No one disputes the success of the 30-year transformation of Downtown New Bern from a run-down blighted mess, to the vibrant tourist attraction it has become.
One thing that made the transformation so successful is that it restored 19th and early 20th century buildings to their original glory.
Now, armed with a new redevelopment agency and a roadmap called the Greater Five Points Transformation Plan, the City of New Bern turns its attention to a collection of historically black neighborhoods collectively called “Greater Duffyfield.”
(Note: I put “Greater Duffyfield” in quotes, because historically, they were different neighborhoods, not the least of which is Dryborough. “Greater Duffyfield” was coined by City Hall as a way to group these neighborhoods together for planning and management purposes, although some would say there were more nefarious reasons.)
If you gather any number of people in a room and ask them to envision what “Greater Duffyfield” should look like 30 years from now, the number of answers will probably be close to the number of people in the room.
UNC-TV has been holding a series of community sessions in New Bern this week, including one at Riverfront Convention Center about New Bern’s future. Three stellar panels of New Bern leaders spoke during the five-hour session. By the end, they said almost nothing about the future.
So I thought I’d throw out one idea.
Instead of bulldozing “Greater Duffyfield” and replacing it with condominiums and strip malls, please, please, please respect its distinctive cultural heritage the way New Bern’s Main Street program respected downtown’s distinctive history.
The neighborhoods have already been added to New Bern’s overarching historic district, and for good reason.
West Street, for example, is chock full of historic sites from the days of segregation including a hospital, a school, a library, and the former home of none other than Grover C. Fields.
Dryborough, one of New Bern’s earliest subdivisions, was eventually to become a significant place in New Bern’s African American culture.
African American neighborhoods south of Queen Street were supplanted by first neglect and segregation, and than gentrification. They migrated north of Queen Street, which became the racial dividing line in Old New Bern. (Riverside, which used the railroad as its dividing line, remained a white-only neighborhood and likes to refer to itself as New Bern’s first suburb.)
As neighborhoods north of Queen Street became populated by African Americans, city planners and public works did what they usually did in the segregated South. Streets were narrow and it was a long time before they became paved. There were no sidewalks, curbs, or gutters. Street lights were rare. Much of the area was subject to flooding and remains so to this very day.
But these neighborhoods were self-supporting. They included a hospital, a nursing home, shopping districts, lawyers and doctors offices, a hotel, and a library. It even had its own fire department.
When segregation became illegal in the 1960s, African Americans could shop at places like J.C. Penny and Belk, and dine at previously all-white restaurants, at the expense of mom-and-pop businesses in the Five Points area and along Main Street in Duffyfield. When they called the fire department, white firefighters would respond. When they went to the hospital, they could go to the same hospital as white people. And they went to school at the same schools as white children.
Those African-American-owned businesses and institutions became the victims of unintended consequences and many went out of business. But their empty shells remain scattered throughout the neighborhoods.
While most of the streets today are paved, there remains a distinctive flavor to the neighborhoods that can be preserved and elevated.
I propose that efforts be made to preserve those houses and buildings that are worth preserving. For those beyond repair, replacements be subject to design standards so that they retain the distinctive nature of the neighborhoods.
I propose that the city identify neighborhood commercial zones such as Main Street and at Five Points, with redevelopment funding targeting the revitalization of these areas to highlight New Bern’s rich, vibrant, and significant African American history.
Great cities like New York and San Francisco have sections that celebrate different ethnicities. Look at Chinatown, Little Italy, Harlem, and so on. “Greater Duffyfield” could be one such neighborhood, one that celebrates history and culture rather than replacing it with townhouses and strip malls.
Many people aren’t aware of the important role that New Bern played in African American history. Following its fall to Union forces during the Civil War, it became a center of freedom for emancipated and escaped slaves.
New Bern needs to tell the world about this, and preserving its African American neighborhoods is one way to do it.
The board of aldermen without a ward system might as well look like this photo, taken just before new board members took their seats on Dec. 12. Post photo
I keep hearing that New Bern’s ward system is outdated and unnecessary, and that all members of the Board of Aldermen should be elected at-large, the same way the mayor is elected.
Getting rid of the ward system would accomplish two things:
It would put serving on the board out of reach for all but anyone who is wealthy enough to buy their way into office.
