New Bern Mayor Odham Won’t Acknowledge Business and “Close Familiar” Relationship

Mayor Jeffrey Odham's Connection to Craeberne Forest Subdivision

Mayor Jeffrey Odham will not acknowledge that his business and familiar relationship with land developer, Patrick McCullough, has led to and could result in future potential conflicts of interest when it comes to the New Bern Board of Aldermen (BOA) voting on agenda items.

Records indicate McCullough is the manager of McCullough Farms, LLC and P & J of New Bern, LLC — real estate, land management, and construction companies. The relationship came to light when an item was added to the BOA meeting agenda on August 12, 2022.

The item was a request for a public hearing to rezone seven parcels from Agricultural Forestry District, Residential District, and Residential District to Residential. Totaling 413.39 +/- acres adjacent to the Craeberne Forest development. Jeffrey Odham’s home address is listed on all of the property records. When New Bern Now discovered this, we published an article detailing our findings on August 15, 2022.

A few days later, Jeffrey Odham’s Attorney, Arey W. Grady, III, filed annual reports for both companies for 2021 and 2022 with the NC Secretary of State (NC SOC). Both LLC pages on the NC SOC’s website detail Grady’s office address as Patrick’s McCullough’s and Odham’s address was removed. We’ve attempted to access the individual reports with no success.

Craven GIS still displays Mayor Odham’s home address on 15 properties owned by McCullough Farms, LLC and 14 properties owned by P & J of New Bern, totaling 29 properties, valued over $1.2 million.

On August 19, he turned to Sabrina Bengel to deal with his public relations issue. Having no reasonable explanation or willingness to admit his association with the entities, Odham, Bengel, and her co-host Liz Hartman made unsubstantiated statements against the article’s author on the show that aired on a radio station in Greenville, NC.

He also said Patrick McCullough is his ex-brother-in-law and his late father worked for him.

Mayor Odham admitted signing documents on McCullough’s behalf and performing tasks in Craeberne Forest Subdivision. We’ve asked him to provide us with copies of the power of attorney for each LLC authorizing him to sign documents and manage the development since McCullough has lived in Baclayon, Philippines since 2019. He didn’t respond to written requests, so we checked with the Craven County Register of Deeds with no results.

He claimed, “I have no ownership or financial interest in his businesses. It’s simply a transaction support function.”

We consulted an attorney specializing in NC municipal law and were advised, “Board members are not permitted to vote on any development regulation if the outcome of the regulation will result in a direct, substantial, and readily identifiable financial impact on them. They also cannot vote on a rezoning petition/zoning amendment if the board member has a close familial, business, or other associational relationship with the applicant or the landowner subject to the rezoning petition. (G.S. 160D-109).”

“As for the relationship conflict, under this statute, “close familial” relationships only include parents, children, spouses, grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings. In-law and step relationships are included in this definition. Since this individual is the mayor’s ex brother-in-law, there is no close familial relationship under the statute. However, I do think the mayor’s friendship with his ex-in law could count as an associational relationship and even a business relationship if he’s been helping with his ex-in law’s businesses. I can’t say for certain, but I would argue there’s a relationship conflict here and that the mayor should not vote on this rezoning.”

The attorney offered the advice before we reviewed a year’s worth of past Board of Aldermen meeting minutes when Jeffrey Odham was Alderman of Ward 6. Here’s what we found:

– July 28, 2015, Alderman Odham made a motion to adopt a resolution approving the final subdivision plan for Craeberne Forrest, Phase 2, Section 3. Two of the streets shown in the plan were Odham Avenue and Joan Court (named after his late mother Joan Odham). McCullough was his brother-in-law at the time, therefore, defined under statute as a “close familial” relationship.

– August 23, 2016, Alderman Odham made a motion to adopt the resolution accepting streets and infrastructure in Craeberne Forrest. The motion carried unanimously.

During the Planning and Zoning (P & Z) Board meeting on August 4, Patrick McCullough acknowledged he lives in the Philippines. He said, I served on this P & Z board from 2010 to 2015, 2016. He repeated, “we … we … we ….” None of the board members asked who “we” were. Why didn’t anyone question who was running the day-to-day operations and managing the business?

What’s next?

Although we haven’t seen the agenda yet, the public hearing is scheduled to be held during the September 13 BOA meeting at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Citizens will have the opportunity to address board members during the Petition of Citizens period and during the public hearing.

There is nothing wrong with an elected official owning property or having relationships with anyone. All they have to do is recuse themselves if they think there may be a potential conflict of interest. Their vote will be recorded as a yes. We’re not sure what the problem is.

Food for thought

– If there wasn’t an issue, why would the mayor’s attorney file two years’ worth of annual reports within a few days of the article publishing?

– Did Patrick McCullough vote on issues that related to his property while serving on the Planning and Zoning Board?

– The majority of the BOA campaigned on improving transparency in local government. Perhaps the board could adopt a resolution requiring members to file financial disclosure statements.

Let us know what you think by sending us an email.

By Wendy Card, Editor