Is This Transparency?

Aldermen Bengel, Harris and Aster
Aldermen Bengel, Harris and Aster

The Board of Aldermen (BOA) owe taxpayers better transparency about the possible development of downtown waterfront property that could change New Bern’s cityscape forever.

Let’s reflect on what transpired during the last BOA meeting on February 22, 2022. Specifically, about an article that we published on February 18 that revealed emails we obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request from the City of New Bern.

Alderwoman Harris mentioned the article during a discussion between her, the City Attorney, and Alderman Bengel. Here’s the article that we published on February 23.

During the discussion, Bengel responded to Harris by saying, “The Kessler’s asked, what waterfront property is there available in the City of New Bern. So that was the piece on North Craven Street. That was the biggest piece of property empty, I’m just passing it along. I don’t own it, it’s privately owned, it has nothing to do with the City of New Bern. How does that have anything to do with my job as an Alderman? … Our family has lived in that neighborhood for over 100 years. They do own property in that neighborhood… To try to put those two things together is just nitpicking at stuff for what reason I still don’t understand that I’m being picked on, but that’s ok…” (See video below for entire conversation)

Then, Alderman Aster said, “Well, I’m the one who actually called Kessler.” “I know you did,” Bengel replied. Aster continued, “… and got them in touch with the owner of that property.

Harris noted, “But the details show that she emailed them.” Bengel interjected again, “I did because they asked me to send them the package that Alderman Aster made the contact for me, because he knew the owner.

Wanting to make sure that I had the correct information, I wrote to Aster on February 26 and asked, “During the Board of Aldermen meeting on February 22, you said, “I’m the one who actually called Kessler and got him in touch with the owner of the property”. I’m writing requesting the date, time, and name(s) of person(s) and any correspondence related to your conversation with at Kessler Group and the Morton Company regarding the waterfront property located at 1000 N. Craven St. on or before August 4, 2021. I’m cc’ing the City Clerk, to ensure this part of the public record. Thank you. Respectfully, Wendy Card.”

Aster responded on February 28, “Thank you for your email. On Or about February 3, 2022 I contacted by telephone the owner of the North Craven St. property and gave him William Atkinson’s phone number. I asked the property owner to give Atkinson a call. My whole purpose was to get Kessler interested in another waterfront property instead of UPP. There was no other correspondence and I not sure they ever talked to each other. Bobby”

Food for thought:

– It’s unclear why Alderman Bengel lashed out at “Miss Card.” Bengel wrote the emails, Card just made them public.

– How could Alderman Aster make the initial contact for Bengel on February 3, 2022, since she sent the email to the Kessler Group with a link to the property on August 4, 2021?

– On February 18, I emailed the first article to Alderman Bengel and City Attorney Davis requesting their comments. To this date, I have not received a response from either person. It’s been reported that there’s a statement from the City Attorney that “cleared Bengel.” Why hasn’t he provided it to us?

Watch the video for to hear the entire conversation:

By Wendy Card, Editor-in-Chief