Editor’s Note: Here is an annotated list of the Perquimans Weekly’s most newsworthy stories of the 2020 through May. A story with the other part of 2020 will appear in the Jan. 6 edition.
Public records request reveals mayor’s purchases
Perquimans Weekly filed a public records request Jan. 16 to learn more about the purchase of $1,399 worth of furniture and related office accessories.
Town Hall responded by providing a list of the items purchased, photos and a memo from Mayor Earnell Brown explaining the reasons why the expenditures were made.
“Improved communication was one of my top priority campaign objectives,” Brown writes in the memo dated Jan. 6. “Hence, one of my first accomplishments after election, with then Mayor (Horace) Reid’s approval, was to set up my office to receive citizens, potential new residents and businesses, as to conduct effective meetings in a professional inspiring environment that encourages positive dialogue with all and to aspire our youth, through example, that they too can achieve their highest potential.”
List provided by Town Hall includes purchases of a desk, conference table, computer monitor, TV mount, file cabinet, bookcase, pencil drawer, carpet floor mat, dry erase board, printer, paper shredder, etc. Biggest purchases were the Bowery Hill Executive desk for $456 (price includes tax and shipping) and a 42-inch wooden conference table for $227. Prior to the purchases, the mayor’s office was a very simple, Spartan place filled with the bare essentials – a desk, a trio of 70s’ era chairs, a bookshelf – space reminiscent of a junior grade army officer’s staff office when serving in a far flung theater of operations.
Brown’s memo that echoes what she said to council during a back and forth dialogue she was having with Councilmen Frank Norman and Quentin Jackson, who first brought the matter to the public’s attention during the Jan. 6 work session. Brown defeated Jackson’s bid for mayor in the Nov. 5 municipal election in 2019.
Subsequently, there had been some question as to whether Brown would be able to take the oath as mayor and Jerry Mimlitsch along with Ashley Hodges would be able to take their oaths as new council members.
Soon after the election, Jackson sought an injunction to halt the new council from being sworn-in so as to have more time to address his issues from November’s municipal election when he lost his bid for mayor. However, a Wake County Court dismissed Jackson’s attempts to overturn the election, so the mayor and new councilmen were sworn-in Dec. 6.
During this contentious time period, Brown submitted a list of items on Nov. 14 for purchase to Town Manager Pam Hurdle, according to the mayor’s memo. Jackson, who was then serving as mayor pro-tem, tried to block the purchase. Mayor Reid intervened and approved the requisition of the furniture and office accessories.
Town Council OKs Travel Policy, Lifts Spending Freeze
Hertford Town Council discussed a litany of items intended to improve local government that includes revisions to the town hall’s travel policy, adopting an ethics policy and lifting the spending moratorium. Town’s travel policy had been under fire after council members traveled to conferences at various locales last year.
Perquimans Weekly filed a public records request that showed how thousands of taxpayers dollars were spent on a trip to a conference in San Antonio.
Approved at Feb. 13 council meeting, the travel policy provides more clarity and accountability.
“The updated policy aims to improve the transparency and consistency with which Council travel is requested, estimated, approved, performed and expensed,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ashley Hodges, who drafted the revised policy. “The previous policy was adequate for regional trips to perhaps Raleigh or Greensboro, and frankly when travel costs were in the single digit thousands for the entire year folks probably didn’t care much about where their councilors stayed or how they got there. However, as this Council looks to bring new ideas and innovations to Hertford, there will almost certainly be the need to travel beyond our regional or even state borders, so we needed a policy that would ensure we’re doing so in the most fiscally responsible and transparent way possible.”
The revised travel policy provides guidance for Town Hall when making decisions about how best to spend public funds.
Also, council has lifted the spending moratorium and travel ban that had been in place since November so as to review financial data.
And council approved an ethics policy drafted by Mayor Earnell Brown, a document that would a strong echo in December.
“Hertford did not have an Ethics Policy and we felt it was needed as the impetus for the governing board’s Rules of Procedures, which I am writing for governing board’s approval,” she said. “It was considered important to develop the Ethics Policy and implementing procedures to guide the actions of the Council in the performance of official duties. They were developed in accordance with the NC General Statutes.”
Applying language from General Statutes needed to craft Hertford’s Ethics Policy, these policies have been adopted in municipalities great and small so as to ensure that town officials exercise their authority honestly and fairly, free from impropriety, threats, favoritism and undue influence.
To this end, the town’s ethics policy seeks to ensure that standards of ethical conduct and standards regarding conflicts of interest are clearly established for elected and appointed officials, that the Town Hall continually educates these officials on matters of ethical conduct and conflicts of interest, that potential and actual conflicts of interests.
Perquimans Farm Bureau Wins Award
Perquimans County Farm Bureau was recently named the winner of the 2019 County of Excellence Award, Division 3. The county organization was judged North Carolina Farm Bureau’s most effective in its membership class in implementing programs, services and activities that build active county Farm Bureaus and fulfill the mission of the organization.
