FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
PRINCEVILLE — Michael Bennett made a passionate plea to the citizens of his hometown and he didn't pull punches Tuesday during the Princeville Community Update Meeting sponsored by The North Carolina Department of State Treasurer.
"Yes, I'm angry. I'm angry because I'm passionate about Princeville," said Bennett, who spoke loudly. "...That's what keeping us down. Ignorance. Until somebody stands up and gets these people out of the way, then, this town will go forward. ... Next November, send them home. If I have to come back and do it, then so be it."
Bennett was referring to Princeville's next election when Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates and commissioners Calvin Sherrod and Isabelle Purvis-Andrews seats are up for grabs. The trio has made up the majority of the commission and the majority of the blame for the town's financial condition has been placed on their votes and actions.
Everette-Oates and Purvis-Andrews did not attend the meeting, nor did interim town manager Maggie Boyd. The three have spoken publicly about their dissatisfaction with LGC's taking over the town. Just last week, Everette-Oates stated she would like LGC to return the books by Thursday.
Local Government Commission Deputy Treasurer Vance Hollman told the citizens that the town's finances were in disarray and beyond repair of the the town staff. He said LGC took over the town's fiances because:
• The water and sewer fund was operating at a sizable loss and the LGC realized the town would not be able to make it's debt service payment.
• The town's June 30, 2011 audit was very late, had a qualified opinion and disclosed 19 material weakness in the town's internal control structure.
• The town had numerous violations of the Local Government Budget and Fiscal Control Act.
LGC took over the town's finances July 30 after issuing a warning on July 10. Hollman said at that time, he did not foresee the LGC taking over the books as soon as it did. However, they discovered "grave" concerns including;
• Accounting records were not complete
• There were no control over use of credit cards or disbursement of funds
• Bank accounts had not been reconciled in a year
• Receivables had grown by over $150,000 during the fiscal year.
• There was no consistent plan to eliminate past due utility accounts or address General Statue violations.
Everette-Oates has blamed the previous administration for the town's fiances. Curmulius "Butch" Dancy, a community activist, specifically asked which administration was in office in an effort to learn who was at-fault for the problems. Hollman acknowledged that Princeville has been struggling over a period of years. However, he said the town's recent condition can be traced to the 2011 audit. He noted the 2010 audit received an unqualified (good) opinion.
Hollman also blamed the problem on unqualified managers running the town hall. He said before LGC returns the books to the town, they would have to hire qualified personnel. Hollman speculated that the books could be return by the next fiscal year if things continue to improve.
Sharon Edmundson, LGC director, fiscal management, and acting Princeville finance officer, updated the citizens on Edgecombe County's taking over the water and sewer bill collection process. She said the changes are positive. Hollman suggested the town look into allowing the county to take over the entire system. He explained that Princeville's 850 water and sewer customers will be hard pressed to financial sustain the system.
LGC's takeover was the second time the state has taken the books from Princeville. In 1997 the town fiances went through turmoil also. Hollman was working with LGC during that time as well.
Yolanda Thigpen was 22 in 1997 and attending Edgecombe Community College. Although she loved her hometown, politics were far from her mind. Today, she stays abreast of Princeville's politics and she is not too fond of the second takeover. She asked, "What system is in place to make sure this doesn't happen again?"
Hollman told her the town must make sure proper staff is in place with a strong background in order to operate the town's affairs. He also said the citizens should become more involved with the town's governance.
Princeville commissioner Ann Howell thanked the LGC for taking over the books and also answering questions from concerned citizens. She urged the citizens to put their confidence in LGC.
"I just want to say, trust them," she said. "I believe that our town will come back profitable to us. We should be grateful we have a great staff of people who are trying to get this town back in order. ... (I) Just ask you to be patient."
Commissioner Gwen Knight said the meeting was a success, but her disappointment lay in the fact, "the mayor, Isabele and the town manager was not here." I just don't understand that."
Commissioner Calvin Sherrod also attended the meeting.