'Rocky Mount needs to change:' Mayor reacts to state audit launched from hundreds of misconduct complaints

Monday, May 18, 2020
'Rocky Mount needs to change:' Mayor reacts to state audit launched from hundreds of misconduct complaints
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'Rocky Mount needs to change:' Mayor reacts to state audit launched from hundreds of misconduct complaints

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (WTVD) -- Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson is reacting to a state audit released Friday, which was launched after more than 200 complaints of misconduct by elected officials and city employees.

"Rocky Mount needs to change and we need to start right now, to rise above those misdeeds and become the city of excellence, which I know to be our birthright," Mayor Roberson said in a virtual news conference Monday.

Among the audit's findings:

  • A city council member never paid for nearly $48,000 in utility services, with multiple city officials preventing the collection of that money.
  • The engineering division didn't comply with the city's code of ordinances and that could cost the city $31,000.
  • Multiple Downtown Development Managers failed to follow program guidelines for the downtown roof replacement and building assistance programs, resulting in nearly $33,000 of uncollected loan payments and inappropriately awarded $28,000 in grants to ineligible recipients.
  • The city manager spent nearly $1,600 in unallowable travel expenses.

According to the report, the city argued she was allowed to exceed the rate because of her medical condition.

"You look back and you find that there are things like steak and lobster," North Carolina State Auditor Beth Wood said. "There were meals paid for by city council members and their spouses. None of that, none of that, has anything to do with a medical condition."

The incidents go back years. Mayor Roberson, who ran for office last year, said the audit shines light on many shortcomings of the city's leadership.

"What a waste of money in a poor city where the medium household income is only $37,400 and a third of our citizens are living in poverty," Mayor Roberson said. "We could have used that money to help our neighbors."

"You've elected people to be prudent spenders of taxpayer dollars of the sales taxes coming in or the property taxes coming in or the utility monies coming in and then when people don't react prudently and responsibly, they have nowhere to go," Wood said. "So the allegations are troubling to me that citizens are living in these towns and their elected officials are not behaving like citizens expect them to and they really have nowhere to go."

The mayor is asking for the city council member who didn't pay his utility bills to pay the money back and step down. He said he called for an emergency city council meeting Thursday.

"I am asking the city of Rocky Mount city council to immediately pass the following major reforms aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the citizenry in their government by operating in an open and transparent way," Mayor Roberson said.

He's asking city council members to sign a contract with the city of Rocky Mount.

Wood said they've referred some items to legal authorities. That opens the doors for agencies such as the SBI, FBI, DA's office, IRS or Department of Revenue to investigate and indict.

The state audit specifies corrective action that needs to be taken.

"What's the most important piece here is leadership, the tone at the top," Wood said. "What else might be going on if these things are being allowed to go on? What else might be going on and how can the citizens of Rocky Mount trust leaders who are behaving like this?"