Lobbyist Hired by City of New Bern has Ties to Aldermen

New Bern Board of Aldermen Meeeting - May 11 2021
New Bern Board of Aldermen Meeting (Screenshot- May 11, 2021)

While reading the minutes from the May 25, 2021 Board of Aldermen (BOA) meeting, I noticed the city entered into a consulting agreement with a lobbying business. Old North Strategies, LLC was founded by Wayne King in 2020 as a government and public affairs company. Looking at past and present clients, the City of New Bern is the only government client noted on the website.

The company’s website lists 23 clients. Two of them are the Morehead City Marlins and the NC Fraternal Order of Police Association. These organizations are also associated with Aldermen who voted for the city to utilize the lobbying business. Alderman Sabrina Bengel’s family owns the Morehead City Marlins. Alderman Jeffrey Odham is not a law enforcement officer, but he has been endorsed by the NC Fraternal Order of Police Association for his run for Mayor.

This is what we were able to ascertain from reading minutes and researching:

– May 11, 2021: At the end of the meeting, the board went into a closed session at 7:52 p.m. to discuss a personal matter. The board opened the meeting at 8:09 p.m. and “Mr. Davis noted interest had been expressed in hiring a lobbyist to assist the city in acquiring funding. Alderwoman Harris made a motion for the Interim City Manager to negotiate a contract with Old North Strategies to bring before the Board at its May 25, 2021 meeting for consideration, seconded by Alderman Kinsey. The motion carried unanimously 7-0.”

– May 25, 2021: “Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving a Consulting Agreement with Old North Strategies. The motion was passed at the May 11, 2021 meeting directing the Interim City Manager (Foster Hughes) to negotiate a contract with Old North Strategies. As a result, an agreement for consulting and legislative advocacy services is proposed at a cost of $12,500 per month for the period of May 25, 2021 through December 31, 2021.” Alderman Odham said, “Mayor, I think everyone here had an opportunity to meet with this group” and he made the motion to adopt the resolution. The motion carried unanimously 6-0.

There was no discussion during the meeting or other details released except the agreement that lacked a scope of work. Although the item was on the agenda, it is not clear what funding ONS was hired to assist with besides “consulting and legislative advocacy services”.

We were able to obtain the lobbying registration report. According to disclosurespreview.house.gov, the agreement was terminated on March 15, 2022.

Food for thought:

– Who was the City Attorney referring to when he noted “interest had been expressed in hiring a lobbyist”?

– How did the city discover this fledgling company?

– What qualifications did they have that justified paying them $12,500 per month?

– Was ONS hired by any other municipalities or government agencies prior to the city entering into this agreement?

– Were there any requests for bids?

– Why didn’t Ald. Bengal recuse herself?

– What was ONS was required to do besides “consulting and legislative advocacy services”?

– What correspondence/records did ONS have access to?

– How much was ONS paid in total?

– How much money did ONS raise for the city?

– Did ONS fulfill the terms of the agreement?

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By Wendy Card, Editor