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OP: City of New Bern Leadership is Obligated to Serve Citizens

Downtown New BernA Response to Susan Moffat-Thomas’s article in New Bern Now (June 2022)

Susan Moffat-Thomas’s thoughtful article in June 2022 New Bern Now provides a very helpful framework for a detailed public conversation about the future of downtown New Bern.

Among many points of concern is, first, the reference to a 4 November email about “moving forward with a MOU [memo of understanding] for the Talbot site and the Riverfront site. . . ” Why is there any moving forward when there is a lack of transparency, when there is a lack of public knowledge and public input?

Could it be clarified how and why Aldermen Sabrina Bengel and Jeffrey Odham and City Manager Foster Hughes were empowered to purchase the lot at the corner of Hancock and South Front Streets for the purported purpose of parking but no plan has been produced for changes to the unimproved lot.  How is this public service?

Bengel’s comment about a “luxury waterfront hotel” was both alarming and – obviously – premature: “We got the deal done.” She gets a “deal done” when citizens have been kept in the dark.  How is this public service?

Astonishingly, after great controversy and public objection, the New Bern Board of Aldermen “After hours of testimony, criticizing the secretive process the board ultimately voted to approve the MOU.” How is this public service?

Then, Moffat-Thomas cites the claim from Richard Kessler of the Kessler Collection about “misinformation” about the Union Point Park piece of the project and “regretting” that there was no opportunity to “fully engage with residents.”  The City of New Bern is the logical agency to facilitate such engagement.  Since no facilitation has been made, are leaders such as Bengel, Odham, and Hughes willfully ignoring any process of transparency? How is this public service?

Then, about funding for proposed projects where there has been no opportunity for citizen input – bonds where the citizens would bear the taxation costs that would benefit only a few.  How is this public service?

The Kessler Collection’s fiscal history of compensating contractors and suppliers for the Collection’s luxury projects is weak. How is this a model for how and even if workers are compensated? How do low wage/no benefits jobs really benefit the broad range of citizens?

And then there is a current push – again vigorously opposed by downtown residents (who will, no doubt, have to pick up the trash, among other distasteful “deposits” on private property) – for a “social district.”  How is permitting the fouling of property a public service?

It appears that city leadership may prefer to operate in shadowy areas of dubious ethicality, ignoring residents while privileging external commercial interests over the interests of people who actually live here – this privileging is a goal not necessarily serving the best interests of the New Bern community. As a long-time and very happy resident, I am deeply saddened by getting any kind of “deals done” without public input.

What the city leadership is obligated to do is to serve citizens.

By Lorraine Hale Robinson