that. We have had a long relationship with the Salvation Army, and they are absolutely welcome at all of our 294 stores
“And they will certainly be a part of our community commitment moving forward.”
In 1992, the same year Bill Clinton was elected to his first term as president, the City of New Bern installed a software system called Banner. It’s still in use today, even though the software developer got out of the municipal software business long ago and focuses on education institutional software now.
Only one person among the 450 who work at New Bern City Hall knows how to maintain the Banner system, and the company that makes it will stop supporting the version the city uses in early 2018.
The city’s aging software system has been a subject of conversation by city leaders for at least eight years, but because the “current” version is aging out in 2018, there has been an increased sense of urgency that began in March.
The city has zeroed in on an “enterprise resource planning” (ERP for short) software package called Munis by Tyler Technologies. Described as the Cadillac of municipal software packages, Munis is used by more than 1,500 counties and cities including 89 in North Carolina and two in Craven County (Craven County, which is installing the system, and Havelock).
Munis will be able to handle functions throughout city hall, including financials, human resources management, computer information services, utility billing, contract and purchasing, content management, project and grant accounting, comprehensive annual financial report, time and attendance, work orders, talent management and permits and inspections.
In New Bern, those functions are presently handled by six other software systems or some other workaround (including forms filled out by hand, in triplicate). Costs to run and maintain the systems run at $273,000 a year, and with needed upgrades would cost the city $3.94 million over the next 10 years.
The Munis system, on the other hand, would cost the city about $106,000 a year following an up-front implementation cost of $1.35 million. The 10-year cost with the new system would be $2.6 million.
So, in boffin-speak, the city would save $1.34 million over 10 years by going with the new system, plus have software that is more integrated and user-friendly.
The bid for the project expires at the end of this month, so there was a sense of urgency in moving forward.
The Board of Aldermen went over the specs during a work session on Tuesday, but inexplicably went ahead and OK’d the new system (6-1, with Mayor Dana Outlaw voting against, saying that he would rather gamble on the price going up than gamble on the budgeted contingency — $115,000 — being sufficient to pay for unforeseen costs).
Inexplicably? The meeting was a work session, not a regular meeting. The board has one more meeting this month, on Nov. 28, before the bid expires. Typically, among most local elected bodies, work sessions are intended to work out bugs and regular sessions are intended to take action. Both run off agendas that are publicly available, both types of meetings are public, but regular sessions tend to be better attended by the public and media.
It amounts to a lame-duck board (four new members — a majority of the seven-member board — take office in December) committing to spend more than a million bucks during a work session just weeks before the new members take their seats. Erp!
Regardless of anything else, Outlaw said, because of the outdated system now in place, “This board or the next will implement a new system.”
Aldermen-elect Sabrina Bengel and Jameesha Harris attended Tuesday’s work session as private citizens. (Aldermen-elect Bobby Aster and Barbara Best did not.) Mayor Outlaw gave Bengel and Harris the floor to express any concerns. Harris said she supports city staff’s proposal and would vote for it.
Bengel, on the other hand, had some questions. She wanted to know why the cost increased from when it was initially unveiled in October, to when it was re-presented on Tuesday. City staff accounted for some of the discrepancy, but not the majority of it. Bengel also wanted to know whether the system would be compatible with the city’s electric utility billing software, which handles $80 million per year in utility payments.
“I strongly support the new system,” Bengel said. “I’m just concerned about the missing pieces.”
Following the meeting, Bengel expressed concerns about a decision involving such high expense being made at a work session. She sent Mayor Outlaw a message about her concerns:
My overall comment is that a Work Session should be for review and comment only and not a vote, especially when spending that large amount of taxpayer dollars. I do understand that the voting part of the agenda was noticed but felt strongly that it should not have been included in the agenda. There was no representative from Tyler to really assure us of what the system can and can not do. I also was concerned that you did not have any comment from Jordan or Carl Toler relative to the AMI system and the pay as you go application.
Our citizens deserve better when it comes to spending large sums of money and this item should have been scheduled for a vote at the next regular meeting of the Board of Alderman. There still is a regular meeting on November 28th so the vote could have taken place then and possibly a Tyler rep could have been present and still meet the Nov 30 quote deadline. I like you agree that Tyler would have happily given us at least another 30 days on a contract of this size.