It would leave New Bern’s less affluent neighborhoods without local representation and focus the spending of tax dollars on parts of the city that need it the least.
Imagine a city without a ward system in which you have a problem and aren’t getting anywhere at city hall. Who would you call? Would you pick an alderman at random? Or call the mayor?
Now, at least, you have an advocate who lives in or near your neighborhood and who is directly responsive to your needs and, if he or she fails to do the job, can be unseated much more easily than someone who is elected at-large.
Without the ward system, money would flow to a specific few who would do the best job representing those who have money.
The closest we have come to an at-large alderman just left office: E.T. Mitchell. When Pat Schaible resigned her seat as Ward 3 alderman, Mitchell was hand-picked by certain members of the Board of Aldermen.
During one of those “public meetings” when it is clear the board had no interest in listening to what the public said, the board room was filled with people supported one applicant for the job: Retired New Bern fire chief Bobby Aster. A petition was presented with hundreds of signatures from people supporting Aster.
E.T. Mitchell wasn’t at the meeting, and there was not one person in the audience there to support her being appointed as alderman.
In short, the board ignored the wishes of Ward 3 residents by appointing Mitchell over Aster.
Mayor Dana Outlaw said Mitchell brought experience and skills to the board, whereas all Aster brought was his experience as fire chief (his job before he retired). Never mind that Aster had filled many key positions in city hall, up to and including city manager.
So what did Mitchell accomplish during her year as an alderman?
She worked on goals set out for her by the mayor and other members of the board (which means, mainly, Ward 6 Alderman Jeffrey Odham).
On its face that sounds great, but it put her in a sort of unique position on the board: no other alderman or the mayor had their agenda set for them by other members of the board.
While Ward 3 may have been represented, it was the only ward during that year whose alderman’s main purpose was accomplishing tasks set out for her by aldermen from other wards.
Ward 3 is a fairly affluent ward: it includes New Towne, parts of Ghent, Taberna and Carolina Colours — just the sort of people who would spend money to elect their kind of alderman. Yet their wishes went ignored. I wonder, how did that make them feel?
Now imagine a board of aldermen where all seven members come from New Bern’s most affluent neighborhoods. How well do you think those members would represent residents of New Bern’s middle-income and low-income neighborhoods?
I remember a “let them eat cake” conversation between Pat Schaible and my wife. This was at a time when the Board of Aldermen was trying to shove the City Market idea down the throats of the Farmer’s Market board.
My wife was alarmed that the City Market concept included a band shell. City Market, located on First Street, backs up to the Ghent neighborhood, and my wife pointed out to Schaible that there are babies living right across the street from the band shell location, not to mention a whole neighborhood of families nearby.
Schaible said she would love to have a band shell in her neighborhood. I rather doubt that.
But Schaible wasn’t representing residents of her ward. She was representing “the city.”
You have to be careful when your elected leaders represent “the city” over its residents. Just ask people in Ferguson, Mo., and Flynt, Mich., about that.
Keep power as local as possible, and the only way to do that is preserving the ward system.
Alderman Sabrina Bengel takes the oath of office after being selected mayor pro tem. Alderman and former mayor pro tem Jeff Odham is in the background fuming. The two sit on opposite sides of the dais and, judging from their first meeting Tuesday, are on opposite sides of other things, too.
It didn’t take long for four years of bad blood between Sabrina Bengel and Dana Outlaw/Jeff Odham to spill over into Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting. The question is, who started it?
• Was it Ward 1 Alderman Bengel who, during her first meeting as alderman (this time around) and using a portion of the meeting called New Business that allows aldermen to bring up issues and call for decisions that aren’t on the agenda, made a motion to restore former New Bern mayor Lee Bettis’ name to a ladder truck that was bought when he was in office? That’s what Mayor Dana Outlaw and Alderman Jeff Odham say.
• Was it Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Aster, who when he was fire chief, ordered the fire truck to include Lee Bettis’ name? That’s what Mayor Outlaw says.
• Was it tradition? That’s what Alderman Aster says.
• Was it Mayor Outlaw, who added New Business to the board meeting format? That’s what Alderman Bengel says.
• Was it Ward 6 Alderman Odham, who used the New Business portion of the agenda to make a motion to remove Bettis’ name from the engine several years ago? That’s what Bengel, Aster and Alderman Jamee Harris say.
