Members of the new Board of Aldermen moments after taking their seats. They are, from left, Sabrina Bengel, Jamee Harris, Bobby Aster, Dana Outlaw, Johnnie Ray Kinsey, Barbara Best, and Jeffrey Odham. Post photo
Three of four new aldermen who took their seats on Dec. 12 bring with them enough experience that it would be inaccurate to call them rookies.
Sabrina Bengel, who bested incumbent Dallas Blackiston, boating instructor Tony Bonnici and a hard challenge by retired chemist Anne Schout, has a long history of community involvement, owns real estate and businesses downtown, and previously served on the Board of Aldermen as Ward 1 representative.
Bobby Aster, who ran unopposed, was New Bern’s long-time fire chief and was City Hall’s go-to guy whenever key positions needed someone to fill in on an interim basis, right up to and including city manager.
Barbara Best, the only newcomer on the board who also beat an incumbent (Bernard White), finished a 20-year career in City Hall as a tax clerk and, at one point, interim tax collector.
Jamee Harris, who ran unopposed for Victor Taylor’s old seat, is the only newcomer to City Hall service. She works as a Child Support counselor at Maximus Craven County Child Support Services. Her community involvement has ranged from serving as assistant treasurer for the NAACP to being a training coordinator for Sisters Work.
Here are their opening comments as they took their seats on the Board of Aldermen on Dec. 12:
Sabrina Bengel: “I do not take this lightly. I take this seriously and soberly.”
Dec. 12 marked the first time three women served on the Board of Aldermen in the city’s 307-year history. She pointed out that women make up 53.3 percent of New Bern’s population.
Issues drawing her focus include housing, neighborhoods, stormwater management, transparency and citizen involvement in the process. She said she never again wants to hear a citizen say he or she is afraid of dealing with the Board of Aldermen or City Hall.
“There is going to be a better New Bern because I am going to work myself to death,” she said.
Jameesha “Jamee” Harris: She described herself as young, educated and ambitious. Though least experienced of all the members on the board, she immediately charge, making several motions and seconding several others, plus introducing a resolution for the city to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment, then persuading members to adopt it unanimously.
Bobby Aster: Aster sought appointment to the board a year earlier, but the board appointed E.T. Mitchell to replace Pat Schaible, who had resigned.
He said his family went from pleading for him not to seek office, to being fully supportive of his quest to become an alderman.
“I’m going from being retired and not knowing what I’m going to do. I know exactly what I’m going to do now.”
Barbara Best: “Now it is my moral and ethical obligation to serve you. I will serve you with dignity and respect. Let’s work together to accomplish great things for this city.