Sides won’t support downtown central office

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 5, 2013

SALISBURY — Rowan County Commissioners Chairman Jim Sides will not write a letter supporting the downtown central office, nor will he add a discussion of the project to the agenda “at anytime in the near future,” according to an email Sides sent commissioners Wednesday.
At their meeting Tuesday, Salisbury City Council members asked the commissioners to write a letter of support for the downtown central office the city wants to build for the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
But Sides wasn’t having it.

Sides, who has not returned repeated calls from the Post, told commissioners he plans to stand by the 3-2 vote held earlier this year rejecting the use of county tax dollars for the downtown central office.
“I will not be writing a letter of support or opposition for this project. I will not be calling a special meeting to vote in support or opposition of this project. I will not be adding a discussion of this project to our agenda at anytime in the near future,” Sides wrote Wednesday.
City Council members read quotes from commissioners at Tuesday night’s meeting. Those statements included supportive remarks and denials of interference.
A letter from the county to the state confirming those statements “may go a long way to addressing the discomfort shared with us by the Local Government Commission,” City Manager Doug Paris said.
Sides added he would be open to hearing thoughts from his fellow commissioners.
“Three commissioners, if they so choose, may override the decisions I have outlined above at any time,” he wrote. “I certainly welcome your input and will comply with your wishes. However, I will continue to comply with what the majority of this board has decided in the past until that position changes.”
On Wednesday, commissioners Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said he stood by Sides’ email and re-emphasized commissioners’ noninvolvement in the city’s project.
“Naturally, I received the e-mail. My response to that is we voted on this back in February,” Pierce said. “It was a 3-2 vote. Since that time we have not been involved in any discussion about the central office as far as the county’s concerned.”
Pierce echoed his remarks from last week, saying the commissioners have not discussed legal action against the city if the Local Government Commission were to approve funding for the downtown central office.
The Local Government Commission, he said, called the county — not the other way around.
“Nobody from the county initiated any phone calls to the LGC. The LGC called us. We didn’t call them,” he said. “If the city is able to make this work, my hat’s off to them. It’s not something that we’re concerning ourselves with as commissioners.”
Sides has long opposed the downtown central office site, but said earlier this year he would not vote to stop the project.
He clarified his position Wednesday, saying the project’s end result is the city’s doing.
“I wish the City of Salisbury well with their application to the Local Government Commission, if they desire to proceed. However, this is in no way an endorsement of this project, nor of their actions to credit the Board of County Commissioners and county staff with its failure,” Sides wrote. “This is a stand alone project for the City of Salisbury. They are the lone stakeholder, and this project will succeed or fail on its own merits. The Board of County Commissioners is in no way involved.”
Pierce said he watched a video recording of Tuesday’s City Council meeting and was “shocked by the amount of misrepresentation” with regards to the project and the county’s involvement.
“We don’t have any concerns about interfering with them. Them asking us to write a letter is interference as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “We haven’t done anything to hold them back.”
Pierce was especially sharp in defending against some city officials’ accusations that the county doesn’t want a central office.
“We want the school system to have a central office,” Pierce said, citing the number of options the county has provided the school system in recent years. “It’s obvious this is something the commission wants to put behind itself. We simply don’t want it downtown on a contaminated lot. Period. That’s where we drew the line when we voted back in February.”
In the email, Sides said he has “never supported” the idea of Salisbury agreeing to fund the downtown central office project and said he has never contacted the Local Government Commission about the project.
“The City of Salisbury then inserted themselves as a stakeholder in this project by agreeing to fund and build the central office for the school system. I have never supported this idea in the past,” he said. “Neither have I taken any public action, locally or with the Local Government Commission in Raleigh, to oppose this project, as is continually reported by the local media.”
The Post has not reported that Sides was in contact with the Local Government Commission.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.