City Officials Vote to Sell Property Leaving Citizens Asking Questions About Process, Lack of Transparency

New Bern Board of Aldermen Special Meeting in the New Bern Chamber of Commerce building.
New Bern Board of Aldermen Special Meeting in the New Bern Chamber of Commerce building. Photo by Wendy Card.

The New Bern Board of Aldermen voted 6 – 1 to sell the 304 and 308 South Front Street aka “Talbots Lots” in downtown New Bern, NC for $825,000 to Betty Wilson of Trent Woods during a special meeting held on Feb. 1, 2023, at the New Bern Chamber of Commerce. Alderman Rick Prill voted against it. Alderman Hazel Royal briefly connected via phone; therefore, her vote was recorded as an affirmative vote.

The meeting was called by Mayor Jeffrey Odham on Jan. 27, three days after Alderman Prill requested that the board table the vote to give the public an opportunity to comment during the Jan. 24 meeting. The board voted 5 – 2 to table the decision until Feb. 14 with the mayor and Alderman Bobby Aster voting against it.

Although the property was purchased with downtown Municipal Service District (MSD) tax dollars, the plan for development or use of the property has not been disclosed by the city.

The fire marshal reported 76 people attended the meeting and 16 addressed the board. Nine were against the sale and seven were for it. Two said they weren’t sure and three signed up to talk but declined when Mayor Odham called their name and said where they lived.

John Skinner said, “I want to hear about this proposal. I don’t know very much about it. I don’t know whether I’m for or against it. I don’t have a lot of information on it. Last night at the HDRA meeting, I asked if the board put out information on what’s going to be done, how much it’s going to cost, what the proposal is, the specifics of it. The pros and cons, the alternatives that you considered. I would think that sort of information should come out to the public so that they can comment in a meaningful way on what’s going to be done…Let me just tell you from what I’ve heard and what I saw, I’m a little concerned about the process of public participation…I might be wrong, but I think you’ve made your mind up. I hope I’m wrong and I may be wrong, but I think that this is just to get to check the box. Checked that. You had a public meeting. I hope it’s wrong and I hope to hear from you about the type of things that you’ve done and can do to improve on that but if that is true, that’s not good governance.”

Lori Ann Prill questioned whether it was legal to sell the property as it’s part of the revised Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City and New Bern Historic (NBH), LLC. The exclusivity clause states, “In connection with NBH’s development of the projects, the City shall not solicit, accept or negotiate any proposal from any other party to acquire, lease or license the South Front property.”

Skinner was right. The city did not provide a proposal or request for public participation.

Listen to all of the public comments and see what happened during the meeting here:

The Board of Aldermen and City Manager were asked for comment.

By Wendy Card, Editor

Related articles: New Bern Board of Aldermen Table Agenda Item, Reverse Decision and Call for Special Meeting; City of New Bern and Craven County Public Notices – Dec. 30, 2022; and Petition of Citizens, “Talbots Lots” for Sale, Among Items on New Bern Board of Aldermen Meeting Agenda – Nov. 8