Going forward I will ask the Board of Aldermen to review our policy for Work Sessions. The most transparent thing would be that during Work Sessions we review and discuss items in an informal manner that will be coming forward for a formal vote in the future. Work sessions should be where we get and digest information on particular items and then allow us some time to do additional research or ask questions based on what we learned at the Work Session. If an item must be decided due to deadlines, etc I would ask that a special meeting be called to make the vote.
I am committed to working towards a more transparent process for our Board and most importantly for our citizens.
Sometime soon, when you call 911 in New Bern for an ambulance, the 911 dispatcher may ask a lot of questions that, in the heat of the moment, may seem beside the point.
But the questions 911 dispatchers ask, and the answers they get in return, will save lives.
New Bern’s 911 dispatchers are rolling out a system called “Emergency Medical Dispatch.” The system is a combination of software and training that allow 911 dispatchers to ask medically pertinent questions and then give medical advice about how to save that person’s life.
The program was hatched in New Bern earlier this year, and in October the first phase of implementation began: software installation and training.
Expect to see a PR blitz including brochures and a video explaining the system.
Said Dr. Stanley Koontz, Emergency Medical Services coordinator for Craven and surrounding counties, “We’re trying to make our city safer. I think we can save some lives. This is a good first step.”
Craven County 911 dispatchers have already been using the Emergency Medical Dispatch system for some time, said Koontz.
If you find yourself in one of those situations, don’t worry that the EMTs and ambulance will be delayed while you are answering questions and delivering first aid. The dispatchers will have already taken care of those details simultaneously.
Saltwater Creek LLC, a real estate company that lists New Bern lawyer Kelly Greene as its manager, has put in a bid for $109,000 for long-vacant commercial building on Broad Street.
The two-story office building is on a half acre lot at 509 Broad St. The Craven County tax office puts the building’s value at $310,000.
The building, constructed in 1950, was once the location for Craven County Council on Aging and more recently the Craven County Probation Office. The building has been vacant for years.
At one point there was a plan to turn the building into a business incubator and work was started. But drainage problems in the rear parking area put an end to that project.
Saltwater Creek LLC is listed as a real estate business. In the limited liability corporation filing, Greene lists the company’s address as 401 Middle St., the same location as the law firm in which he is a partner, GreeneWilson, P.A.
GreeneWilson, P.A., is located in the renovated Clark’s Drug Store at the corner of Broad and Middle streets, location of a famous desegregation protest sit-in in 1960.
The Craven County Board of Commissioners accepted the offer at its meeting on Tuesday, which will be followed by the property being advertised for upset bids in accordance with General Statutes. If no further upset bids are received, the county may accept or reject the final offer, according to a Board of Commissioners report.
209 Broad St. is located in a C-4 zoning district, which the city of New Bern defines as: The C-4 neighborhood business district is established as a district in which the principal use of land is to provide for the retailing of goods and services to the nearby residential neighborhoods. The regulations of this district are designed to limit the businesses which may be established therein in order to protect the abutting residential areas.
Paid parking on Broad Street won’t be among the recommendations an advisory committee brings to the Board of Aldermen at its Nov. 21 meeting.
The Downtown Parking Advisory Committee also decided not to meddle with current parking rules on Broad Street, New Street, Hancock Street and Metcalf Street.
Both proposals were among several contained in a draft list of recommendations that came before the committee on Tuesday. The committee will finalize its plan on Tuesday, Nov. 14, before bringing its recommendations to the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
The committee will likely proceed with its recommendation to start enforcing 2-hour parking limits in the core of Downtown New Bern and call for improved directional signage to get motorists to city parking lots at the Farmers Market on South Front Street and at the intersection of New and Middle streets, among others.
The two-hour parking limit would be in effect from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, excluding holidays. The purpose of the limit is to discourage downtown workers from using on-street parking and instead use city off-street parking. It is estimated that 300-400 on-street parking spaces downtown are being used by people who work downtown each weekday, in an area where there are only 464 on-street parking spaces.
