State auditor's office claims some Rocky Mount officials shielded council member from utility collection efforts

Published: May. 15, 2020 at 1:43 PM EDT
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An investigative report by the state auditor is leveling several accusations of wrong doing by Rocky Mount city officials concerning tens of thousands of dollars.

Officials with the Office of the State Auditor say they launched the investigation in response to 213 complaints concerning misconduct by elected officials and city employees.

Key findings of the report include that multiple city officials prevented the Business Services Center from attempting to collect $47,704 in utility bills owed by a city council member.

The report does not identify anyone by name. It says multiple city officials, including previous city managers and the former finance director, prevented the utility center from taking action against the council member.

"...the Business Services Center staff did not disconnect the Council Member's utility service. Instead, the Business Services Center staff initiated the write-off process for the $47,704 owed by the Council Member. In addition, the Council Member accumulated an additional $2,989 delinquent utility balance. Rather than following the normal collection process, multiple City officials gave the Council Member preferential treatment," the report states.

Other findings in the report allege:

-Multiple downtown development managers failed to follow program guidelines, resulting in $32,452 of uncollected loans and $28,000 of improperly awarded funds.

-The engineering division's non-compliance with the city's Code of Ordinances could cost the city $31,000.

-The city manager failed to comply with the city's travel policy resulting in $1,575 in unallowable travel expenses.

Recommendations of the OSA report:

-The Business Services Center should be permitted to follow its customer service policy without intervention from other city officials.

-The assistant city manager should enhance program oversight and monitoring activities to ensure recipients adhere to program guidelines.

-The director of engineering should ensure the city complies with its Code of Ordinances requirements regarding performance bonds and letters of credit.

-The city manager should comply with the city's established policies related to travel.

Mayor Sandy Roberson sent out a statement expressing embarrassment over the audit's findings.

"While I am thankful the total amount in question of $151,000 represents a small fraction of money relative to the annual budget of the City and that these items extend well back in time," Roberson wrote, "it's still a lot of money in a poor city where the median household income is only $37,400 and a third of our citizens are living in poverty. Choosing between paying their bills or eating is a problem that real people here face."

On Thursday, the city released a response to a draft version it had received in April of the audit's findings. We've attached both their response and the state's full audit report to this story.