• Was it Lee Bettis, who, while recuperating from a hip replacement surgery, took a prescribed medication that could result in drowsiness (although more likely it was sleep deprivation), then drove erratically while taking his kids to school the next day? That’s what Outlaw, Odham and Kinsey say.
• Was it the New Business portion of aldermen meetings, which allows any alderman to bring up any subject and, if it can get enough votes, it passes — without any advance public notice or preparation time by staff or other aldermen? That’s what apparently everyone on the board now thinks.
The New Bern Post was the first with a story, but it’s not a big issue. In fact, the Sun Journal, CityTalk Radio, and All About Craven on CTV-TV 10 all spent a good portion of their next available programming covering it, that’s how unimportant it was.
What it does, though, is reveal the schism that exists between Outlaw/Odham, and probably the entire rest of the board. Even Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey, who was one of the aldermen who voted to remove Bettis’ name, was so befuddled on Tuesday that he said he was undecided, which according to some counts as a yes vote.
In the process of indicating that they didn’t care, Outlaw and Odham certainly appeared that they did. Odham said he wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it and that his comments on Tuesday would be the last he would say, but he Facebook Lived himself the next morning– while driving and, frankly, looking like he lost sleep over it — commenting on it, and he popped up in social media throughout the week like a bearded Whack-a-Mole commenting some more.
Bengel, meanwhile, sat next to her radio co-host Lee Bettis (why yes, as a matter of fact, THAT Lee Bettis) on CityTalk Friday morning explaining herself. Yes, it could be interpreted as hypocritical to use a portion of the agenda that she has frequently criticized, to force a decision that some would not like. She was simply using a weapon of Outlaw’s and Odham’s creation, against its creators, she said, more or less.
Anyway, that’s what I have today. My son Cole is in town for holiday this week and, between him and my day job, I’ve had less time to devote to New Bern Post. I’ll catch up next week, starting first with the reporter notebook that I filled up at Tuesday’s meeting.
In October, aldermen approved $15,876 to allow for New Bern Police special operations to attack the opioid epidemic. I sent an inquiry to the city for additional information about this. Here is the response:
Chief (Toussaint) 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.
Well that wasn’t very informative, but a law enforcement source I spoke with this week speculated the money could be used by undercover agents to buy drugs from drug dealers. Sort of a revolving loan, so to speak.
If you build it, will they come?
Coming up Tuesday at New Bern’s Planning and Zoning Board is a proposed subdivision of 546 acres to create two residential subdivisions totaling 253 lots near Carolina Colours and almost as big as it.
Like Carolina Colours, Taberna and Greenbrier, it would replace former Weyerhaeuser timberlands with a fairly dense residential neighborhood. Collectively it will be called Bluewater Rise.
GIS map. Parcel is outlined in aqua. Craven County GIS
It has been more than a decade, before the Great Recession, since a housing development this large has been proposed for New Bern.
Hutton Pointe at Bluewater Rise would subdivide 115 acres into a 151-lot planned unit development.
Bendigo Bay at Bluewater Rise would subdivide 61 acres into a 112-lot planned unit development.
A knowledgeable source was hoping the units will be in the $200,000 range rather than the $300,000-plus range at neighboring — and not yet built-out — Carolina Colours. New Bern still has a surplus of 300k-plus housing, while houses in the $200k range are selling well, my source said.
Bluewater Rise joins Craven 30 (off U.S. 70 and the N.C. 43 Connector) as major housing subdivisions in the area that are envisioned but not quite there yet.
An idea whose time has past
Craven County Commissioner Scott Dacey was ready to jump at the opportunity for the county to convey its tax office for a city parking structure at Craven and Pollock streets. His idea was for the tax office to move into the New Bern-Craven County Public Library building on Johnson Street, and move the library to the campus of Craven Community College, joining a library project that is being planned and is already funded there.
Dacey’s plan included enhancing public transportation to get people to the new library location, with the added benefit of providing better transportation service to the college.
His idea never got off the table; he could not muster the support to form a feasibility study committee.
Dacey is giving up his seat on the Board of Commissioners and is running against U.S. Rep.-for-life Walter Jones.