Studies of downtown parking in New Bern report that employee-used on-street parking is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales each year from motorists leaving the downtown discouraged over a shortage of parking.
The two-hour enforcement brings its own set of complications, namely enforcement. New Bern Police Chief Toussaint Summers, when asked about the chances of having parking enforcement officers ready starting on Jan. 1, 2018, formed a zero with his thumb and index finger.
He recommended the city hire up to three officers, plus a supervisor, to enforce parking downtown and also serve as community resource officers, much like those stationed at local schools, to enhance law enforcement downtown, develop good community-police relations, and adequately deal with parking enforcement.
It would take as long as four months to recruit, hire police officers to fill the positions once they are approved by the Board of Aldermen, and then six months more to receive field training and equip them.
It is possible that he could backfill the downtown positions with current police staff — the department has just one vacancy, the lowest vacancy rate since he became chief in 2011 (just to compare, Wilson’s police department has 16 vacancies and Kinston’s has 10). But Chief Summers said he would prefer to use his officers on the force now to fight drug use and sales in the city.
A suggestion by City Manager Mark Stephens that parking enforcement could be contracted out to a private firm was generally rejected by the committee.
Said committee member Danny Batten, “This is more than a financial decision. If we bring in contractors, who knows how they’ll treat our visitors, or how they’ll treat our business owners. I see value in having community resource officers.”
Rather than work out the details about enforcement, the committee decided it would simply recommend that 2-hour parking be enforced, and leave it to the Board of Aldermen and city staff to work out the details.
There would be a phase-in period once the 2-hour limit is enforced, during which motorists would receive a warning rather than a ticket.
The committee may also recommend the fine for a parking ticket be increased from $5 to $25, which would double if it isn’t paid after 30 days.
Except along Broad Street. Folks there are still at the shooty-shooty end of the barrel.
The committee will probably recommend that the city start enforcing the two-hour parking limit downtown. But anticipating an exodus of cars to nearby unregulated streets starting with Broad Street, the committee came up with the idea of installing paid parking kiosks charging a dollar an hour on Broad Street from the traffic circle to Middle Street.
Parking would be free on nights, weekends, holidays and election day, by the way.
Most committee members thought it would be a good idea to see how folks along that stretch felt about the idea. (Alderman Jeffrey Odham being the only exception.) So they sent out invitations.
Of those who responded, here’s what they said:
Gary Clemmons, partner at Chesnutt, Clemmons & Peacock
Clemmons said the law firm has been at 225 Broad St. since 1994 and downtown since 1985. He said his offices has three partners and 13 employees, but the 10-space parking lot at his building is generally reserved for clients. That means the 15 people in his offices park on-street, competing for the 50 parking spaces along the 200-300 block of Broad Street.
His employees face the prospect of paying $2,000 a year to park on the street near where they work.
That’s not even the tip of the iceberg. He said District Court’s criminal calendar draws 300-600 people downtown, and “those people have to have somewhere to park. They come and need to stay all day.”
He anticipates the crowds will take up spaces in nearby neighborhoods where it is free and there are no time limits.
“A lot of those people are elderly,” he said. “I don’t think you should impede people from accessing the court houses.”
“There are no other blocks affected,” he said. It’s unfair, he said, and gives other law firms elsewhere downtown at a competitive advantage where parking is free.
Meloni Wray, director of the Craven County Board of Elections
She said the county already has problems with voter turnout without having something like paid parking to further complicate the process. The Board of Elections has already voted in opposition to paid parking.
During elections where crowds actually show up to vote, such as presidential elections, there may be a three-hour wait, she said.
Jack Veit, Craven County manager
Craven County is one of downtown’s largest employers and landowners. He urged the city to look for other options and not seek a plan that amounts to “self-inflicted chaos.”
He urged the committee to hold off making any decisions about paid parking on Broad Street.
Terri Sharp, clerk of Craven County Superior Court
She said people travel to the court house for many reasons, including criminal cases. Her office handles adoptions, estates, trusts, foreclosures, name changes, boundary disputes, domestic cases, small claims, Department of Social Services cases, juvenile court … and on andon anonanonanon.
