Video captures tense exchanges between city, county officials
Editor's note: The video has been removed from www.youtube.com. The video was not owned or posted online by the Salisbury Post.
SALISBURY — Discord between the city of Salisbury and Rowan County continues to escalate, as seen in video taken at a recent political breakfast.
City Manager Doug Paris was the guest Saturday at the Republican Men's breakfast. A 20-minute video posted on YouTube shows several exchanges between Paris and county commission Chairman Jim Sides and Vice Chairman Craig Pierce, as well as others who attended the monthly event.
After Paris lists his concerns about Rowan County buying the Salisbury Mall, including paying too much and potential environmental contamination from a nearby former gas station, Pierce tells Paris off.
“I would say this to you, Mr. City Manager. When you become a county commissioner, you can have that decision,” Pierce said. “But until then, it's none of your damn business.”
Paris responded that he's not making a decision about purchasing the mall.
“Then don't make any comment,” Pierce said.
Pierce said the current commissioners have a different opinion about the mall than the previous board.
“I don't really appreciate the city manager coming to any forum or any type of public display and telling the county commissioners what they think we ought to do,” Pierce said. “I don't care what you think we ought to do. We're going to do what we're going to do because we are the elected officials by everybody in this county, not just by your elite little group down in Salisbury.
“So as far as those concerns, you got a piece of paper and I'll tell you what you can do with that piece of paper.”
A local Tea Party advocate — Rick Johnson's company Paul Revere Media — shot the video and posted it online. Attendees knew the camera was rolling.
Last week, Paris and some of his top staffers posted numerous tweets on the social media website Twitter criticizing the county's impending decision to buy the mall. Their tweets have been widely circulated among county officials and supporters.
At the time, Paris and his employees thought the mall had monitoring wells to remove contamination, just like the proposed school central office site. The state erroneously reported contamination at the mall but later retracted the statement and said the mall site is now clean.
Before the correction, Paris tweeted a photo of a monitoring well at the mall and said. “All the secrecy makes sense now.” The city spokeswoman replied in a tweet, “Secrecy — let's make that hypocrisy.”
Paris also tweeted sarcastically, “The vapors! The vapors! The ground is sinking!” in a reference to the county's concern about gasoline vapors infiltrating the proposed central office and the building sinking into new soil that replaced contaminated dirt.
John Leatherman, chairman of the Rowan County Republican Party, attended Saturday's breakfast and called it a “lively discussion.” He gave Paris credit for showing up.
“At least he was willing to come,” Leatherman said. “This is one of the things that has been lacking, a willingness to sit down and have open lines of communication.”
Leatherman said the city, county and school board need to talk more, although he acknowledged Pierce and Sides struck an aggressive tone at Saturday's breakfast.
“I think that it was communicating positions that need to be communicated,” Leatherman said. “Is there a better forum, or could we do a better job of it? Maybe.”
Sides repeatedly asked Paris why the city hasn't been concerned about possible environmental contamination at the mall until the county considered buying the property. Sides denied the county was considering paying $3.5 million for the mall and asked Paris where he got “that figure.”
Commissioners on Monday agreed to offer $3.45 million for the mall.
When talking about the proposed downtown central office, Sides said Bill Burgin, the school board's architect, and school board Chairman Dr. Richard Miller lied to county commissioners about an environmental study.
“When they offered to give it to us, we asked for the phase one. They swore they had it,” Sides said. “They didn't. They lied.”
Paris said the county was still in charge of the central office project when the phase one was conducted, but Sides said the county did not authorize the study.
“We weren't stakeholders, if you'll remember,” Sides said. “You need to get you a dictionary for 'stakeholder.' “
This was apparently a spin on another disagreement between Sides and Paris.
Last year, after the city said it would donate land and parking and remove contaminated soil for the downtown central office, Sides said the city was not a stakeholder in the project and bowed out of a meeting with the school board because City Council was invited.
At the time, Paris gave Sides a gift-wrapped dictionary, so the commissioner would know the definition of “stakeholder.” Sides gave it back.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.