Video shows conversation leading up to resignation, raises questions about New Bern Housing Authority contracts

The New Bern Housing Authority office (NBN Photo)
New Bern Housing Authority office (NBN Photo)

A newly released video of the New Bern Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners meeting raises questions about the legality of a piggyback contract agreement. It also shows what happened leading up to the executive director’s resignation six months ago.’s request for public records prompted the New Bern Housing Authority to publish the video of the Board of Commissioners special meeting held on Sept. 12, 2023.

The purpose of the meeting was to consider a FEMA consulting agreement and to go into closed session to discuss a personnel matter.

Tiffany Askew, the executive director, said staff had reviewed and rated four responses to a request for proposal for a FEMA consultant and recommended the board approve a contract agreement with Grantworks, Inc.

Commissioner Sabrina Bengel wanted the board to bypass the formal bidding process and hire Valarie Philipp who used to work with Witt O’Brien’s, the former FEMA consultant.

She stated that she wanted continuity and said, “We could have hired her personally.”

Askew responded, “Well if you would like to do that then you will be fined for procuring somebody without going through the process.”

Bengel told the board, “We” entered into the contract with Witt O’Brien through a piggyback contract via the Housing Authority of Houston Galveston area on December 21, 2022.

The NBHA Board met on Dec. 19, but Bengel had not been appointed to the board until Dec. 21.

The Board of Commissioners did not vote on a FEMA consultant contract agreement during the Dec. 19 meeting.

Bengel accused Askew of not telling the board that Witt O’Brien’s contract was ending before a new RFP was issued.

She also said the contract was extended in July 2023.

Askew responded by saying, “Not by me.”

It’s unclear who extended the contract.

Referring to Askew, someone said, she doesn’t have to tell the board about every RFP and RFQ that is put out.

Bengel stated the board was supposed to be apprised of every RFQ. She said, “She advises us on everything else.”

Commissioner Jennell Reddick said they were not required to be told about what RFQ was needed.

Bengel said, “This is an authority, this is a public body.” She referred to every board she had been on and said that she was apprised of everything.

Reddick stated, “I think that’s where the confusion is. This is not every board.”

It’s important to note that individual members of public bodies do not have the authority to direct employees.

Commissioner Dana Outlaw prompted an explanation about the process.

A motion was made to approve a contract agreement with Grantworks, Inc.

Denise Powell and Jennell Reddick voted yes. NBN heard a male voice vote yes, but it’s unclear if it was Chairman Ronald Scott or Zeb Hough because people weren’t called by name prior to the vote. Dana Outlaw and Sabrina Bengel voted no. Commissioner Sulin Blackmon was absent.

The board went into a closed session, but the video ended. The footage didn’t show what happened after they returned to the regular session.

Public records obtained by note Zeb Hough accepted Askew’s resignation letter.

Six days after the September 12 meeting, Commissioner Bengel recommended the board hire Reggie Barner as the interim executive director. He was the agency’s co-developer consultant. He became the IED on September 18.

Watch the video here:

We reached out the to New Bern Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners and Interim Executive Director for comment but have not received a response.

Correction: It was initially reported that Ronald Scott voted yes.

By Wendy Card, Editor. Send an email with questions or comments.

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