The courts also deal with jury selection, 150 jurors per term, two per month … all looking for parking places.
City Manager Mark Stephens
He said New Bern is a 300-year-old city that has been kicking the can down the road rather than solving parking problems, which have existed for 100 years.
He points out the conundrum in solving downtown parking issues. A shortage of spaces (caused in no small part by employees and managers taking up on-street parking) would be solved by enforced two-hour parking, but would not be practical on Broad Street, where visitors may need to park all day due to court calendars.
“Judge Alford is not going to recess every two hours so everyone can move their cars,” Stephens said.
Paid parking would provide an option for court visitors while at the same time discouraging people from parking there if their business is in the commercial areas of downtown.
Ward 6 Alderman JeffreyOdham
He said he was opposed to having Broad Street interests come to the committee to give feedback. He said the advisory committee has spent several months working toward solutions, and advised against “outside influences” and “everyone’s individual opinion” interfere with the committee’s recommendation.
“We’re not going to make everybody happy,” he said. “We want to find a way to make everyone equally unhappy.”
“Other cities have the same situation as New Bern with paid parking,” he said. “We need to make it work here.”
Going into extra innings, the city Parking Advisory Committee is meeting Tuesday to iron out recommendations it will make at an upcoming Board of Aldermen meeting.
The committee meets Tuesday afternoon at the Police Substation at New Bern Mall, because what better way to encourage public participation than holding a meeting in a police station?
The committee was supposed to present its recommendations to the Board of Aldermen on Oct. 24 but has gone two meetings past that date, including the one scheduled for Nov. 7. It has until Dec. 12 to present its recommendations, after which it dissolves. Two aldermen on the committee vacate their seats on the Board of Aldermen at that time, Dallas Blackiston, who lost his reelection bid, and E.T. Mitchell, who was appointed to the board and did not choose to run for it in October.
Momentum is steering the advisory committee to make these recommendations:
Enforce the two-hour time limit on parking downtown (which already has two-hour time limits; who knew?).
Install paid parking on Broad Street between Middle and East Front streets to discourage people from parking there instead of closer in to downtown where parking is free but limited to two hours. In other words, to keep downtown employees and business owners from parking on Broad Street.
Expand the two-hour time limit zone to include New Street, one block north of Broad Street.
Issue two free parking passes to residents who live in the downtown area and on New Street, and charge them for any additional passes, amount to be determined.
Increase and enhance directional signs leading visitors to existing public parking lots.
Install charging stations for electric vehicles.
Final decisions on the recommendations are expected Tuesday at the police bunker.
Aldermen Mitchell, during the meeting last week, said the committee is merely making recommendations to the Board of Aldermen, which will make final decisions. She said it to Broad Street business owners, government representatives and court house lawyers generally opposed to the idea of paid parking on Broad Street. They were invited to the meeting to express their reaction to the proposal, and then promptly ignored.
Meanwhile, Alderman Jeffrey Odham told the New Bern Post that he would like the Board of Aldermen to adopt all the committee’s recommendations and not listen to anyone who might have different ideas he described as “politics.”
The advisory committee has been hashing over downtown parking during weekly 60- to 90-minute meetings since mid-September. Downtown parking has been a problem in New Bern for 100 years, City Manager Mark Stephens said. (Yes, he really said that.)
Stretch of Broad Street that a committee may recommend be singled out for parking meters. The section is between the traffic circle at East Front Street, and Middle Street. Other downtown streets would have enforced two-hour parking. Google Maps photo
City Manager Mark Stephens said his research leads him to believe downtown New Bern has had a parking problem for the last 100 years.
A committee set up by the city seeks to solve downtown parking problems after about seven or eight meetings.
Chaired by lame duck Alderman Dallas Blackiston as his swan song gig as alderman, the committee plans to recommend to the Board of Aldermen during an upcoming meeting that two-hour parking be enforced on downtown streets …
… Except for two blocks of Broad Street, between the East Front Street traffic circle and Middle Street. That stretch of city streets would be getting dollar-per-hour parking meters. About 50 parking spaces would be affected, by my count. (Count for yourself.)
