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Rocky Mount mayor: 4 council members refusing to attend emergency meeting

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ROCKY MOUNT — Mayor Sandy Roberson on Tuesday confirmed the identity of a councilman revealed to be the recipient of city officials’ preferential treatment over unpaid utility bills.

Andre Knight, the city’s mayor pro-tem, benefited from years of write-offs of unpaid electric, water and sewer bills totalling $47,704, according to a report released last week by N.C. State Auditor Beth Wood.

“We are at a crossroads for this city,” Roberson said in announcing a special meeting set for 2 p.m. Thursday.

Knight and three fellow council members are refusing to attend the meeting, according to a statement Roberson issued on Tuesday evening.

Roberson said he called the meeting to discuss findings in the hard-hitting report and to regain city residents’ trust. 

Knight and council members T.J. Walker, Richard Joyner and Chris Miller have declined to attend without providing a reason, Roberson said.

Councilman Reuben Blackwell hasn’t made his intentions known, Roberson said.

That leaves Councilmen Lige Daughtridge and W.B. Bullock left to attend and draws into question whether the council will have a quorum to conduct business.

Section 34 of the city’s municipal code states, “A majority of the members elected to the City Council shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a less number may adjourn from time to time and compel the attendance of absent members by ordering them to be taken into custody.”

Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, council members can attend meetings in person or via videoconference through Microsoft Teams. 

Rocky Mount police officers served each council member with formal notice of Thursday’s emergency meeting on Tuesday. 

“I find it hard to believe that these four council members are not willing to take an hour to discuss steps on how we, as a council, are going to better serve our community,” Roberson said. “I ask that people who live in each of these wards urge them to attend and do the job they were elected to do.”

Calls to Knight, Miller and Walker went unanswered Tuesday night. Joyner answered the phone, but declined to comment.

The audit has sparked simultaneous cries for Knight to resign and claims of racially motivated collusion to oust Knight, an outspoken black leader. Knight serves as president of the local NAACP organization.

State Rep. Shelly Willingham, an Edgecombe County Democrat, has accused Wood and Roberson of collusion.

Wood, who said she hadn’t even met Roberson until Monday afternoon, said any accusation of racism is unfounded. Wood said she has irrefutable evidence of Knight’s overdue utility bill write-offs.

The Nash County Republican Party has called on Democratic leaders to ask Knight and Blackwell to resign.

Blackwell’s nonprofit Opportunities Industrialization Center inappropriately received city grants, according to the audit report.

While Willingham has offered his opinion, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Nash County native, and state Rep. James Gailliard, who serves a portion of Nash County including Rocky Mount, haven’t returned messages about the matter.

Tarrick Pittman, a Rocky Mount businessman, lost to Knight in last year’s municipal election for the city’s Ward 1 council seat. Pittman took to Twitter on Tuesday to ask U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield to weigh in on the situation.

Since claims of racism have been leveled, this newspaper is identifying the race of officials involved. On the city council: Roberson, Miller, Daughtidge and Bullock are white; Knight, Blackwell, Walker and Joyner are black.

Among state officials, Wood and Cooper are white; Willingham and Gailliard are black.

Butterfield is black, as is Pittman.

Rocky Mount’s population is 62.9% black, 28.8% white and 3.91% Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.