The concrete front steps at New Bern City Hall is the first obstacle for people with mobility issues. Google Street View image
For those with mobility issues who want to attend a Board of Aldermen meeting, the seven steps they have to climb to reach the front door at New Bern City Hall is just the beginning of a perilous journey.
Those seven concrete steps get you barely a third of the way to the second-floor room where the board meets.
I’m thinking that there are one of two thoughts that cross people’s minds when they want to attend a Board of Aldermen meeting in New Bern: What a lovely City Hall, or, how in the world am I going to climb those stairs?
City Hall, built in 1889 as a federal courthouse and repurposed as New Bern’s center of government, is about as out-of-compliance from the American’s With Disabilities Act as Marine Boot Camp.
The Board of Aldermen meet in a large room called the courtroom (because it really was a courtroom) on the second floor, reached by two flights of hardwood stairs. There is no elevator.
Because of the historic nature of the building, the cost to retrofit it, and the damage a retrofit would do to the building’s structure, City Hall has been exempted from some ADA requirements and instituted workarounds to enable wheelchair-bound citizens to have access if they call in advance.
City Hall has a special device with which a city worker basically drags a wheelchair-bound person up the stairs. It could make for an unsettling ride, and a lot of people with mobility issues simply avoid meetings or watch them on TV.
Richard Friend, a former Rhode Island attorney, brought up the issue during the Board of Aldermen meeting on Dec. 12. He joins a chorus of people who have brought up the issue over the years. But two things irked him about that meeting.
First, because it was the meeting when new aldermen were sworn in, there was a rare over-capacity situation and virtually all the public seats in the courtroom were reserved and taken up by family and friends of incoming aldermen.
“These meetings are supposed to be open to the public, not reserved seats,” Friend scolded board members during the Public Comments portion of the meeting. “If there is overflow, you need to move the meeting to a more accessible site.”
The other irksome thing was longer term, and that was the ADA-accessibility issue.
“This meeting is being held in violation of ADA requirements,” he said. Even the phone number a handicapped person can call for assistance to reach the courtroom doesn’t count according to ADA rules, he said. He urged City Hall to fix the problem.
“It’s much easier to do it voluntarily,” he said.
As a rule, city staff, aldermen and the mayor don’t respond or take action during the Public Comments portion of the meeting, presumably because the comments are unexpected and unagendized and city hall officials are unprepared. (Note: the same considerations don’t apply to the “New Business” portion of meetings, but I digress.) Thus, Richard Friend’s comments received no response.
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.
Alderman Sabrina Bengel takes the oath of office after being selected mayor pro tem. Alderman Jeff Odham is in the background. The two sit on opposite sides of the dais and, judging from their first meeting Tuesday, are on opposite sides of other things, too.
Former New Bern mayor Lee Bettis will have his name restored to a fire truck the Board of Aldermen authorized to buy during his last meeting as mayor but the subsequent board ordered removed because he was convicted of crimes.
Ward 1 Alderman Sabrina Bengel, using the New Business portion of the meeting that she has complained about on her weekly radio program, made a motion to restore Bettis’ name to the 2014 Sutphen Quint aerial ladder fire truck. Ward 2 Alderman Jameesha Harris seconded the motion, and it passed on a 4-2 vote, with one “undecided.”
Ward 3 Alderman also Bobby Aster and Ward 5 Alderman Barbara Best voted for Bengel’s motion. Mayor Dana Outlaw and Ward 6 Alderman Jeff Odham voted against it. Ward 4 Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey said he was undecided.
The decision was among the least important but easily most controversial during the new board’s first meeting for newly elected aldermen Bengel, Harris, Aster, and Best.
Outlaw, Odham, and Kinsey were among the six board members who voted to remove Bettis’ name in October 2014 on Odham’s motion.
“I don’t think there is any need to go into any great detail — anyone who has been watching the news lately knows about the unfortunate events of our past mayor,” Odham was quoted at the time in the Sun Journal newspaper. “…When I think about this vehicle attending great community functions and, most importantly, schools, I don’t think it is appropriate, considering the circumstances, that (the fire truck) bear the name of the former mayor.”
Bettis was taking medication for a hip replacement when he was arrested May 6, 2013.
A Breathalyzer test administered to Bettis was negative, but a blood test found traces of Xanax, a prescription drug used to treat anxiety and panic disorder. Bettis was on his way to work and taking his stepchildren to school when he was stopped by Havelock police after being observed by other motorists driving erratically.
Bettis was charged with DWI, reckless driving and misdemeanor child abuse. On Oct. 15, 2013, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail. He was serving his jail sentence when the board voted to remove his name from the $800,000 ladder truck.
Aster, a retired New Bern fire chief who also plays a key volunteer role in the New Bern Firemen’s Museum, said New Bern has a 150-plus-year tradition of putting the names of mayors on fire engines acquired during their terms. The ladder truck that once bore Bettis’ name is the only truck in New Bern, either on active duty with the Fire Department or on display at the museum, that does not bear a mayor’s name.