Why treat Broad Street differently? The way the committee figures it, people fleeing two-hour parking would flock to the nearest street without two-hour parking, and that would be Broad Street.
That stretch of Broad Street is different than other downtown streets. It has no restaurants or boutiques or tourist destinations. It has county offices, courthouses, lawyer offices and the county elections office. Folks who park on Broad Street in that vicinity have serious business to conduct, not all that touristy stuff.
To discourage tourist traffic from descending on the 50 or so parking spaces along that stretch of Broad Street, the city would install parking meters with solar powered kiosks distributed at regular intervals into which motorists would pour their money.
The committee decided (with Alderman Jeffrey Odham advising against it) that lawyer offices, county government, local courts and the lone resident along Broad Street ought to be notified and given a chance to comment on the plan.
That meeting was Tuesday afternoon.
Lawyers, appointed and elected officials, and the only resident on that stretch of Broad Street showed up to oppose the idea.
Odham, while not saying “I told you so,” on Tuesday advised the committee to not fall prey to public comments after the committee did all that hard work over so many weeks while managing to avoid seeking input from people directly affected.
“We’re not going to make everybody happy,” said Odham. “We have to find a way to make everyone equally unhappy.”
The plan would commence around March if approved by the Board of Aldermen.
Check back later at New Bern Post later for more details about the plan.
Alderman Bernard White was in charge of coordinating the opening prayer at the board meeting on Tuesday night. With the clock winding down until he leaves office after serving two terms, he let his wife of 47 years deliver the prayer.
Later in the meeting, one-term Alderman Dallas Blackiston asked that the remaining thousand dollars in his discretionary fund go to Parks & Rec, specifically Thalmann Field, the ball field named after the New Bern policeman who was killed in the line of duty in 2014.
Quarter-term Alderman E.T. Mitchell asked that the remainder of her funds (she did not specify how much that is) be distributed to Colonial Capital Humane Society.
The three aldermen, along with two-term Alderman Victor Taylor, are all leaving office, resulting in the largest turnover of seats on the board since way back in the last election in 2013, when four seats changed hands, or 2009, when six seats changed hands. OK, so maybe that’s not so unusual.
Coming back to the board is Sabrina Bengel, who recaptured the Ward 1 seat that she gave up in her unsuccessful run for mayor in 2013. Coming back to City Hall as Ward 3 alderman is Bobby Aster, the retired New Bern fire chief who had sought an appointment to the board when Pat Schaible stepped down in 2016; Aster ran uncontested.
New to City Hall are Jamee Harris in Ward 2, replacing Victor Taylor, who did not run; and Barbara Best in Ward 5, who spent 20 years working in City Hall as a tax clerk and, for a period, was interim tax collector, who beat Bernard White.
How the four new board members will affect the mix on the board is hard to predict, especially when there are two political novices (Best and Harris) taking seats. But there are some things that I assume will be interesting from the start.
First, Sabrina Bengel. She and Dana Outlaw were once friends but their friendship grew stale when both were aldermen and the two found themselves often voting on opposite sides. The end of their friendship came in 2013 when the two ran for mayor and became political enemies.
Bengel is an alpha personality and will be sitting directly across from fellow alpha personality Jeffrey Odham, who is a strong ally of Mayor Outlaw (the two are neighbors, and Odham replaced Outlaw as alderman when Outlaw became mayor),
No one prepares for meetings more than Odham … except Bengel, who has been a critic of Odham and Outlaw on her Friday morning radio show, CityTalk. This ought to be interesting.
Bobby Aster was fire chief, but also served in interim roles as public works director and city manager during his decades of service to the city. He is arguably more qualified to be city manager than City Manager Mark Stephens himself.
When Aster sought an appointment to the board to fill the Ward 3 vacancy left by Schaible, Mayor Outlaw, who has a knack for saying and doing the wrong things at exactly the right times, said (and I paraphrase here) that Aster would be a good choice if he was looking for expertise in firefighting, but Mitchell was a good choice if he was looking for expertise in everything else.
