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Nash GOP calls on Knight, Blackwell to resign Rocky Mount City Council seats

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NASHVILLE — The Nash County Republican Party is calling on its Democratic counterparts to seek the resignation of two Rocky Mount city councilmen in the aftermath of a critical state audit report detailing city hall malfeasance.

“Given the information in the state auditor’s report, it is clear that time has now come for the Nash County Democratic Party, the Edgecombe County Democratic Party, the N.C. Democratic Party, Gov. Roy Cooper, Sen. Toby Fitch, Rep. Shelly Willingham and Rep. James Gailliard to call on their fellow Democrats, Andre Knight and Reuben Blackwell, to resign their seats on the Rocky Mount City Council immediately,” Nash GOP Chairman Mark Edwards said in a Friday afternoon news release.

Willingham, an Edgecombe County Democrat, said he believes State Auditor Beth Wood and Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson colluded against Knight and Blackwell because they are black.

Wood’s report includes information on city officials writing off nearly $50,000 in unpaid utility bills for Knight and inappropriate grants for the Opportunities Industrialization Center, a nonprofit organization headed by Blackwell.

“The relevant law enforcement officials should evaluate and decide on the need to charge and prosecute any alleged crimes by city officials or employees,” Edwards said. “Any city council members or employees charged with a crime should have all of the protections afforded to accused criminals. However, outside of the criminal justice system, those of us in the world of politics must decide when the evidence is credible enough to warrant separating the good name of our political party with the scandalous actions of members of our party.”

The Nash County Democratic Party’s chair and vice chair didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment. Calls to Knight and Blackwell went unanswered.

All elected officials should always expect to be held to a higher standard than non-elected taxpayers in any level of government, said Nash County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robbie Davis, who is also a member of the local GOP executive committee.

“I have not yet reviewed the report in great detail, but we all know it will be the expectation from all taxpayers and utility customers of the city of Rocky Mount to see a very quick and precise action to correct all issues called out in the report,” Davis said. “If there are wrongdoings by anyone, they should be dealt with in a similar manner. This will begin the process of returning trust to the citizens of the Twin Counties area. Without this quick action, our area will suffer in many ways. One of the more damaging would be the ability to obtain any type of grants, which have been relied upon very heavily in the past.”

Davis said Wood referred to Rocky Mount as an icon of a city in eastern North Carolina and it should be all residents’ goal to return to that status as soon as possible.

Edwards said political parties don’t have control or disciplinary powers over elected officials. Party leaders can’t stop a candidate from filing to run for office in a party’s name. And parties don’t even have direct control of which nominees are selected in contested primaries. Voters, including unaffiliated voters who select partisan ballots under North Carolina’s open primary system, make that decision.

“Typically, political parties do not issue running commentary on the day-to-day decisions made by elected officials from our party,” Edwards said. “We are not obligated to criticize, rebuke or censure our elected officials for their every misstep or mistake. There are times, however, when elected officials engage in such inappropriate conduct that those officials should no longer enjoy the support of their political party.”