Rocky Mount-related state transparency bill passes House | The Enterprise
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Rocky Mount-related state transparency bill passes House

Posted on November 29, 2021

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Rocky Mount City Councilman Andre Knight, left, and State Auditor Beth Wood recently addressed a 2020 state audit showing the city of Rocky Mount wrote off more than $47,000 in utility bills Knight owed.

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Rocky Mount City Councilman Andre Knight, left, and State Auditor Beth Wood recently addressed a 2020 state audit showing the city of Rocky Mount wrote off more than $47,000 in utility bills Knight owed.

lkay@springhopeenterprise.com | 252-265-8117

Gailliard

Gailliard

Barnes

Barnes

Gailliard

Gailliard

Barnes

Barnes

A state Senate bill to increase government transparency and boost penalties for corruption in North Carolina passed 64-44 in the state House on Monday.

State Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash, a pastor in Rocky Mount running for Congress, voted Monday to approve the legislation.

"Today we voted on SB473 Enhance Local Government Transparency," Gailliard said in a statement. "I don’t recall any bill receiving as much advocacy both for and against as this bill. If you are new to my office and my communications, please know that I approach all bills from the middle of an issue, meet with stakeholders, gather pertinent information and then vote my conscience. We are a 'purple' District and broad stakeholder engagement is essential to ensure a thriving Nash County."

Gaillaird's entire statement is included at the end of this report.

Senate Bill 473, sponsored by state Sen. Lisa Barnes, R-Nash, gained 42-6 approval in the Senate in May.

The proposed legislation moves to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper, a Nash County Democrat.

If signed by the governor, the law would create a new felony offense for public officials who benefit from their position.

The possible law would require local governments to garnish a public official's wages if he or she owes money for unpaid local services.

The legislation will reduce abuses of power by local government officials, according to State Auditor Beth Wood, who filed a May 2020 report that claimed Rocky Mount city officials stopped employees from trying to collect more than $47,700 in unpaid utility bills City Councilman Andre Knight racked up.

Knight isn't named in the report, but The Enterprise obtained emails through public records requests that showed Knight to be the council member in question.

State Rep. Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe, said the legislation is unnecessary and unfairly targets Rocky Mount.

An elected official who "solicits or receives personal financial gain from the political subdivision for which he or she serves by means of intimidation, undue influence, or misuse of the employees of that subdivision," would be guilty of a Class H felony, according to SB 473.

Gaillaird's entire statement on S.B. 473:

Today we voted on SB473 Enhance Local Government Transparency. I don’t recall any bill receiving as much advocacy both for and against as this bill.

If you are new to my office and my communications, please know that I approach all bills from the middle of an issue, meet with stakeholders, gather pertinent information and then vote my conscience. We are a “purple”* District and broad stakeholder engagement is essential to ensure a thriving Nash County.

We should all aspire to ensuring a representative government at all levels that are transparent and accountable. A lack of either results in the public disengaging and a weakening of our democratic processes. The origin of this bill caused me to investigate further to ensure that it was not an attack against a single unit of local government.

My meetings with Legislative Analysis here at the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) and the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) revealed this legislation potentially impacts 26 pending and 5 completed investigations.

The five completed investigations are:

Town of Robbinsville 5/14/2019

Town of Chapel Hill 8/8/2019

Town of Manteo 12/17/2019

Greene County 4/30/2020

City of Rocky Mount 5/15/2020

Additionally, as a non-profit executive, I fully support the recusal of elected officials from participating in contracting with non-profits of which they are associated.

Elected office should never offer an inherit advantage or disadvantage to any group or organization.

There is no debate that the origin of this bill makes it naturally suspect to populations of our community and it is my expectation that it will be equally applied to all forms of government, all political parties, and all elected officials.

As elected officials, we work for those we represent and owe the public responses to their grievances and clear reporting of our policies, processes, and expenditures. SB473 ensures this necessary level of accountability.

It is my hope that the interest shown in SB473 will continue to be exhibited in far more impactful pieces of legislation. Currently, there are 239 bills in the Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House Committee waiting for a hearing.

These bills include ideas that would significantly improve the quality of the things we all care about – education, health care, housing, jobs, voting rights and criminal justice reform.

This should incense an entire electorate when representation is limited to a handful of communities.

Thank you for trusting me to represent you. We really can be better when we all work together. I encourage and solicit your voice on all the issues that matter to us here in Nash County, Eastern NC, and our State.

*Note: "Purple" means both the Democratic (Blue) and Republican (Red) parties have similar levels of support among voters without an overwhelming majority of support for either party.

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