Kind of a dumb thing for Outlaw to say. And now Aster has won the seat on his own and may not be a big fan of Outlaw. Regardless of past relations, Aster has proven himself to be a dedicated, intelligent public servant, and I don’t think he will let personal history get in the way of wise decisions.
Barbara Best also has knowledge of the inner workings of city hall, albeit her role as a tax clerk was less prominent than Aster’s. Still, it is the clerks, secretaries and other keepers of secrets at an organization who truly know how things work.
Ward 4 Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey survived his reelection bid (Outlaw and Kinsey were the only two incumbents who faced challengers who kept their seats). Kinsey, a dedicated father who started and runs a successful fitness center after serving time in prison, has been a steady supporter of Outlaw and Odham and I don’t expect that will change.
And what of E.T. Mitchell? A former naval intelligence officer who has made the rounds on boards and commissions in New Bern over the past decade, Mitchell did not run to keep the Ward 3 seat she was appointed to. But she has been talking about running for Scott Dacey’s seat on the Craven County Board of Commissioners. Dacey will be stepping down and is running against U.S. Rep. Walter Jones in the 2018 Republican primary.
CITY OF NEW BERN
BOARD OF ALDERMEN MEETING
OCTOBER 24, 2017 – 7:00 P.M.
CITY HALL COURTROOM
300 POLLOCK STREET
1. Meeting opened by Mayor Dana E. Outlaw. Prayer Coordinated by Alderman White. Pledge of Allegiance.
Randy’s note: Bernard White, who lost his reelection bid, began closing out his term by having his wife of 47 years deliver the opening prayer. Because wives should always have the last word.
2. Roll Call.
Randy’s note: All present, if by all present you mean that aldermen Victor Taylor and Jeffrey Odham were not present. Odham and City Manager Mark Stephens were at a city manager convention. Not sure where Taylor was at.
3. Consider Approving a Proclamation for Craven County Veterans. Dobert Owsley, Chairman of Craven County Veterans’ Council, has requested a proclamation recognizing Veterans of Craven County. (See Backup)
Randy’s note: Seems like a proclamation for veterans would carry more force if it were located anywhere else in the agenda than the consent calendar. Just saying …
4. Consider Adopting a Resolution Closing Streets for Berry Merry Christmas. (Ward 1) Amanda Banks, Event Chair for the Downtown Council’s Beary Merry Christmas, has requested to close the following streets for the identified activities on the dates and times noted: a) the 200 block of Middle Street on November 24, 2017 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. for “Light Up the Season”; b) the 200 block of Broad Street and 300-500 blocks of East Front Street on November 25, 2017 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. for the Community Christmas Tree Lighting and Sledding; and c) the 200 block of Craven Street and the “Talbot’s Lot” on December 10, 2017 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. for the “Sledding Shopping Sunday” event. A memo from Matt Montanye, Interim Director of Parks and Recreation, is attached along with a copy of the pre-event questionnaire. (See Backup)
Randy’s note: Come on … it’s not even Halloween yet …
5. Approve Minutes. Minutes from the October 17, 2017 regular meeting are provided for review and approval.
6. Presentation of Accessible Pedestrian Signs. Cheri Moyers, President of the Coastal Carolina Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of NC, will discuss changes in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and Americans with Disabilities Act with respect to accessible pedestrian signs at signalized intersections. Ms. Moyers will be joined by Byron Hood, who will assist with the presentation. A copy of the PowerPoint presentation is provided. (See Backup)
Randy’s note: The backup link contains some interesting information providing perspective about what it’s like to be blind, and the differences between various kinds of blindness. Ironically, the PowerPoint presentation in the link looks like a black and white photocopy of a photocopy and is, itself, somewhat hard to make out. See story
7. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving a Memorandum of Understanding for the FY2017 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. The New Bern Police Department (“PD”) applied for a 2017 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (“JAG”), which required no matching funds. Grant funds have been received in the amount of $11,190 and will be utilized to purchase equipment for the PD’s fitness room. Since the PD is part of a disparate jurisdiction with Craven County, a Memorandum of Understanding is required to document an agreement between the City and County that the funds will be used solely by the PD. A memo from Chief Summers is attached. (See Backup)
The grant money will be used to buy free weights. Last time I was at a sporting goods store, weights sold for a dollar a pound, so assuming that’s correct, and that’s a big, heavy assumption, they plan to buy more than 11,000 pounds of weights.
8. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving a Contract with Tyler Technologies, Inc. for a Financial Software System. At the Board’s March 24, 2017 meeting, a discussion was held about the City’s current financial software system and the need to consider options for a newer software system that is more efficient and has the ability to integrate with current and future systems. The Board gave approval for staff to issue a Request for Proposal to seek quotes for a new system. Krissy Culler, Assistant City Manager, will share a presentation on the proposals received and selection of the desired vendor, Tyler Technologies. After the presentation, the Board is asked to consider adopting a resolution approving a contract with Tyler Technologies. A memo from Mrs. Culler and J.R. Sabatelli, Director of Finance, is attached along with a copy of the proposed contract from the vendor. (See Backup)
Randy’s note: Go ahead, I dare you – follow the “See Backup” link and read the 119-page attachment. See story
9. Consider Adopting a Budget Ordinance to Establish the ERP Project Fund. This budget ordinance relates to the previous item and will establish a project fund for the ERP in the amount of $1,250,000. This project will be funded with debt proceeds. A memo from Mr. Sabatelli is attached. (See Backup)
Randy’s note: Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP, is a large-scale software program designed for modern businesses, both large and small. A simple definition is that ERP systems aid the flow of internal business processes and allow for communication between a business’s departments and its internal functions and data. Source
In other words, the system will integrate all the city departments into one system. See story
10. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving a Declaration of Intent to Reimburse for the ERP Project. This item also relates to the ERP Project Fund. Pursuant to IRS regulations, items paid for prior to obtaining a financing agreement require a declaration of intent be adopted prior to or within 60 days of payment of the expenditures to be reimbursed. A memo from Mr. Sabatelli is attached. (See Backup)
11. Consider Adopting an Ordinance Amendment for the Neuse Boulevard Phase II Sidewalk Project Fund. (Wards 2, 4 and 5) The Neuse Boulevard Phase II Sidewalk Project is now complete, and the project fund needs to be closed out. The total of the project was $462,770, which was funded with $454,659 from grant proceeds and a transfer of $8,111 from the General Fund. A memo from Mr. Sabatelli is attached. (See Backup)
Randy’s note: In short, the project is completed and the Board of Aldermen needs to give its final blessing.
Sidewalk on steroids. Google Street View photo
12. Consider Adopting an Ordinance Amendment for the Glenburnie Multi-Use Path Project Fund. (Ward 4) The Glenburnie Multi-Use Path Project is now complete, and the project fund needs to be closed out. The total of the project was $462,120, which was funded with $457,380 from grant proceeds and $4,740 from the General Fund. A memo from Mr. Sabatelli is attached. (See Backup)
Randy’s note: This is that project that added extra-wide, multi-use sidewalks along Glenburnie suitable for pedestrians, bicycles, and space shuttle landings should they be necessary.
13. Consider Adopting a Budget Ordinance Amendment for the FY2017-18 General Fund Operating Budget. This budget ordinance amendment appropriates funds from Public Work’s – Streets to cover costs deemed ineligible by DOT for the Neuse Boulevard Phase II Sidewalk Project in the amount of $8,111 and the Glenburnie Multi-Use Project in the amount of $4,740. The amendment also appropriates $19,830 from the General Fund to cover costs deemed ineligible by the NC 911 Board, $15,876 to allow for PD’s special operations to attack the opioid epidemic, and it acknowledges receipt of $11,190 in grant funds from the 2017 Edward Byrne Memorial JAG Program for the purchase of fitness equipment at the PD. (See Backup)
Randy’s note: I’ve sent an inquiry to the city for additional information about the $15,876 to attack the opioid epidemic. Here is the response:
Chief Summers is at a conference & I (city public relations director Colleen Roberts) wanted to make sure to touch base with him about the New Bern Police Department budget and your inquiry. He has responded that the money will be used for special investigative purposes. That is all the detail that can be provided.
Ever hear of Leadership Craven? I’m a Leadership Craven alumni myself.