The Craven County Board of Commissioners meets at 7 p.m. Monday at the county administration building on Broad Street. Among other things, the board will select a new chairman and will hold a public hearing on a proposed animal cruelty ordinance. A key provision of the ordinance is a rule that says that animals will not be tethered, unless they are. Agenda details here.
Hat’s off to the Firemen’s Museum
The New Bern Firemen’s Museum dedicated a fire house bell on Friday commemorating the three
Dedication of the fire house bell at the New Bern Firemen’s Museum on Friday. Facebook Live
firefighters who gave their all in the line of duty. The New Bern Fire Department has a long and rich history, and the museum is filled with a treasure trove of fire exhibits, vintage firefighting equipment, a narrative history of the Great New Bern Fire of 1922, and one horse head. Really, you need to go see it all. The building and collection are owned by the city, but managed and funded by volunteers who raised around $1 million to move into the current location and enhance the exhibit. More here. Videos here.
Docks are installed at Union Point Park on the Trent River to replace docks damaged and destroyed during Hurricane Matthew. City of New Bern photo
In your face, Matthew!
From a City of New Bern tweet: Perfect morning to be on the dock! The docks at Union Point Park that were lost during Hurricane Matthew have been rebuilt and are being installed today. Thanks FEMA.
You should know that the original version of this article has been taken down following a cease and desist demand from GateHouse Media.
I was the executive editor at the Sun Journal until October 2017, when I resigned for personal and professional reasons.
Once I discovered that at least one Sun Journal telemarketer was misrepresenting the circumstances of my departure from the company, I posted my resignation letter along with a memo I wrote just prior to my resignation. A short time later, GateHouse Media sent me a cease and desist demand, which I present here in its entirety:
December 14, 2017
Mr. Randy Foster
Re: Your Legal Obligation to GateHouse Media, LLC
Dear Mr. Foster:
I am General Counsel of GateHouse Media, Inc. (“GateHouse”). GateHouse Media is the ultimate parent of the publisher of the New Bern Sun Journal (“New Bern”). I write to remind you of your continuing legal obligations to GateHouse under State and Federal law.
While you were employed by GateHouse, you were given access to unique, confidential, and proprietary business information including information regarding management options for potential layoffs. It has come to our attention that you are publishing such information on your personal blog – http://newbempost.com/myside. Under State and Federal law, the use of such confidential and proprietary information in this manner is prohibited. Further, State and Federal law dictate that you not disclose such confidential and proprietary information to anyone, or use such information for your own benefit or the benefit of others.
To the extent that you are using such information, we request that you immediately cease and desist from such use. Should GateHouse discover that this practice is continuing we will seek an injunction against and damages from all appropriate parties for such misuse.
We certainly trust and expect that you will fully comply with your obligations to GateHouse under State and Federal law, and that no legal action by GateHouse to protect its rights will be necessary. This letter sets forth our position on the matters contained herein and should not be deemed to restrict, prejudice, waive or limit any of our rights or remedies under contract, at law or in equity.
Very Truly Yours,
Polly Granfield Sack
Sr. Vice President, Secretary And General Counsel
I responded that I complied with their demand and took the memos offline, but made a cease and desist demand of my own:
Dear Mrs. Sack:
I am sole owner and operator of the local news website, NewBernPost.com, and a former GateHouse Media employee. I have complied with your cease and desist request in your Dec. 14 letter to me. I removed the article from public access on the evening of Dec. 14, along with social media links to the referenced. It will remain offline while I discuss the matter with my lawyer.
Meanwhile, I am requesting that GateHouse Media and Coastal ENC Group, their officers and representatives, cease and desist from misrepresenting the reason for my resignation from GateHouse Media, and cease and desist from disseminating private personnel records and information about me in violation of state and federal laws and your own company policy.
I expect a timely reply in which you explain steps that will be taking to satisfy my requests. Should I discover that this practice is continuing, I will seek an injunction against and damages from all appropriate parties for such misuse.
I certainly trust and expect that you will fully comply with your obligations to me under state and federal law and GateHouse Media policies, and that no legal action by me to protect my rights will be necessary. This letter sets forth my position on the matters contained herein and should not be deemed to restrict, prejudice, waive or limit any of my rights or remedies under contract, at law or in equity.
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.