Eastern Carolina Council of Governments

ECC on the ropes

But not ready yet to throw in the towel

From left, Kyle DeHaven, Carolyn Kenyon, and Michael James manage governments within ECC’s nine county region, and expressed support for the multi-purpose agency during a Jan. 13 meeting.

NEW BERN – The governing board of the Eastern Carolina Council of Governments (ECC) received an independent ‘warts and all’ critique of its operations on Thursday, Jan. 13 – and the findings are not pretty. 

To its credit, the beleaguered organization, which offers services to nine contiguous counties in eastern North Carolina, knows problems exist. In July of 2021, ECC officials were forced to fire the executive director, followed two days later by the abrupt, unannounced resignation of its contracted law firm.

And, membership in ECC – open to 51 governmental entities (both large and small) – is lackluster, with several larger members (for example, Onslow County) having departed. 

Nevertheless, the diligent, concerned nucleus of 15 government representatives who managed to show up for the evening’s ‘Zoom-style’ STATE OF THE ECC analysis were probably not ready for what they got. 

Almost 100 percent bad news — with both barrels! Specifically: 

  • The ECC needs to be embraced by and represent its owners – the local governments of the region.
  • Both the ECC Board of Directors and the ECC Executive Committee must be more engaged with their ECC
  • The ECC is the only Council of Governments in North Carolina that does not meet on a regular basis with the Local Government Managers/Administrators that serve on the region’s local governments. 

There were, of course, other recommendations of similar ilk. One final shot from the presenter was a strong hint that he would rate ECC last among North Carolina’s 16 ‘Councils of Governments.’ 

Ouch! That one hurt!

There was, however, one bright spot in the evening. Three invited guests: Carolyn Kenyon, Town Manager of Faison; Michael James, Manager of Lenoir County; and Kyle DeHaven, Manager of Greene County each made it clear that their governments have received valuable benefits/services from ECC, which they hope will continue. 

The next day, Pamlico County Commissioner Ed Riggs, Jr., who serves as Vice President of the ECC Board of Directors, released the following statement: 

With the recent dismissal of another Executive Director and a law firm resigning days before being potentially dismissed, the Board of the Eastern Carolina Council of Governments, with the assistance of the Regional Directors Institute Council, conducted a strategic assessment for its future direction before hiring its next Executive Director.

Currently, the Eastern Carolina Council of Governments houses the region’s Area Agency on Aging, the Rural Transportation Planning Organizations for the Department of Transportation, and the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the region.

The results of the assessment produced the desire by a majority of the participant governments to have grant writers, planners, technical assistance staff, and other services available and to maximize its relevance through grant funds.  Also, within hours of the board meeting, a letter was produced signed by 8 of 9 County Managers within the region stating “ECC is neither engaged with nor actively providing wide ranging services to the communities within the region” and that “The requirement of the Director to raise sufficient funds to sustain their salary should be reevaluated.”

The primary recommendation of the assessment was to make an EDA grant proposal to temporarily fund ECC to establish these requested services while seeking commitments from the member governments going forward.  A committee has been created to work on these issues and report back to the full Board in February.  Any recommendations will need full Board approval and a commitment from the member governments.

Over the last several years, there have been honest disagreements on which direction the Council should go. Some want to provide a wide range of services while others are not sure if the demand justifies the cost.  There also has been lack of commitment and engagement from several of the larger governments in the region.  

There is no question that particularly the small towns and communities need a resource for information and services.  When deciding the future, we need to remember, as elected officials, that grant money is not free money.  As with member dues, this is taxpayer money, and we do not need to reinvent the wheel with it.  We need to find a consensus that allows the council to provide these services in the most economical way possible, either through hiring staff or contracting with others.  Our communities and county governments need a resource and a forum for regional ideas and discussion, the primary mission and purpose of the Council.  The level of interest and commitment from the region’s governments will ultimately decide the fate of the Eastern Carolina Council.