Three residents who frequently address the City Council during the public input phase of council regular meetings gave their opinions amid a former municipal employee’s claims of having been sexually harassed by Elton Daniels when he was the parks and recreation director.
The Rev. Nehemiah Smith lambasted those who want City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney out of office, while Nathlyn Ohree praised Small-Toney and Samuel Battle stated his frustrations about the council.
The three spoke during Monday’s council regular meeting.
The former employee, Jacqueline Barnes, is claiming that Daniels sought sexual gratification from her and that, after she unsuccessfully complained to the city, Daniels retaliated against her. Daniels is presently an assistant city manager.
Small-Toney has been a subject of debate in part because of departures of key municipal officials since she was hired in 2017 and in part because of State Auditor Beth Wood in 2020 saying she allegedly spent taxpayer funds on unallowable travel expenses and disregarded established municipal policy regulating spending while traveling.
Additionally, developer Troy Davis twice last month called for Small-Toney to step aside or be fired by the council because he said he and others are fed up with what they believe has been a lack of leadership by her.
Smith said Monday at the speaker’s podium that there is a call afoot for Small-Toney’s head on a platter and an incessant cry from what he sees as a misinformed and agenda-driven mob to crucify her.
“And yet when we take into consideration her predecessors, it’s hard to remember any calls for their total and complete annihilation,” Smith said.
Smith proceeded to give his recollection and opinions of what has happened through the years.
Smith said that then-City Manager Bill Batchelor insisted that a then-sanitation department employee be arrested for having taken a suit of clothes that had been placed on a trash heap and that Batchelor alone was responsible for the only strike by sanitation workers in Rocky Mount’s history.
The then-employee, Alexander Evans, was convicted in Rocky Mount District Court of committing misdemeanor larceny, but he eventually was cleared by a jury in Nash County Superior Court.
Smith also said that then-City Manager Steve Raper, with the help of others, allowed a then-city employee, Gary Weeks, to make pig cookers and deer stands at taxpayers’ expense.
Weeks was convicted in Nash County Superior Court for embezzlement by a local government employee and served time on probation.
Smith also said that then-City Manager Charles Penny was demonized for developing and seeing through what some made a controversy: The Rocky Mount Event Center.
“And out of all of that, I have yet to hear anyone say, ‘Crucify them,’” Smith said. “But we want to utterly destroy our current city manager — and to do that in a most humiliating way.
“Has she made mistakes? Yes. But Brother Rose, I am reminded that all have fallen short,” he said, a reference to City Attorney Jep Rose, who sits alongside the City Council members during council meetings.
“So until answered, the question lingers in the midst of the bramble: What is the difference between our current city manager and her predecessors?” Smith asked.
“I dare not say that it is a racial issue,” he said. “That may not apply. The issues may be compound, but what I can and will say is that we are all holding her to a standard that we have yet to hold a man to who has held the same position.”
He then gave his opinion of what he believes critics of Small-Toney want: “Crucify her because I didn’t get what I thought I deserve. Crucify her because that’s too much power for a woman to have. Crucify her because we are willing to carry out the enemy’s agenda. Crucify her because our bloodlust outweighs our capacity for love. Crucify her because we are committed to the finality of the act.”
“But I am so glad that I serve a God who sits high and looks low and knows the evil intent that lurks in the hearts of men,” he said. “And though there are those who are attempting to slay her, I pray that she will continue to trust him.”
Ohree at the speaker’s podium Monday said, “Our city manager has done a superior job of helping our city stay focused and continue advancing in the middle of a pandemic. God sent her here for such a time as this.
“And I am truly grateful for her expertise and her wisdom in the area of city management. Thank God for Rochelle Small-Toney and thank God for our current city administration,” Ohree said.
Ohree also said no one in the audience has the authority to hire or fire anyone in the council chamber and noted there is a process for such an action.
“And to come to this podium and suggest that anyone be removed from their office without going through the proper procedures that have already been established is out of line, disrespectful and unacceptable in this City Hall chamber,” Ohree said. “Rocky Mount has grown and continues to grow, despite what white or Black people say.”
“And if a Black or white person is not helping our city grow, then they need to stop throwing stumbling blocks in the way of those who are advancing our city,” she said. “We who look online and sit in the audience have very strong opinions, but our opinions are not worthwhile if we are not looking out for each other.”
She said that she and others will let the municipal elected officials know what they think at election time and that in the meantime, her encouragement to the leaders of the community is to continue to lead Rocky Mount using their best ability.
“If you make a mistake, own up to it and try harder, work together because together we rise — and divided we fall,” she said.
Battle while at the speaker’s podium Monday said, “Y’all run this City Council like a sweepstakes.”
Battle has been quite vocal in his criticism of the 4-3 council voting majority, comprised of Councilmen Reuben Blackwell, Richard Joyner, Andre Knight and T.J. Walker, but Battle spoke in a larger context in his comments Monday.
Battle said Rocky Mount residents are at the top of the list in terms of priority, followed by the council and the city manager, but he said, “Y’all really forgot” who is supposed to come first.
Battle, in directing his comments to the platform where the council members sit and conduct business, also said that when an election comes up, he hopes everybody in Rocky Mount refrains from voting for them.
The seats held by Blackwell, Joyner, Councilman W.B. Bullock and Councilwoman Chris Miller are up for election in March 2022. Blackwell and Joyner have said they are seeking re-election, but Bullock and Miller have said they are not.
“The ones that are running for City Council, basically, they need to get up here and say something about what’s going on — and let people know what side y’all stand on,” Battle said.
As for Barnes’ allegations against Daniels, Battle said he believes that Barnes is not lying and that if Daniels had been anywhere else, such as Chicago, Detroit or New York City, then “he would have been gone — gone.”
And in response to the lauding of Small-Toney, Battle said, “Ain’t nobody God now. I heard people say, ‘God brought her here.’ No, City Council did. God didn’t bring that here.”
He said he believes that overall, “It’s bad in this city, man. Every one of y’all up there ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”