A public response to a query from a town commissioner drew questions from a citizen advocate and had Town Administrator Robert Davie in the line of fire during Monday night’s Warrenton Town Board meeting.

During the early portion of the meeting alloted for public comments, Yvette Roberts, who regularly advocates for residents of the Haley Street community, made her monthly call for neighborhood improvements and paving of the Haley-Haywood Park walking trail, saying that the recent compacting of the trail was not acceptable. She also expressed concern about street flooding during last week’s heavy rain, which had streets throughout town under water.

Roberts then turned her attention to a two-page memo from Davie that was included in the meeting agenda packet. The memo, entitled “Accomplishments for African Americans in Warrenton,” indicated that a commissioner had recently asked Davie what Davie knew about the sentiment of him in Warrenton’s African-American community, and that as a result, Davie felt the need to list accomplishments specifically for African-American citizens. 

The list includes 19 items, most related specifically to work with the town.

Roberts initially questioned Davie listing the town’s new trash truck, saying she didn’t believe the truck only goes into African-American communities, and to say that was done for African-Americans was insulting.

She also questioned the $750,000 housing rehabilitation grant, which the memo indicated largely benefited African-Americans, saying that it wasn’t something the town was doing since the money was from an outside source.

Roberts said she didn’t know why Davie used the term “person of color” in the memo since the title said African-American, then she addressed his item about the $500,000 grant for Milano’s, and said that the restaurant owner is not African-American.

Roberts asked for an explanation of “sharpening pencils” on the item: Kept town contracts with local African-American contractors, giving them opportunities to sharpen pencils when not low bidders and when competing against companies outside the area.

She also questioned the listing of helping to establish, in an African-American neighborhood, Hayley-Haywood Park with a grant award, as the land for the park was donated.

Roberts said she is coming back to more of the memo items at next month’s meeting.

Mayor Walter Gardner said the town would respond to Roberts with answers to her questions.

Following the meeting, the newspaper asked Commissioner Mark Wethington to confirm if he were the commissioner Davie noted in the memo. Wethington said he didn’t know if Davie were referring to him, but that over coffee recently, he asked Davie what he thought the sentiment of the African-American community was toward town leadership.

“I had some in the African-American community ask me whether I thought the town was doing all it could for the people of color, and I asked that question of Robert,” Wethington said. “That came from me, but that was because others had asked me.

“I think my question to Robert was, ‘What do you think the town has done for people of color in recent years?’ But I didn’t ask him to come up with a list. I was surprised to see the list.”

Wethington said his questions weren’t posed specifically to Davie, but were general toward town leadership.

He said that the question that really needs to be asked is what relationships are being built.

“If there is separation among races in Warrenton, what are we doing to build that relationship,” Wethington said.

When asked by the newspaper if Wethington is asking his fellow commissioners—who set town policies and goals—these questions instead of just Davie, he said no, but that he would.

On Tuesday, Davie explained why he produced the list.

“A lot of times, people don’t know what goes on in the background,” he said. “It’s important to highlight accomplishments for folks that don’t attend meetings and don’t really know what goes on in the background all the time.”

Housing grants

Davie announced that Community Development Block Grants are available for low-income homeowners countywide through the Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments through the deadline of Nov. 5. The application period is now open.

Home improvements can be up to $10,000 per project, minimum of $5,000 per project, for homeowners who are age 62 or older, disabled or veterans, who meet certain income requirements. 

Manufactured and mobile homes do not qualify.

Applications are available at Warrenton Town Hall, 113 S. Bragg St., Warrenton.

For more information, call the Kerr-Tar COG at 252-436-2040.

COVID-19 policy

Due to increasing local cases of COVID-19, the town board voted to immediately: require visitors to town facilities to wear a mask to receive service; require town staff to wear masks when providing service indoors and when in their offices and not able to maintain six-feet of social distancing; and a policy regarding a positive case in a town facility related to an employee, and related to a positive case of a town employee.

Other business

The town board: tabled approval of minutes of the August board meeting on request of Commissioner Edna Scott, who asked that specific questions from her and answers from Commissioner Mike Coffman be added related to his request to disband the revitalization committee; approved $25,000 to establish a grant project ordinance related to a parking lot on the south end of town; approved a high bid of $7,260 net through online auction on a Hazelwood Road lot that had been donated to the town; approved changes to the historic district commission guidelines; approved the initial board of directors for the Plummer Hook & Ladder Fire Museum, Inc. nonprofit; and approved a $17,000 budget amendment in the downtown redevelopment grant for the new Milano’s building to cover legal fees.