Tuesday was Government and Media Day for Leadership Craven, and Tuesday evening the Class of 2018 attended the New Bern Board of Aldermen meeting.
There have been more interesting meetings, but it was theirs.
It was mine, too, the first board meeting I covered for New Bern Post and the first city council meeting I’ve covered as a reporter in 23 years.
They went easy on me.
Streets and roads
Victor Taylor, Ward 2, who chose not to run for reelection, brought up an item off-agenda: the unsafe driving situation where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard merges with Neuse Boulevard brought about by shrubbery.
The city Public Works Department trimmed the shrubs (bulldozed them would be a better description, figuratively if not literally), opening up sight-lines at a turn lane that had been made unsafe by a blind spot.
The city plans to plant landscaping better suited to the site, but it’s a temporary fix. There are plans to convert the intersection into a traffic circle in a couple of years.
Meanwhile, City Manager Mark Stevens sent out a teaser, announcing the city and the N.C. DOT are in negotiations for the city to take over maintenance of Old Airport Road in exchange for “a considerable sum of money.”
Your booze money at work
Craven County ABC, whose mission is to serve the entire county responsibly by controlling the sale of booze while promoting customer-friendly, safe, modern and efficient stores, presented to the city a check for $14,654 (adding up to $68,592) for its share of liquor sales proceeds.
Craven County ABC expects to make $10.3 million in liquor sales this year (Craven Count ranks 27th in the state in population but 21st in sales … !).
Starting this fiscal year, 7 percent of its sales is required to support anti-underage drinking and anti-opiate campaigns for Craven County Social Services.
Craven County ABC closed its Havelock West store in February, but it looking to relocate and expand stores in James City (because a planned freeway expansion is expected to cut business at the existing store) and on Glenburnie Road when Harris Teeter moves to a new shopping center between the MLK and Trent Road. Formal announcements are expected later this month.
The CCABC also plans to spruce up each of its existing stores by adding themes relevant to their locations: Downtown New Bern will have a 1920s tavern theme; Vanceboro will have an agriculture theme; Havelock will have a Marine Corps theme; and so on. The project is expected to take five years to complete.
Craven County ABC sales have been increasingly steadily since 2003. In fiscal year 2007, for example, sales came out at just over $7 million, compared to projected sales of $10.3 million this fiscal year.
Dallas Blackiston: The city’s Parking Plan Advisory Committee is expected to release its recommendations for downtown parking and call for a public hearing. (Background: Previous discussions have included parking meters throughout downtown and a multi-story, multi-use parking structure across from city hall.)
Alderman Victor Taylor has advice for people who find flags like these among the waste they leave by the side of the street for the city to pick up.
Victor Taylor: Advice to residents hauling waste to the curb for the city to pick up: If the city doesn’t pick it up, but instead leaves a flag, read the flag’s instructions on how to proceed.
“If you leave it out there, the city will leave it out there,” Taylor said. “If you won’t get rid of it, the city won’t get rid of it.”
Advice to candidates: Pick up your signs. You had three days to get them up but Taylor counted at least 20 still littering the shoulders of Country Club Road.
“It should not be the responsibility of the city to go pick up campaign signs. … If you lost, I am sorry. If you won, congratulations. But go pick up your signs.” — Victor Taylor
E.T. Mitchell: She didn’t run to keep the Ward 3 seat to which she was appointed. She nominated Ward 6 Alderman Jeffrey Odham to take her seat on the Metropolitan Planning Organization; he was voted in unanimously.
Johnnie Ray Kinsey: Nothing to add.
Bernard White: He too has a seat on the MBO that will need to be filled. White lost his re-election bid.
Jeffrey Odham: Expressed concerns about dogs at MumFest. Despite a ban, one person had two or three pit bull terriers, at least one of which was muzzled. Another person had a baby carriage full of chihuahuas.
“I saw quite a few dogs. I have nothing against them. I have a dog, believe it or not.” — Jeffrey Odham
The next Board of Aldermen meeting will be Oct. 24 at 7 p.m.
New board members (four in all … a majority of the seven-member board) will be sworn in at the first meeting in December, Dec. 12.