Last year, Food Bank of the Albemarle canceled its chief fundraiser because of COVID-19 concerns. This year’s Empty Bowls of the Albemarle luncheon was held Wednesday, and it appears COVID-19 may have affected attendance.
Liz Reasoner, the Food Bank’s executive director, described turnout at Wednesday’s luncheon as “light” and said COVID-19 likely discouraged participation. She noted that a considerable number of residents who support the Food Bank are retirees who may still be cautious about attending large gatherings because of COVID.
While not as many people attended Wednesday’s luncheon as Food Bank officials had hoped, Reasoner was thankful for the many who did. About 155 people bought tickets and attended the luncheon.
“We’re grateful for those who came out,” she said.
This year’s Empty Bowls raised about $19,000, a bit short of the Food Bank’s goal of $25,000. Reasoner was still pleased, though, pointing out that for every $1 raised, the Food Bank can provide four meals to the area’s 48,000 food-insecure residents.
Empty Bowls began Tuesday evening with a preview party and silent auction at Museum of the Albemarle. Ticketholders got to sample several different soups prepared and donated by local restaurants. For instance, The Mills Downtown served up a black bean and andouille sausage soup and Firehouse Subs contributed a loaded baked potato soup.
Wednesday’s luncheon was held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the museum’s portico.
Tamara Blowe and Iryn Meekins were among Wednesday’s attendees enjoying soup samples they said were really tasty.
Meekins was having a navy bean and ham soup made by Blue Ruby.
“It was really good,” she said.
Blowe was having the chicken and pastry soup provided by Currituck BBQ Company.
Both said they were attending Empty Bowls for the first time.
“I like it,” Blowe said of the event.
“It’s fun,” her friend replied.
Tuesday’s silent auction raised $2,375 and a 50/50 raffle raised another $1,550. Reasoner said the woman who won the 50/50 raffle donated her share — $775 — back to the Food Bank. Additional funds are provided by a host of area corporate sponsors.
The soup was served by area “celebrities” like College of The Albemarle President Jack Bagwell and Elizabeth City State University Chancellor Karrie Dixon. Other celebrity servers included Elizabeth City deputy police chief James Avens Jr.; Bill Blake, director of Albemarle Area United Way; and Deborah Malenfant, executive director for Elizabeth City Downtown Inc.
Empty Bowls raises money for the Food Bank through the sale of tickets to the two-day event. Each ticket sold can provide as many as 100 meals, and each ticketholder gets to take home a bowl that was handmade by either a local artist and or school art student.
The money raised goes toward supporting more than 150 food and nutrition programs the Food Bank provides in its 15-county service area.
The featured pottery artist for this year’s Empty Bowls was Jerry Murray, who made more than 300 bowls, including some larger items that will be sold in a silent auction.
The Albemarle Drug Task Force recently arrested four city residents and was seeking a fifth following a drug operation that resulted in the seizure of a firearm and large amounts of cocaine and fentanyl.
Task force agents executed search warrants at 1320 Horner Street and 310 S. Dyer Street, a press release from the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday states. The release doesn’t state when the operation took place, but several of those arrested were transported to jail either on Sept. 21 or Sept. 23, according to Albemarle District Jail records.
During the drug operation, agents confiscated 50 grams of fentanyl and 80 grams of cocaine, the release states. They also arrested four people the task force said “are responsible for the distribution of fentanyl and cocaine in the Pasquotank County/Elizabeth City area.”
Those arrested include Jermaine Armstrong, 28, of the 1300 block of Horner Street, who was charged with possession with intent to sell/deliver schedule II of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was jailed on Sept. 23 in lieu of a $60,000 secured bond. He was released the same day after posting bond, jail records show.
Also arrested was Alan Mitchell, 40, of the 500 block of East Broad Street. He was charged with possession with intent to sell/deliver schedule II of a controlled substance, maintaining a place to store a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. He, too, was confined at Albemale District Jail on Sept. 23 but released the same day after posting a $15,000 secured bond, jail records show.
