Records reveal New Bern’s Mayor still involved with Land Developer after rezoning

Entrance to Craeberne Forest subdivision in New Bern, N.C. (Wendy Card)
Entrance to Craeberne Forest subdivision. (NBN Photo)

During his first full meeting as New Bern’s Mayor, the board of aldermen recused Jeffrey Odham from voting on a rezoning application made by McCullough Farms, LLC, a land development company, on Sept. 13, 2022. At the time he told the BOA he was no longer involved with the company. Information from public records show he is still involved.

The rezoning request was added to the revised consent agenda for the BOA meeting on Aug. 15. New Bern Now noticed the mayor’s home address was listed as the principal office address on annual reports filed with the N.C. Secretary of State’s office. It was also listed on Craven County property and tax records.

After the connection was outlined in an article, Odham turned to social media and said NBN’s reporting was ‘politically motivated’. At the same time, Attorney Arey Grady filed 2021 and 2022 annual reports changing the primary office address to his office on Craven Street. The changes were made within a few days of NBN’s reporting. The mayor’s home address remained listed on Craven County property and tax records for McCullough’s businesses, McCullough Farms and P & J of New Bern, LLCs.


At the Sept. 13 meeting, Matt Schelly, then interim director of Development Services, and Seth Laughlin, Land & Community Development administrator, presented the proposed rezoning of seven parcels of 413 acres of land adjacent to or in the Craeberne Forest subdivision.

Prior to the discussion, Odham turned to City Attorney M. Scott Davis and said, “At the time the applicant made the request, I was the manager.” Odham then said he was no longer associated with them.

Davis said, “There are two things we do. First thing we do is we ask you do you have an ownership interest in that entity. The second thing I do is I personally follow up with the attorney that represents that entity just to verify that there is no public official that has an interest in that entity. That’s all we can do. It’s the best we can do.”

Davis also said, “What Alderman Odham did in this case a number of years ago when this situation first came to pass so that he would alert me to this issue so the two of us could monitor it as the years went by in case it ever became an issue.”

The meeting was open for a public hearing. Six residents of Craeberne Forest voiced their concerns and opposition of the rezoning. Some of them asked the board to delay the vote until they could visit their neighborhood and see existing problems before they decided. At least 10 others were in the audience but did not speak.

Wendy Card (New Bern Now) asked Davis if the mayor should participate in the discussion saying, when other elected officials across the state were recused from voting, they left their seats and sat with the audience. Card said, “They don’t participate in the discussion because it could influence the other board members.” Davis responded, “Some do that, but on this issue the mayor is going to chair the meeting.”

McCullough was in New Bern at the time of the meeting but did not attend. Instead, his daughter Brandi McCullough spoke. She said, “We’re just asking for rezoning. We’re not talking about streets. We’re not talking about sidewalks.” She continued, “The end goal, it’s just more of the same…copy and paste Craeberne Forest.”

McCullough stated, “I cannot say…residential, residential, residential, enough.”

The mayor led the discussion and asked questions about what was allowed and what wasn’t, among other things.

Alderman Barbara Best asked Odham, “Do you know of the time frame that possibly the Highway 43 corridor will be coming into existence?” He replied, “I’m no longer on the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). The last update we had was it was funded as far as the construction but the money for property acquisition comes out of a different fund and that’s what got put on hold a couple years ago when DOT went bankrupt. But now they are in a much more solvent position.”

Alderman Bob Brinson made the motion to approve the rezoning and Alderman Bobby Aster seconded it. Aldermen Rick Prill and Johnnie Ray Kinsey voted for the rezoning. Aldermen Hazel Royal and Best voted against it. The mayor did not vote. The motion passed 4 – 2.

Public Records Reveal

NBN submitted requests for public records months ago. While reviewing correspondence, more questions came up which led to more record requests and trips to the Craven County Register of Deeds, Tax Office and Courthouse.

Despite the mayor’s claim of no longer being involved with McCullough Farms, information from public records shows correspondence from NCDOT were sent to his home address that referenced the “declaration of taking and complaint” related to the right of way over property for construction of part of the NC 43 Connector. Residents have also seen the mayor entering and leaving the gated area that leads to the undeveloped land during the months since the rezoning and in recent weeks.

Correspondence also shows Patrick McCullough had been negotiating with NCDOT for months prior to the rezoning request.

On Aug. 15, 2022, Attorney Donald Lawrence sent a letter to NCDOT that referenced an email from Dec. 19, 2021, “stating that he (McCullough) wanted Jeff Odham, his foreman, to accompany” the NCDOT appraiser. Lawrence continued, “All of my client’s property has recently been unanimously recommended to be rezoned R6 by the New Bern Planning Board and is scheduled for a September hearing before the Board of Aldermen for the adoption of this R6 zoning classification.”

Lawrence also wrote, “My client insists that NCDOT Cease and Desist with any condemnation filing in Superior Court and to stop this continuing violation of condemnation law and process…”

McCullough was in New Bern last month to meet with a NCDOT representative.

NBN has repeatedly asked the mayor for comment with no response. McCullough and the BOA have also been asked for comment.

Watch the video of the rezoning discussion, public hearing and vote here:

By Wendy Card, co-editor. Send an email with questions or comments.