* Article was corrected on February 21, 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. NBN received files regarding correspondence between city officials and the Kessler Group’s related to acquiring property in New Bern, which is being shared with the public.
In an email dated August 4, 2021, to William Atkinson with the Kessler Group, Ward 1 Alderman Sabrina Bengel proposed consideration by the Kessler Group of a 24.5-acre tract of waterfront property on North Craven Street, adjacent to BudBeck, LLC. On Craven GIS Maps, there are multiple parcels of property owned by the Bengels on North Craven Street and one on Avenue A. On the NC Secretary of State website, Sabrina and Steven Bengel are Company Officials for BudBeck, LLC.
The email reads, “William, we are looking forward to being in Savannah and to meeting with you and your team. Following is a link to some additional available waterfront property that we had discussed when you were in New Bern. https://issuu.com/publicusco/docs/mcm_digitalbrochure_newbern_r2?fr=sNWQ0NTMxMDk4NDY. Please let me know if you need any additional information that I can bring with me. Look forward to seeing you again! Sabrina Bengel, New Bern Board of Aldermen, Alderman Ward 1.”
* Correction to record – February 21, 2021:
William Atkinson responded on August 5, 2021: “Thank you, Sabrina. Excited to learn more.”
After further investigation, BudBeck, LLC, purchased 1118 N Craven St. (corner of Avenue A) property from the New Bern Preservation Foundation on July 29, 2021, six days before Alderman Bengel sent the email to the Kessler Group. Highlighted areas are BudBeck, LLC properties.
In my conversations with Mayor Dana Outlaw on February 10 and Alderman Ward 6 Jeffrey Odham on February 14, both stated the Kessler Group did tour the North Craven Street property during their trip to New Bern, NC.
At the February 8, Board of Aldermen (BOA) meeting, Alderman Odham asked the City Attorney M. Scott Davis to provide information/requirements for elected officials regarding disclosing financial interests. Davis said, “You (Aldermen) adopted rules and ethics that every local government board are required to adopt. You also are subject to at least three criminal statutes that come to mind that preclude you from having undisclosed financial interest in a project. Either you directly or through an immediate family member. So, I say that to remind everyone that if there is such an interest, you have a legal obligation to disclose that interest.”
Watch Financial Disclosure Discussion here:
As of February 17, 2022, all those serving on the New Bern Board of Aldermen have not disclosed any financial interests (verified by the City Clerk).
On January 11, 2022, at a BOA meeting, Alderman Bengel said, “I’m very concerned about abatement issues and other issues within Ward 1…it’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in our city and we are not protected, we don’t have the luxury of HOAs and other things that protect the avenues and the streets… It’s really amazing that people don’t take it seriously, some of our neighbors. We have an issue in Riverside where we have an abatement issue on Avenue A… I will tell you that I’m working on this and I’m working with the City Attorney and I’m going to work with the Assistant City Manager and our City Manager to start changing some of our policies so that we can tighten things up because we do have people working really hard in taking care of their property and when you have people who don’t care, it devalues their property.” BudBeck, LLC owns property on Avenue A.
At the February 8, 2022, BOA meeting, Sidewalk improvements (who made the request) were requested in this area of North Craven Street (estimated $38,000). Other improvement areas were Neuse Avenue to National Avenue, Spencer Avenue to Park Avenue, and Country Club Rd. – Hartford Avenue to Newsome Drive. Agenda item was tabled.
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By Wendy Card, Editor-in-Chief, New Bern Now