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More Lucama town records unearthed

Posted on July 22, 2021

Updated on July 23, 2021

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Lucama Commissioner Patricia Uzzell walks among municipal records that were recovered this week after being buried on town-leased property.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Lucama Commissioner Patricia Uzzell walks among municipal records that were recovered this week after being buried on town-leased property.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7818

LUCAMA — One year after officials retrieved town public records that were buried underground, another batch of documents was unearthed on property the town leases.

“There was a public records request by The Wilson Times, and we knew there were more records buried with those dates,” said Town Administrator Teresa Whitehead. “The truth is owed to the people of the town, whether good or bad. It’s their personal information.”

Whitehead said confidential personal information won’t be included in any documents provided to the newspaper.

The Times filed a July 12 request for copies of town records created from 2007-17. Whitehead notified the Lucama Board of Commissioners of the request the day she received it.

On Wednesday, officials dug up records including sales invoices to the town of Lucama, local government purchase orders from the town, U.S. postage statements, disbursements from the mayor’s office, monthly wage reports and retirement account information for town employees including Social Security numbers, a billing register showing each account in town by name and address, which residents were charged for electricity and water and records of service shutoffs, records for law enforcement officers only, shipping orders, repair orders, bills, sales tax coupons, town of Lucama monthly account details, balance sheets, copies of employee tax forms including 10-99 and W-2 forms, returned checks, canceled checks, correspondence with other Wilson County towns, Heritage Bank records for the town, payroll checks, voided checks and many other documents detailing town business.

A pending federal lawsuit was widened when records were found buried exactly a year ago. The suit alleges the records were buried to hide unfair and discriminatory behavior concerning the town’s billing of African American residents for electric service.

Lucama Commissioner Patricia Uzzell looked through the paperwork.

“It is a range of money. Dollar signs. I see a bunch of money being transfered. Just about everything I have seen out here has dollar signs on it. And it has people’s personal information, people’s Social Security numbers,” Uzzell said. “What if somebody else dug this stuff up? They would have had access to people’s Social Security numbers. These are private matters.”

Under state law, cities and towns are required to obtain written approval from the N.C. Division of Archives and History’s government records office for destruction and disposal of public records. The agency maintains a lengthy schedule of which, when and how documents can be destroyed.

The state requires municipalities to keep a log of destroyed documents detailing  records, date range, volume, type (electronic or paper), date, method and authorization. Whitehead said she’s found no such logs at Town Hall.

Burying documents is not listed as an option for destroying old municipal records.

The No. 1  destruction method is burning. Next is shredding. Another option is to place the records in acid vats to reduce the paper to pulp so it can be sold as waste paper.

An approved destruction method is required to ensure the documents “cannot be practicably read or reconstructed,” according to the state archives division.

Most documents are legible, though wet from groundwater. Some are illegible because the papers are covered in mud.

Most of the documents appeared to range from 1997 to 2007.

“This is heart-wrenching to see this,” Uzzell said.“I did some research on public records and I found out as of 2014 that we were no longer allowed to do this. I have found out that some of this was done in 2019 and some before then.”

Uzzell said Lucama’s history was buried underground and the missing documents created gaps in the town’s historical record.

“Where do we go from here?” she said. “If we have no foundation or if there are missing pieces, that leaves ones who are coming on to create their own.”

Uzzell said when Whitehead started work as town administrator, there were few records at her disposal.

“I am aware that when she started, all paperwork, all computer work was gone,” Uzzell said. “She has had to start from scratch, and she has done a darn good job starting from scratch.”

The buried records are part of an amended federal discrimination lawsuit currently pending in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Uzzell, Whitehead and two African American town employees filed discrimination claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging Commissioner David Johnson repeatedly used racist slurs to describe them. Uzzell is the Lucama Board of Commissioners’ first African American member.

Johnson, other board members and the Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department are all named in the suit. Johnson is chief of the Crossroads department. The fire station is located in Lucama, and the small town is included in Crossroads’ rural fire district.

“This is a time in the land that God is revealing what’s done in the dark is coming to the light,” Uzzell said. “It does not matter what color you are, everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. All people matter. All colors matter.” 

Uzzell acknowledged she didn’t file to run for reelection. Her term on the Board of Commissioners expires this year.

“I feel like my time is up. I feel like my work is done,” Uzzell said. “I just want others to run and carry out what I have started to make sure that everyone is treated with respect and dignity and that they listen to the voices of the people.”

Johnson and Commissioner Michael Best, who are both named in the suit, are running to retain their seats and face challengers in November’s at-large municipal election.

Sonya Bullock, Keely Pate, Helen Torres and Yvonne Taylor Williams joined Johnson and Best in filing for office, creating a six-candidate field for three commissioner seats on the ballot.

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