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.