“It’s all about tradition,” Aster said. “It’s only right that we put it back.”
Outlaw blamed Aster for the controversy in the first place, saying Aster ordered the truck to include Bettis’ name from the factory without Board of Aldermen approval. Outlaw said decisions like that should be based on formal policies, and that the city ought to develop a formal policy on whether and how to name city fire trucks.
He said some cities sell the naming rights to fire trucks.
Aster replied that there likely is a written policy regarding naming fire trucks, but at any rate it was not an action that required Board of Aldermen approval in the past. Plus, he added, “I don’t think the city is ready for a Bojangles fire truck.”
Alderman Odham rehashed his original arguments for removing Bettis’ name, and said traditions change.
“Unfortunately, we’re simply going back to the way it used to be,” he said.
Later, after the vote and during his own time during New Business, Odham said Bengel’s move was out of line and ironic, considering her previous opposition as a radio host to aldermen making binding decisions during the New Business portion of the meetings.
Meanwhile, Bettis, in a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday morning, said:
“Truly from the bottom of my heart … thank you very much for putting my name back on the fire truck. Not that it was a huge deal but it was symbolic for the city of New Bern for the first vote that they took for four aldermen to stand up and say hey we’re putting an end for Mr. Outlaw’s and Mr. Odham’s era of hate and politics by bullying. They are four strong, independent aldermen, and that’s what this city needs.
“The group-think that has prevailed over the past four years is over.”
Bengel and Bettis host a radio program called CityTalk that focuses heavily on City Hall and what the Board of Aldermen do or don’t do. The two started the program shortly after they left office in 2013, Bengel as a former alderman who ran unsuccessfully for mayor, and Bettis, who did not run for reelection for mayor.
The squabble followed an otherwise stately couple of Tuesday meetings, the first involving the old board with its four out-going aldermen (Dallas Blackiston, Victor Taylor, E.T. Mitchell, and Bernard White), then a swearing-in ceremony that included state dignitaries, followed by a robust but uncontroversial second meeting that included the new members.
But the rivalry between Bengel and Outlaw kindled when the two ran for mayor in 2013, well, apparently that’s still a thing. And with Bengel leading the charge, all the new board members voted one way, with all the incumbents voting the other.
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.
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.
Action on a proposal for the city to sign a $1.25 million contract with a software company to integrate the city’s various departments’s computer systems was postponed by the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday evening because key city officials were missing from the meeting.
Aldermen Victor Taylor and Jeffrey Odham were not at the meeting, nor was City Manager Mark Stephens. The proposal led to a flurry of discussion on Facebook about a reportedly similar system in Elizabeth City.
On the Citizens of New Bern Facebook page, there was a lively exchange about the proposed system upgrade between Buddy Bengal (a local businessman and son of alderman-elect Sabrina Bengel) and Alderman Jeffrey Odham.
I’ll let Facebook take it from here:
Wrote “Buddy” Bengal to Odham: What is your justification for purchasing this system as opposed to upgrading the existing system? Did you speak to or visit other electric utilities of our size that have deployed this system and what was the result? Finally what resources has you planned to maintain this new system in the IT area? Based on the meeting where the ast City Mgr justified the 450k purchase. She proposed that they would reduce IT staff to recoup the expense. Now the bid is 1.3 million, and new ERP systems actually required dedicated IT resources to function. Based on that, there will be no reduction in staffing. Do you not feel there should be more due diligence on this project before it is voted on?
Odham replied: Buddy Bengel are you simply wanting this tabled until your mom and those you helped during the campaign can vote on it? If so, just say so. But for the last four years all I’ve heard is “trust staff”, “staff are the professionals”, “support staff”, “don’t micromanage” (I think you get the point). So what’s interesting on the very issues that we follow that advice (deposits, road diet, parking garage), it’s turned around on the board.
I’d have no problem tabling this until the new board gets in office. The current system came in on floppy disks so I’m sure waiting a little bit longer won’t shut us down. But if that’s what you all want, I’d suggest you petition the other members of the board.
Bengal replied: Jeffrey Odham Im flattered you think so highly of my influence. You should trust staff, but you of all people should understand that its your job to question the staff. I never said anything about tabling it. Im just asking questions of you and if any of the other board members were as active as you are in social media, I would include them as well. Do you care to comment on the questions that I asked.
Odham replied: I met with the city manager of Elizabeth City this morning and had a great conversation about their transition. He said their struggles were primarily based on personnel, not the software. However, there were some limitations with the particular platform they were trying to implement. He said (before I even told him which one we were looking at), that Tyler Technologies was the “Cadillac” choice and if he had the resources, that’s what he would go with. Guess what? That’s the system we are looking to implement. Additionally, I met with a representative from Tyler Technologies. The software program we are looking to implement is the best-in-class when it comes to municipal software. Lastly, we already have other suites of this in other departments (planning, police, etc.) So this would help synergize our overall operation.