A third suspect, Deanna Evans, 32, of the 400 block of N. Road Street, was charged with possession with intent to sell/deliver schedule II of a controlled substance. According to jail records, she was admitted to the jail on Sept. 21 and released on Sept. 22 after posting her $3,000 secured bond.
A fourth suspect, Ronald Dashiell, was served two warrants on Monday for possession with intent to sell/deliver schedule II of a controlled substance. According to jail records, he remains in custody in lieu of a $363,000 secured bond.
The task force is seeking a fifth suspect, Miguel Williams, who has outstanding warrants for possession with intent to sell/deliver schedule II of a controlled substance. Task force officials asked anyone who knows of Williams’ whereabouts to call the Pasquotank County Crimeline at 252-355-5555.
According to the press release, the five suspects could face additional state and federal charges.
The Albemarle Drug Task Force is composed of law enforcement officers from the Elizabeth City Police Department, Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation. The task force investigates the sale and distribution of illegal drugs/narcotics in the area.
Ralph Clark is planning to call them as he sees them when he becomes the Elizabeth City’s interim city manager Monday.
“I have no fear,” Clark said, referring to City Council. “The worst thing that they can do is send me home and I can go back to playing golf again.”
Clark, who served as city manager from 1991 to 1995, will replace Public Safety Director Eddie Buffaloe, who was named acting city manager on Aug. 23 after City Council put former manager Montre Freeman on paid leave. City Council terminated Freeman without cause on Sept. 30.
Buffaloe has since been nominated by Gov. Roy Cooper to serve as the new secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety. Buffaloe’s last day with the city is Oct. 31.
Clark, who lives in New Bern, will be paid $75 an hour, receive lodging at a city bed and breakfast, and be given $18 per day to spend on dinner. He said he plans on working four days a week, likely Monday through Thursday.
Clark said permanent city managers often have to hold back on what they say to their governing board out of fear for their job. But he said that won’t be the case when he assumes the position.
“You are able to express yourself a little more freely than you actually can when you are making a living doing it,” Clark said. “Sometimes things need to be said that a manager doing it for a living, that has a family to feed, wouldn’t say for the fear of losing the job.”
City Council selected Clark from among several different interim manager candidates on a 4-3 vote Monday. Councilors Billy Caudle, Jeannie Young, Michael Brooks and Chris Ruffieux all voted to hire Clark. Councilors Darius Horton, Johnnie Walton and Kem Spence voted against the move.
Only seven councilors voted because of Second Ward Councilman Gabriel Adkins’ resignation from council on Oct. 4.
That split vote came after City Council held a spirited discussion about past meetings leading up to Freeman’s dismissal.
While that discussion was taking place Monday night, Clark entered the back door of council chambers and asked when he was going to be interviewed for the interim position.
“It was late and I said, ‘Look, folks, I got two hours (drive) to get home,’” Clark said.
Clark said the discord among City Council didn’t “start with this council” but it is something that has to be fixed. He said his goal is to create unity among elected officials.
“I got just a little whiff of the division the other night,’’ Clark said. “It’s something that I expressed to them that had to be corrected if they expect to move forward. How it happens, I don’t know. Hopefully, I can say some things that a (permanent) manager couldn’t say so they can see their divisions.”
Clark said one of his proudest accomplishments as Elizabeth City’s city manager during his previous tenure was stopping City Council from transferring money from fund balance to balance the city budget.
“That was the worst thing I had to deal with,” Clark said. “You can’t do that. As an example, if you take out of your savings account every month, eventually it is going to go dry. They were not putting anything into the savings account, they were taking out of it.”
When Clark left Elizabeth City for the manager’s position in Clayton, it was his third stint in the town. When asked by city councilors here why he was returning to Clayton, Clark said he told them, “I thought the grass was greener.”
Clark said Clayton had grown from around 1,600 people the first time he was there to around 6,000 the second time and then to around 10,000 when he went back in 1995.
Pasquotank Board of Commissioners Chairman Lloyd Griffin was serving on City Council while Clark was city manager. He said Tuesday he’s “glad” Clark is returning as interim manager.
