Our Opinion: City Hall falters on preservation, communication | The Wilson Times
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EDITORIAL

Our Opinion: City Hall falters on preservation, communication

Posted on June 23, 2022

Updated on June 24, 2022

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A century and a quarter of Wilson history reduced to rubble. An adjacent building damaged before its owner knew about demolition next door. A section of downtown’s main drag barricaded for five days, with a vague reference to “issues with the building” serving as the only official explanation.

We’d call it a comedy of errors, but there’s nothing funny about the city of Wilson’s secretive plan to tear down the bulk of a buckling three-story building at 221-225 Nash St. A failure of communication followed a failure of preservation, leaving behind only a boneyard of bricks and a haze of confusion.

Wilson cordoned off a section of Nash Street between Goldsboro and Douglas streets on Thursday, June 16. The following day, posts on the city government’s Facebook and Twitter pages tersely acknowledged the closure: “Work is underway on issues with the building at 225 Nash Street.” The Wilson Times asked for details. City Hall was mum.

Late Tuesday morning, we learned the city-owned building had sustained structural damage and would be partially demolished in an effort to salvage the brick facade. No credit to city officials, who remained tight-lipped.

Times journalist Drew C. Wilson noticed contractors from D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. positioning their heavy equipment, so he started asking questions. Griffin project bosses saw no need for secrecy on a job they were hired to undertake in the middle of a weekday on downtown Wilson’s main thoroughfare. Proving that sunlight is the best disinfectant, the city confirmed the facts we gathered on the ground.

The brick storefront crumbled as contractors clawed through its cracked shell. So much for saving the facade. The building’s poor condition would require a complete knockdown.

RELATED STORY: Building razed after facade falls 

Robert Barnes’ 219 Nash St. building shared a firewall with the 225 Nash St. structure, and Barnes said the demolition caused a domino effect. Part of the wall gave way, exposing Barnes’ attic to the elements. He said his building’s brick facade also sustained damage.

“The only building that was connected with that building was ours and the city’s, and they didn’t let us know about it,” the property owner told us. “Nothing.”

RELATED STORY: Adjacent structures damaged when city-owned building fell 

A city spokesperson initially said all affected Nash Street neighbors were notified. Barnes insists City Hall kept him in the dark. He said he found out what transpired only after “a stranger on the street” reached him by phone Tuesday afternoon.

Why did the city of Wilson stall and stonewall for five days? Why was the demolition kept hush-hush until the last minute?

The city acquired 221-225 Nash St. in order to preserve it for private redevelopment, so perhaps officials were embarrassed to admit they had to tear down an asset they intended to build up. We’ve asked when the structure was last inspected and whether any repairs took place under municipal ownership. As of this writing, we still await those answers.

One lesson our friends at City Hall can take from this imbroglio: Honesty is the best policy. Wilson residents are entitled to timely and complete information on road closures and accurate details on construction, repair and demolition work done on the taxpayers’ dime.

That’s no pie-in-the-sky populist platitude; it’s just a plain reading of state law. Under the N.C. Public Records Act, any correspondence between city officials and D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. was subject to disclosure the moment it was created. So why play hide and seek?

As individuals, Wilson city employees are pleasant, personable and professional. But City Hall as an institution comes off as thin-skinned, bristling at the mildest of critiques and turning a deaf ear to constructive criticism. A perpetual defensive crouch produces an inevitable consequence: a communications department inordinately concerned with image control and insufficiently concerned with its actual job of sharing information. The people of Wilson deserve better.

Your City Council must demand a public accounting of what went wrong on Nash Street to ensure the mistakes aren’t repeated. We expect council members, the people’s elected representatives, to advocate for everyday Wilsonians instead of circling the wagons. For a council that, at times, appears to act as a rubber stamp for hired administrators, now is the time to exercise oversight.

A grand building constructed circa 1895 is gone. Let’s make the best of an unfortunate situation and pivot from physical to metaphorical stabilization projects. Shore up City Hall.

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