Lee gains MEC appointment

Published 9:31 am Thursday, February 4, 2016

WINDSOR – Mid East Commission (MEC) Executive Director Brian Buck appeared before the Bertie County Board of Commissioners at their regular monthly meeting here Monday with a request for an appointment to one of the Commission’s most vital committees.

“Along with the other services we provide (to) Bertie County: workforce development and aging, we also assist the county with transportation planning, as you’re all aware of,” said Buck.

Bertie County is part of the four-county Peanut Belt Rural Planning Organization (PBRPO) along with Halifax, Northampton, and Hertford counties. The purpose of the PBRPO is to work cooperatively with the NC Department of Transportation to plan rural transportation systems and to advise the DOT on rural transportation policy.

It’s four core functions are: developing, in cooperation with the Department of Transportation, long-range local and regional multi-modal transportation plans; provide a forum for public participation in the transportation planning process; developing and prioritizing suggestions for projects that the organization believes should be included in the State’s Transportation Improvement Program; and providing transportation-related information to local governments and other interested organizations and persons.

Buck says every two years the DOT does a state prioritization process to accumulate road projects and any other road priorities throughout the county and the two committees, the Technical Coordinating Committee and the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) provide a cooperative unified voice for rural entities to request projects and the funding needed for local and regional transportation projects.

Buck mentioned that currently county Economic Development Director Steve Biggs serves on the Technical Coordinating Committee.

“That said, on our Transportation Advisory Committee, Bertie does not have representation,” Buck advised. “It’s an important role, it’s the decision-maker of transportation priorities and Bertie has been without a voice on this very important process related to our transportation needs and infrastructure.”

Buck said former County Commissioner J. Wallace Perry was the last Bertie representative on the TAC and that the purpose of his appearance before the board Monday night was so that a new TAC representative might be appointed to serve a new two-year term.

“Basically this candidate would have a good handle on your transportation infrastructure, your transportation needs, and be someone who is interested in the direction of Bertie County, where your growth is, where activities are occurring, and of course our road networks,” Buck stated.

The TAC meets quarterly throughout the calendar year, but because 2016 is a prioritization year there would probably be a couple more meetings to attend. Buck said while meetings are spread throughout the four-county RPO region, most are held in Bertie County at the Heritage House Restaurant or in Ahoskie.

“We spread them around,” he said.

Buck said in addition to ethics training, the appointee would also have to fill out a statement of economic interests to make certain there are no conflicts.

He emphasized that in the last prioritization year it was the folks in the state’s Piedmont region who got the largest share of transportation funding.

“They’ve got folks representing them, alternates representing them and in the rural areas a lot of those voices dropped out when most of those requirements came to fruition,” Buck said. “If you do not do the ethics training, you cannot be a board member.”

Commission chairman John Trent inquired about potential conflicts of interest when it’s unknown who (on the board) might be doing business within the state highway system.

“That’s why the board at the time didn’t do anything was because no one wanted to participate in the conflict of interest (training) because someone they may be doing business with may be doing business (they were unaware of), and that would then be thrown back on them,” Trent pointed out.

“What if they don’t know,” he asked.

Buck indicated that was a fine line to delineate with board members.

“You may have to make a vote on a project or piece of property (in Bertie County), or has the ability to influence (a decision) one way or another and you didn’t know about it, then that would be the same situation,” Buck concurred.

Earlier, he indicated that board members may excuse themselves from voting should those situations arise.

Commissioner Tammy Lee, who also serves on the Tri-County Airport Authority, said some Authority board members also serve on the TAC.

“I don’t know that I’m the most qualified,” Lee declared. “I don’t have a problem with the ethics or the full disclosure and I don’t have a problem with sitting on that board, I just don’t know that I’m the most qualified; but I will take it so that we (Bertie County) will have a voice.”

Commissioner Ernestine Byrd Bazemore then made a motion to appoint Lee to the TAC, seconded by Wesson and passed by the Board unanimously.

Before Buck departed, Wesson – a MEC Board of Directors member – complimented the Executive Director on his service to the region.

“His leadership has made a tremendous difference and we have a new plan, a new strategy, and a lot of it is because of you,” Wesson said. “Your presence here in Bertie County is what we’ve needed for all the municipalities to know what the Mid East has to offer, so thank you.”