“When he was here, Ralph Clark identified areas of problems, concerns and put in place corrective actions,” Griffin said. “Clark has been around and hopefully he can identify problems and come up with some solutions.”
Elizabeth City will be Clark’s sixth assignment as an interim manager in the past several years. Clark’s other stops as a permanent manager also include Roxboro and Kinston.
Clark anticipates the search for a permanent city manager will take between four and six months.
“These search firms can do it pretty quickly,” Clark said.
Clark retired from public administration in 2007 and then spent several years working for an engineering firm. Clark then asked the N.C. League of Municipalities to be put in a pool of former managers that would be willing to take on interim roles.
“I wasn’t ready to quit work,” Clark said.
Since then, Clark has had interim manager roles in Ahoskie, Morehead City, Wallace and Rose Hill. He is just coming off a stint as the interim town manager in Apex.
“They have been really neat, and it’s a great feeling to go in someplace and use your experience to do some things,” Clark said. “It’s been a rewarding situation and I continue to do it.’’
The 1st Judicial District’s newest judge switched her political party registration from Democrat to Republican one week after being appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and one day after she was sworn in.
District Court Judge Jennifer Karpowicz Bland switched parties on Sept. 3, according to Dare County Board of Elections records.
That’s a week after Cooper appointed her on Aug. 27 to fill a vacant seat created by his appointment of District Court Judge Eula Reid to a Superior Court judgeship and a day after Bland, a former assistant district attorney, was sworn in Sept. 2 and took her seat on the bench.
“I’ve always been conservative,” Bland said when asked recently about her party switch. “I also believe Republicans have strong values when it comes to the military and law enforcement. It’s the party that best represents my values.”
Bland noted that her father served in the military for 20 years, including a deployment during the Persian Gulf War.
Voting records show Bland had been a registered Democrat since 2004 and voted in at least five Democratic primaries, as well as general and municipal elections in Kill Devil Hills where she lives.
Bland said she had two interviews with Cooper prior to her appointment, and her political views never came up. Instead, she and Cooper discussed her “values about law enforcement” and her judgment, she said.
“We had conversations about my judgment, not about my political values,” Bland said. “My political values are not going to enter into my judgments” from the bench.
Bland doesn’t believe Cooper appointed her because of her political affiliation.
“I feel that he appointed me based on my experience, not because of my political party, and because I’m going to be a fair and impartial judge,” she said.
Bland acknowledged not contacting Cooper’s office about her party switch before making it. She said she had tried to contact the governor’s office afterward but had not yet received a call back.
When he appointed Bland to the court vacancy in late August, Cooper said in a statement that Bland “has served this community well throughout her legal career,” and added that he was “thankful for her willingness to step up and serve as a judge in our state.”
Asked recently for comment about Bland’s party switch, Jordan Monaghan, Cooper’s press secretary, suggested it was the fruit of GOP lawmakers’ move to make all state judicial seats partisan.
“Making North Carolina judicial races partisan was wrong when the General Assembly did it in 2015 and when they did it again over the Governor’s veto in 2017,” Monaghan said in a statement. “It’s still wrong now. The Governor expects judicial appointees to run and serve with integrity and to follow the law.”
Told of the press secretary’s statement, Bland said she agrees that judgeships should be non-partisan.
“I fully support having non-partisan judgeships,” she said. “Judgeships should not be partisan. We take an oath to defend the Constitution. We do not allow our political opinions to sway our judgments.”
Bland, 41, worked in the District Attorney’s Office for 13 years prior to her appointment to the District Court bench. She’s only the fourth woman ever to serve as a judge in the 1st Judicial District which includes Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, Gates, Chowan, Perquimans and Dare counties.
Bland said she sought the judicial appointment because she considered it “a different avenue for serving the community” than her previous work as a prosecutor.
When she was sworn in by Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett, the Manteo courtroom was filled with Bland’s family, friends, former co-workers in the District Attorney’s Office, and law enforcement officers. Also attending were Bland’s husband, Lamont, and their 5-year-old daughter, who held the Bible as Bland recited her judicial oath of office.
A 1998 graduate of Manteo High School, Bland earned her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2002 and her law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008.