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Taking the oath: Freeman sworn in as city manager

Montré Freeman’s tenure as city manager isn’t scheduled to start until next week, but Elizabeth City’s new top executive is already anxious to begin work.

Freeman was sworn in as Elizabeth City’s new city manager during City Council’s meeting Monday night.

Performing the honors was his wife, state District Court Judge Teresa Freeman, who administered the oath of office to her husband as their two children, Kingston, 3, and Maléah, 9, held a Bible. Teresa Freeman has been the district court judge in District 6, which includes Bertie, Halifax, Hertford and Northampton counties, since 2008, and just won re-election to a new term in November after running unopposed.

Freeman, formerly town manager of Enfield, in Halifax County, said he was proud to receive the oath of office from his wife.

“I can’t even put into words how proud I am of my wife and how proud I was to have her swear me in,” Freeman said Tuesday. “The feeling is still reverberating through me. I am still on cloud 1,000.’’

Freeman, the first ever African American hired as Elizabeth City’s city manager, will be paid $140,000 annually and has a two-year contract with the city.

Days after signing his contract in November, Freeman found a home in Elizabeth City and began the transition to his new position, saying he wanted to get his “boots on the ground.”

He said he and his family have spent the last several weeks exploring the city and he brought his last load of belongings to the couple’s home here on Sunday. Freeman said his wife and their children will spend the week at their home in Roanoke Rapids and the weekends in Elizabeth City.

“I have been helping my children with the adjustment,” Freeman said. “They are doing very well and they understand what is happening and why it is happening. They are looking forward to spending weekends here in Elizabeth City. We have assured them that we will always be as close as we have been and that this is a great opportunity.”

One spot Freeman has shown his children is the Elizabeth City State University campus, from which he graduated in 1996 with a degree in criminal justice. Freeman’s parents, William and Rosa, and twin brother, Monte, are also ECSU graduates and he said the family’s love for the city runs deep.

“We have taken them to visit some of the places that I went to here when I was back in college in the 1990s,” said Freeman, who played football and ran track for the Vikings. “I’ve showed them some of the new things, so it’s been a really good family experience and that has been our focus at this point.”

Freeman, who left Enfield on Dec. 31, took part in the recent hiring of new Public Utilities Director Dwan Bell in November.

Bell, who is also an ECSU graduate, brings 19 years of experience, including 17 in Elizabeth City’s Public Utilities Department and recent stints as public works director in the eastern North Carolina towns of Selma and Hertford, to the city.

“I really enjoyed the process that took place and it was very professional and very detailed,” Freeman said. “(Bell) is extremely knowledgeable and his knowledge was superior in those interviews.”

Freeman said he plans to meet with all city directors, city councilors and the mayor after he officially starts work on Tuesday.

“I am looking forward to meeting the entire organization,” Freeman said. “I will spend a great deal of my time, initially, just observing the organization and getting to know people.”

Freeman described his management style as “managing from the ground up.”

“I want them to know that I am here to serve them,” Freeman said. “Because I am the highest-ranking official, I have the abilities to remove stumbling blocks or challenges for people so they can go and do their best work for the city.”

To get to know councilors and the mayor better, Freeman said he is going to schedule socially-distanced “tea time with the manager” to discuss issues facing the city.

“I set a time with each council member and they can bring their tea or coffee,” Freeman said. “It will just be the two of us in the room and I will record what their initiatives are and what they want to see happen in the city.”

Local leaders encourage taking COVID vaccine

Some local African-American leaders are encouraging others in the community to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when they have an opportunity to get it.

Hezekiah Brown, who is active with 100 Black Men of Northeastern North Carolina Inc., said skepticism about the vaccine may be widespread among African Americans but certainly is not limited to them.

“It’s not just Black people, but there is a great deal of trepidation about the vaccine,” Brown said. “Some people say they want to wait and see what happens when other people take the vaccine and whether there are any negative effects.”

But Brown said he has none of that trepidation himself.

“I feel absolutely confident about it,” he said. “This is no longer just what the politicians are talking about but this is what the scientists say.”

Brown said he and his wife both received the vaccine Thursday at College of The Albemarle.

“We’re very happy about that,” he said of the opportunity to get their first dose of the vaccine.

“I would encourage the rest of the African-American community to get the vaccine,” Brown said.

A Pew Research Center study published last month showed Blacks “less inclined” to take the vaccine than any other racial group. According to NPR, who reported on the study, of the 12,648 adults surveyed, only 42% of Black Americans said they would consider taking the vaccine. That’s compared to 63% of Hispanics, 61% of white adults, and 83% of English-speaking Asian Americans who said they would take the vaccine.

The need for Blacks to get vaccinated is critical, health officials say. As of last month, data showed 48,000 Black Americans had died from the virus since the pandemic began. That same data also showed Black Americans are three times more likely to die from the virus than white Americans.

Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he has noticed “mixed emotions” among Black people about getting the COVID vaccine.

