New Bern Board of Aldermen Meeting - 26 February 2013
At the last minute, we decided that CCTA needed to be represented at this meeting for one principal reason. Rick Hopkins, Chairman, had discovered that the Board of Aldermen had held a "Retreat" at which the Board had decided to give the City Manager a $30,000 bonus over a period of three years to retain his services. This is highly unusual as "retreats" are commonly believed to be goal setting sessions, study periods and such things. It is not expected to be a meeting at which motions are made for specific Board actions such as this one involving personnel, and then acted on.
Anyway, the meeting served to be a reminder of why I personally have disliked attending most of the Board of Aldermen's meetings that I have attended. Other CCTA members there were Lynn Childs, Ann Tipple and Connie Hannah. Our friends Stevie Bennett (henceforth known as PIA) and Tony Bonnici were also there, and sat with our group.
Here are some agenda items that I'm sure will be of interest to CCTA members:
1) Hometown Connections (a nation-wide electric utility industry consulting group) gave an "Organizational Check-up" for New Bern's electric utility. It was one of those love fests that paid staff and consultants usually give. He did have a few gems in his nearly hour-long dissertation. One was we might have to learn to "do less with less" in the coming economic conditions. He said government had a right to expect profits from an "enterprise" endeavor. Mayor Bettis made it clear that he believes the burden of debt that New Bern's utility operation carries has made it very hard to keep electricity rates as low as customers would like. We have to agree on that. However, the consultant said that the utility was positioned to do well in the future since he thought the nuclear side of electricity generation will fare better in the future than coal generated electricity. He also said the General Fund Transfer policy had been good. That surprised me as I have felt critical of that since I don't live in New Bern and the General Fund Transfers have meant that I have paid into New Bern's coffers from their profits in providing electricity to customers. I guess I would have to contribute to someone's profits, so if it is managed as well as the consultant thinks, I guess it is ok. He said the utility did well in pursuing thieves and cheats. On the weak side, he said that transparency to customers and customer education in general was poor (surprise, surprise). He said bad debt was a problem, and that he understood the region has been hit hard. I wish the folks spending our taxpayer money understood that! Enough on this subject.
2) There was a "public hearing" on the Community Development Block Grant for 2009. As at Craven County's public hearings, there was almost no citizen participation in the process. I believe that is about to change.
3) There was a presentation of "Preliminary Findings" on a resolution to finance capital improvements with Revenue Bonds instead of mortgages on properties. Seems New Bern does not have enough tax revenue and plans to borrow to make purchases of real estate.
4) Budget meetings will be conducted on 16 April, 21 March and 23 March 2013. On 14 May 2013, there will be a "Department Head Overview" and workshop.
5) Next came the subject of the bonus for the City Manager. Mayor Bettis absolutely refused to allow any discussion on the subject. Alderman Outlaw wanted to object to the venue of a "retreat" being used to conduct this business. The Mayor gaveled him down. Alderman Outlaw tried numerous times to be heard on the subject. He tried introducing a motion and again was declared out of order by the Mayor. Alderman Outlaw got out of his seat at the Alderman's table and went to the other end of that area.
I don't know what rules of order the New Bern Board of Aldermen use, but it in no way resembles Roberts Rules of Order. The Mayor insisted that the agenda as presented had to be rigorously followed with no deviations. The agenda item concerning the bonus for the City Manager was number 10, "Inform Public of Approval of Amendment to Employment Agreement with the City Manager." That was all he would allow to happen. He was constantly banging his gavel to stop any discussion and to restore order. He informed the Aldermen that they could "have their say" under agenda item 15, Announcements.
The Mayor ran into trouble again with Agenda Item 11, Approve Minutes. Alderman Outlaw again vainly sought the floor. He was immediately called out of order by the Mayor, but continued to talk anyway. He wanted to know who had written those minutes (taken at the "retreat" since the City Clerk was not present nor was a legal representative). Seemed a fair question to me, when approval of the minutes was being considered. Alderman Outlaw stated that the meeting was not legally constituted and that no one had actually taken minutes. At that point, Alderman Bengel stated that she had been keeping some notes and that they had been used to construct the minutes (she neglected to say by whom). The Mayor then decided to skip trying to get the minutes approved (so much for the strict following of the agenda).
All "you know what" broke loose under agenda item 15, Announcements. Aldermen Bengel, Outlaw, White, Taylor, and Kinsey all said they were under the impression that the matter would be voted on at this meeting. Aldermen Bengel and Bucher both said they would stand by the decision to give the City Manager the bonus. All stated emphatically that there was no attempt to hide the action from the public. Tony Bonnici shouted out that that was a lie. He had to get a guard to admit him to the meeting at the "retreat" which was held at the history center after hours.
All of the hullabaloo seems to have come to naught as Mayor Bettis ruled all attempts (there were several) to put forward motions to alter the course of action. I have never before seen one man bully so and be allowed to get his way over the objections of so many involved in conducting the business of an organization!
Let me say that Mayor Bettis has always extended every courtesy to me and CCTA, even offering us extended time on an agenda to express our views. Every single Alderman has also been courteous and friendly. My complaint is against no one personally, but in the apparent lack of parliamentary procedure practiced in this meeting.
I was not even sure the motion for adjournment was passed by a majority, but the meeting did break up.
Footnote: Stevie Bennett provided me with the information that the compensation (before the bonus) to the City Manager is as follows:
Reimbursement for heath and dental insurance $3,048
Car allowance $6,000
Annual evaluation bonus $3,766
City paid moving expense $6,500
Family health insurance contribution up to $3,000
Housing allowance up to $3,600
At $900 per month
On Channel 12's 11:00 o'clock news last night (26 Feb 13), it was stated that the salary paid to New Bern's City Manager exceeds the salary of the Governor of North Carolina and that of the City Managers of several major cities. Greenville, Kinston, and Morehead City were among them. They did a story about dissatisfaction among citizens on the matter of a bonus for the City Manager. They interviewed Stevie Bennett for this piece.
BREAKING NEWS - THE CITY MANAGER DECLINED THE BONUS TODAY!!
Hal James, CCTA Watchdog Committee Chairman