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Rocky Mount wrote off nearly $50K in councilman's unpaid utility bills

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ROCKY MOUNT — A city councilman hasn’t paid nearly $50,000 in utility bills accumulated since he took office 17 years ago, according to a city news release distributed ahead of a state audit report.

Andre Knight, elected in 2003, didn’t immediately return messages about the press release or state audit report that hasn’t yet been made public.

“According to Finding 1, multiple city officials prevented the Business Services Center from attempting to collect $47,704 in utility bills owed by a city council member,” according to a press release from Jessie Nunery, the city’s media relations specialist.

While the release doesn’t use Knight’s name, independent investigation by this newspaper has confirmed Knight is the subject of the finding. Knight represents Ward 1 on the council and is Rocky Mount’s mayor pro-tempore. 

The city’s finance director wrote off $47,704 in outstanding utility bills in 2013 and 2017, under the tenure of the former city manager, according to the release. The city manager during that time frame was Charles Penny.

The write-off amount the city reported did not have supporting documentation in the form of printable billings that verified the total amount. A true or even proximate value could never be reconciled to the amount that was reported to state auditors, and has never been substantiated by city staff or the state auditor, but was gleaned from a data dump performed by the city’s finance department, according to the press release.

The write-off in question was conducted by city finance management officials according to city procedures without interference from the city council or former city management, according to the release.

“It is not clear whether the (Office of the State Auditor) investigated, when informed, that the account in question was subject to possible manipulation by unauthorized city staff for a good portion of the time that the write-offs covered,” according to the statement. “There was no confirmation from city finance staff that could confirm the validity of the amount reported other than the data dump.”

During the same time period, several business and residential accounts were also written off. Staff also provided information on more than 30 accounts with delinquent balances with continuing active service. The press release states other customer accounts were managed in a similar manner without being investigated.