He said some of the skepticism toward the vaccine is rooted in African Americans’ particular history when it comes to treatment by the U.S. health system. Black men were once infected with syphilis without their consent or knowledge, and black women were, for decades, subjected to forced sterilization.

Both things happened not that long ago, Rivers noted.

Another challenge to getting people vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine is the difficulty of disseminating accurate health information in rural areas, he said.

“So a lot of it gets left to word of mouth,” Rivers said.

Rivers said he will be on a call this week with other NAACP leaders from eastern North Carolina about how to effectively put together a series of “safety nets” for residents. Those “safety nets” include not just the COVID vaccine but also support for Medicaid expansion, safe housing and mental health services.

“One of the hard things to do in northeastern North Carolina is going to be, how do we get that message out to a large audience?” Rivers asked.

Churches have traditionally been a good meeting place but with many churches now having to meet online because of COVID that’s not a possibility, he said.

Rivers said Elizabeth City State University is helping to disseminate accurate health information in the region and will be an important partner in the effort to help people get vaccinated.

Rivers said he and his wife plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and hopes others will follow suit.

“I would tell people that there are more reasons to get the vaccine than there are reasons why you should not get a vaccine,” he said.

He said he hopes the vaccine will reduce the severity of COVID-19 and prevent deaths from the respiratory disease.

Citizen demands apology from Camden board, doesn't get one

CAMDEN — Opponents of a large development planned in the South Mills area have objected to the way they say they were treated by county officials at a meeting in November — and one of them recently demanded an apology.

The controversy stems from a public hearing at the November regular meeting of the Camden Board of Commissioners. The board was considering a subdivision plan for large planned development known as South Mills Landing and a number of South Mills residents expressed strong opposition to the project, which commissioners approved at their meeting.

Since then, several of the citizens have complained that then-Commissioner Garry Meiggs, who is no longer on the board, made derogatory remarks about them during the public hearing. The statements apparently were made as asides and not directed at members of the public or intended for the public but nonetheless were picked up by microphones at the meeting.

Addressing commissioners during the Jan. 4 meeting, Taylor Inge said he wanted an apology from them for the way he, his mother and other citizens from the South Mills area were treated at the November board meeting.

He stood and waited for the apology.

When board Chairman Tom White reminded him of the board’s policy not to respond to members of the public who speak during the public comment period, Inge said he understood that but repeated he had come to hear an apology.

White repeated that commissioners would not respond and then told Inge that if he had nothing else to say he should sit down.

Inge again said he had come to hear an apology from commissioners.

White then instructed Sheriff Kevin Jones, who was attending the meeting, to remove Inge if he refused to sit down.

Inge stood at the podium for a few more seconds before sitting down. As he did so, he objected that he had not received the apology he had come to hear.

Mary Cherry Tirak also spoke during the Jan. 4 meeting’s public comment period. Tirak said she, too, was concerned about the way commissioners had spoken about Inge and others at the November meeting.

“That was very rude — very rude,” she said.

Tirak said she has addressed her concerns with Meiggs, the former commissioner. However, she said the other commissioners should not have allowed Meiggs to speak so rudely to citizens of the community.

Responding to questions from The Daily Advance about Inge’s concerns, Commissioner Randy Krainiak said he never heard any of the remarks in question during the November meeting.

“I did not hear what was said at that time and I had nothing to do with what was said,” Krainiak said. “People say things and other people retaliate. I would hope that all parties have given it thought and now wish things were different.”

The Daily Advance was unable to reach Meiggs for comment on this story.

Thompson, director of planning, terminated

Elizabeth City’s director of Community Development was terminated last month after less than a year on the job.

Interim City Manager Eddie Buffaloe confirmed Tuesday that he terminated Carter Thompson from her job on Dec. 9.

Asked why Thompson was terminated, Buffaloe only said “she was just terminated from employment.”

Thompson, who was being paid $78,000 annually, was on the job for only 11 months before her termination.

She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Buffaloe has named Debbie Malenfant, executive director of Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc., as the city’s interim Community Development director. Malenfant started Dec. 14 and will hold both positions until a permanent community development director is named.

Buffaloe said that he tabbed Malenfant for the interim position because ECDI and Community Development work closely together.

Community Development consists of three main departments: planning, code enforcement and building inspection.

“(Malenfant) is a good fit for the department and she can keep the continuity,” Buffaloe said.

Malenfant said she expressed a “little hesitation at first” on taking the interim director’s job at Community Development. However, her familiarity with the department led her to accept the role, she said.

“My normal full-time job is a full-time job,” Malenfant said. “But I will say there is a significant amount of overlap between what I do as executive director with Elizabeth City Downtown and what this department does. After looking at it, it made sense to do it on a temporary basis.”

Buffaloe said new City Manager Montré Freeman will lead the search for a new community development director, whose hiring City Council must approve. Freeman’s first day as city manager is Jan. 19.

“Mr. Freeman, once he takes over, will fill the position,” Buffaloe said.