by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
A recent audit centered around Rocky Mount uncovered some questionable fiscal behavior. Carolina Journal’s Don Carrington writes:
Several Rocky Mount officials prevented the city’s utility payment office from attempting to collect $47,704 Mayor Pro-Tem Andre Knight owed in past due utility bills.
That’s the main finding of an investigative report issued Friday, May 15, by N.C. State Auditor Beth Wood. Wood’s office opened the investigation after getting more than 200 complaints from its hotline alleging misconduct by elected officials and employees of the City of Rocky Mount.
City utility services include water, wastewater, electricity, and natural gas.
Former city managers Charles Penny and Steve Raper and a former finance director prevented the city’s Business Services Center staff from cutting off Knight’s utility services or using other collection tools. Instead, the staff started writing off the $47,704 Knight owed. Knight, whose payment problems date from 2003, owns residential and commercial property in Rocky Mount.
In May 2013, city officials wrote off $11,096 Knight owed. In March 2017, they wrote off $36,608. As of January 2020, Knight owed $2,989 to the city for utility services.
Outside of these findings, the report made several other discoveries:
- Several downtown development managers failed to follow program guidelines, resulting in $32,452 in uncollected loans and $28,000 in improperly awarded funds. The Enterprise reported that Councilman Rueben Blackwell managed property that was part of the uncollected downtown development funds.
- Former Mayor David Combs was a partner in a development company that got favorable treatment from the city’s Engineering Division. Violations from the city’s Code of Ordinances could cost the city $31,000.
- City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney failed to comply with the city’s travel policy, resulting in $1,575 in unallowable travel expenses. These included 23 occasions when her meal expenses were higher than the allowable rate.