There has been a lot of speculation about who participated in the meeting between the City of New Bern and the Kessler Group in Savannah, GA on August 5 – 6, 2021.
On February 9, 2022, New Bern Now (NBN), under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), requested information from the City Clerk related to the MOU between the City of New Bern and the Kessler Group. We received files regarding the correspondence between city officials and the Kessler Group’s related to acquiring property in New Bern, which is being shared with the public.
According to public records, Mayor Dana Outlaw, Alderman Sabrina Bengel, Steve Bengel, Lynne Harakal, and Melissa Riggle traveled to Savannah, GA. The purpose of the trip was to meet with the Kessler Group. It is unknown what transpired during the meeting.
Mayor Outlaw told us that he and Aldermen Bengel paid for their expenses. The City Clerk, Brenda Blanco, confirmed his statement. Lynne Harakal, Executive Director of Swiss Bear, Inc. and Melissa Riggle, Executive Director of the Craven County Tourism and Development Authority (TDA), told us they traveled to Savannah for the meeting with the Kessler Group. They claimed their travel expenses since the trip was associated with their work.
Email dated July 28, 2021, from Lynne Harakal, Executive Director of Swiss Bear, Inc. to William Atkinson with the Kessler Group: “It looks as though the 6th will work for our group. The flight options are as follows: 8/5 arrival into SAV at either 5:39pm or 9:14pm; 8/6 departure from SAV at either 2:33pm or 6:24pm. Please let me know which arrival and departure times work best for your schedules. Also, we appreciate the offer to be your guests, but we will need to provide our own accommodations and meals. If you could arrange for our rooms we will take it from there. I’ll confirm the number of rooms needed tomorrow. We look forward to our visit. Best regards, Lynne”
August 4, 2021: Lynne Harakal to Donna Currier with the Kessler Group – “Thank you for securing the reservations, I appreciate your assistance. The rooms will be under the following names: Stave and Sabrina Bengel; Dana Outlaw; Melissa Riggle; Lynne Harakal; Best regards, Lynne”
August 3, 2021: Donna Currier responded to Lynne Harakal – “Hello, Lynne, The accommodations are confirmed at the Mansion on Forsyth Park for the night of 8/5. I have listed the hotel confirmation numbers below and the hotel address. MANSION ON FORSYTH PARK, 8/5 – 8/6, Stave and Sabrina Bengel conf # 607868880, Dana Outlaw conf # 607868246, Melissa Riggle conf # 607868441, Lynne Harakal conf # 607868671, (4) King Rooms Room rate is $199 per room, Guests will be responsible for their own incidentals, Mansion on Forsyth Park, 700 Drayton Street, Savannah, GA 31401”
August 3, 2021: Donna Currier to Lynne Harakal – “Hello Lynne, I apologize for the delay in getting back to you, however, I was working an event at Plant Riverside over the weekend and just back in Orlando today. Unfortunately, Plant Riverside is sold out for your stay on 8/5. I have secured accommodations for you at the Mansion on Forsyth Park, which is other Kessler Collection property. We are able to extend the special rate of $199 per room. Please give me the names of the guests and I will complete the reservations. Thank you. Donna”
August 4, 2021: Alderman Bengel to Donna Currier and William Atkinson, “We are looking forward to visiting Savannah tomorrow. I have had an interesting twist to my visit and would like to know if I could extend my stay at the hotel until Sunday. Our family owns the Morehead City Marlins baseball team, and we won the playoff series and just learned we will be playing the Savannah Bananas in Savannah on Friday and Saturday for the Championship. Since we will be in Savannah, we would like to stay the additional nights to be at the games. Please let me know if this is possible. If not would any of your other properties have any availability. Many Thanks for your assistance. Sabrina”
August 4, 2021: Donna Currier to Alderman Bengel, “Hello Sabrina, That is exciting news. Congratulations! I have extended your stay at the Mansion on Forsyth Park to depart on Sunday, 8/8, and we will offer the special rate of $199 per night for your stay. Your confirmation number is below. I am working on the itinerary for Thursday and Friday and I will forward to you as soon as I have it completed. Mansion On Forsyth Park. 8/5 – 8/8 Stave and Sabrina Bengel conf # 607868880 Donna Currier”
August 4, 2021: Alderman Bengel to Donna Currier and William Atkinson “Donna! Thank you so very much! Also one correction my husband’s first name is Steve not Stave…..I think that was a typo from the original email! This is most appreciated!”
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By Wendy Card, Editor-in-Chief, New Bern Now