“This award is presented to the county that executed the best all-around effort for the year, and Perquimans County Farm Bureau represented the best of what Farm Bureau stands for and strives to achieve through its grassroots structure,” said Larry Wooten, NCFB past president.
Schools Prepare to Cope with Closure
Perquimans Board of Education and school administrators met in a special meeting March 16 to discuss a plan of action for coping with the aftershocks from closing schools due to precautions taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Though schools statewide were closed until March 27, planning was underway to provide meals and access to technology that will facilitate learning for what may be a long time away from classrooms.
“As we plan for the specifics, let us remember why we closed the schools,” Perquimans Board of Education Chairwoman Anne White said. “We didn’t just close the schools for two weeks just to close them. We have a virus – the numbers are continuing to escalate. The deaths are continuing to escalate, so the key word should be the safety of our students, staff, faculty – everybody – in our community.”
Turner asked teachers and staff to prepare for the days to come.
“This has been difficult and a little bit stressful on staff, but we have a great group of people who are pulling together and doing what we need to do to serve our children,” she said.
Mayor Brown: ‘We Are In This Battle’
Starting March 21, Hertford Town Council was providing lunches prepared by McDonalds and Captain Bob’s to ensure not only that people had a hot meal, but to support our local businesses.
“The Coronavirus is affecting us all in one way or another,” Mayor Earnell Brown said. “It is giving us time to to be alert, safe, reflect, be kind to ourselves and others. It is bringing the township together, causing us to break down barriers with acts of kindness and open communications. Grateful we have no infected citizens in Hertford, the Town Council wants to proactively reach out and let our citizens know that we care about their continued well-being. We are actively identifying ways to help our neighbors and loved ones.”
Working together, these dedicated public servants delivered 395 meals and 200 Happy Meals in 48 minutes that day.
ARHS Confirms COVID-19 Case in PQ
The first lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 in Perquimans County was reported Friday by Albemarle Regional Health Services. ARHS reported that Health Director R. Battle Betts Jr. had received notification of the case in Perquimans. The health agency did not identify the person, saying only they are in isolation.
The Perquimans resident is the eighth person in the region to test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. By year’s end, the county would have 475 confirmed cases – of that total there were 395 recovered cases with 75 active cases and five deaths.
Audit Findings Addressed
State Treasurer’s Office analyzed an audit that revealed “serious operational problems” within the Town of Hertford’s finances during the past fiscal year. Town Hall responded to these concerns by implementing a corrective plan of action that includes policy changes.
Prepared by Jeff Best, a certified public accountant based in Belhaven, the Town’s annual audit was sent in January – three months after the Oct. 31 due date and seven months after 2018/19 fiscal year ended in June – to the Treasurer’s office, specifically to the State and Local Government Finance Division and the Local Government Commission, according to documents obtained by the Perquimans Weekly.
In April, Town Hall responded to the Treasurer’s Office concerns by providing the policies and procedures that address the deficiencies from the audit, according to documents obtained by the Perquimans Weekly.
Among the highlights of the audit, Treasurer’s office noted various material weaknesses concerning the Town’s internal controls regarding credit card usage and purchasing policy.
Citizens Question Hertford’s Budget
Hertford Town Council’s budget for fiscal year 2020/21 called for a 18 percent property tax hike to balance a budget that is smaller than fiscal year 2019/20 fiscal year. Also, budget proposal calls for a 36 percent water/sewer rate increase
Citizens’ concerns portion of Hertford Town Council meeting did not disappoint those dedicated viewers who watched May 11 meeting via Zoom. Martha Borders and Sara Winslow asked tough questions about Town Hall’s proposed budget for 2020/21 that sought answers about everything from a hike in travel allowances to departmental wish lists.
Council was working through the draft budget proposal of more than $9.6 million that increases spending by at least $2.6 million – if there are no modifications – from 2019’s budget of around $7 million.
Charter School Takes Shape in PQ County
Elaine Riddick Charter School was poised to open its doors for the first time in the fall. The school sought students grades K-3 to enroll at the new school located at 1054 Harvey Point Road. School leaders met recently with the State Board of Education Charter School Advisory Committee to discuss their plans.
Committee told school administrators to return in June to provide an update on progress as to meeting enrollment goals, hiring a teaching staff and completing other pressing issues related to the facility’s needs that demand attention before any school bells can ring in the fall.
According to the charter school’s web site, the school is a North Carolina State Board of Education approved, tuition free, public charter school scheduled to open in August 2020.
Located on five acres of land, the 22,500 square foot facility needed upgrades associated with education needs, zoning approvals and a certificate of occupancy so as to accommodate a school, according to documents obtained by the Perquimans Weekly.
A design firm had been hired to facilitate obtaining an educational certificate of occupancy which the school hopes to obtain by July 1.
The school’s enrollment goal was about 120 students, but recruitment was affected by COVID-19 state of emergency.