Mayoral candidates clash over finances, unity

Mayoral candidates clash over finances, unity
Reggie Ponder, The Daily Advance Staff Writer Sep 20, 2023

Editor’s note: The Daily Advance’s coverage of 3rd Ward candidates who attended Tuesday night’s candidates forum will appear online Wednesday and in Thursday’s printed edition.

Mayoral challenger Christina Williams hammered incumbent Elizabeth City Mayor Kirk Rivers over fiscal control issues at a candidates forum Tuesday night as Rivers defended his record as one of unifying the city and inspiring progress.

Williams, who buttoned her answers to various questions by reading letters from citizens asking the N.C. Local Government Commission to take fiscal control over the city, asked rhetorically: “When did Elizabeth City become a city that has on-the-job training for its finance staff?”

She was answering a question posed to mayoral and 3rd Ward city council candidates attending The Daily Advance Candidates Forum at the Pasquotank County Courthouse asking whether they supported continuing to pay an outside accounting consultant up to $172,000 annually for fiscal assistance after having already paid some $500,000 to another outside firm for that service.

Rivers pushed back on the city’s critics, saying they have used the LGC’s scrutiny of the city and the city’s fiscal issues — which he said had begun before the current elected officials and current city manager took office — as a distraction from good things that are happening in the city.

He cited as examples of positive developments the growth that has taken place downtown and 10 new surveillance cameras that have been installed in neighborhoods and other areas.

The forum, which was moderated by retired attorney Mark Maland, also included City Council candidates from the 3rd Ward. But the exchanges between Rivers and Williams were especially pointed. Bennie Murphy, a third mayoral candidate, did not attend Tuesday’s forum. He previously had told The Daily Advance a family emergency might prevent his attendance.

Answering a question about funding for nonprofits, Williams circled back to incomplete city audits and lack of certainty about the city’s financial situation.

“We don’t know how many funds we have,” Williams said. There has to be certainty about that before any additional funds can be allocated for nonprofits or anything else, she said.

But Rivers said he is proud of investments the city has made in youth and proud of $15,000 that has been allocated to help people who are homeless.

Answering an audience question about unpaid invoices that were more than six months old, Rivers said the questioner should contact City Manager Montre Freeman and ask him directly about those kinds of things. Rivers said he is not the manager and does not get involved in those kinds of operations.

“As mayor my job is to be the big cheerleader for our city,” Rivers said. He said the focus on the city’s finances should not be allowed to be a distraction from positive things happening in the city such as increased enrollment at all three colleges and classes that are being offered in the city to help people become homeowners.

He went on to say that city officials want everyone to get paid for products or services they have provided.

Answering a question about communication with citizens about important matters, Williams described the city’s current communication with citizens as “abysmal.” She said she believes the current city council misuses closed sessions and is not transparent with citizens.

Rivers said he and members of the council are transparent by being in the community and being accessible to citizens.

“We are in the community to be accessible for all questions,” Rivers said.

Williams also accused Rivers of setting a bad example by returning property that had been stolen from the Northeastern High School Athletic Booster Club in 2021 without divulging the name of who had been in possession of the property.

Rivers defended his action, saying that his goal was to get the property back to the booster club. He said he was able to find out where the property was because of the trust that people in the community have in him.

Rivers said he is most proud of how city officials are working together in harmony.

“We need to talk about the ‘we,’” Rivers said. “We are working together.”