Commissioner says he spoke out of frustration with city at GOP breakfast

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 7, 2013

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 — Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said Rowan County commissioners did not set a trap for City Manager Doug Paris at a recent political breakfast.

Pierce said Paris was not invited to the Republican Men’s breakfast on Saturday as a special guest. The monthly event, held at Ryan’s restaurant, is open to anyone, and Paris showed up and asked to speak, Pierce said.

A 20-minute video from the breakfast posted on YouTube shows several tense exchanges between Paris, Pierce and county commission Chairman Jim Sides about commissioners’ intention to buy the Salisbury Mall.

Pierce at one point tells Paris the mall purchase is “none of your damn business.” He also says, “I’ll tell you what you can do with that piece of paper.”

On Wednesday, Pierce told the Post he became angry with Paris because the city manager came to the breakfast to dictate to county commissioners regarding the Salisbury Mall. Pierce said he spoke out of frustration and acknowledged he acted rudely.

“There’s no doubt in my mind there was a more diplomatic way to say it,” Pierce said. “I probably should have handled it differently.”

Pierce said he was fed up with “the constant barrage of interference” by the city into county matters, including de-annexation of the Rowan County Airport, the school central office and now the purchase of the Salisbury Mall.

Pierce said he disagrees with people who have called the commissioners bullies after viewing the video.

“I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and Chairman Sides,” Pierce said. “We tend to be able to articulate our feelings a lot faster than a lot of other people.”

Pierce said he speaks what is on his mind and does not attempt to be politically correct or diplomatic in every situation.

“One thing you will hear from me is what I feel and the truth,” he said.

Pierce said Paris was out of line because Pierce had already announced to breakfast attendees that county commissioners had decided to buy the mall and relocate some county offices from downtown.

Paris arrived with a list of demands and immediately began finding fault with what commissioners had said they were going to do, Pierce said.

“Yes he is a taxpayer, and he has a right to an opinion as an individual,” Pierce said. “But with him being there in his capacity as city manager, we didn’t feel that it was justified.”

Pierce said that during part of the meeting not included in the 20-minute video, he asked the city to stop fighting the county on the mall issue and suggested, “Why don’t we try to work together so this would be an easy transition for the city and county.”

A second, shorter video from the breakfast posted on YouTube does show Pierce notifying Paris and the city that the county plans to move departments out of downtown and into the mall. He tells the city to find a way to maintain “your downtown Salisbury area with the least amount of impact.”

“So all I will tell them is, it’s time for you to quit crying about the situation and get your head screwed on tight and go move forward with a positive plan of action,” Pierce said in the video.

Rick Johnson of Paul Revere Media, a Tea Party supporter, took the videos and has posted several clips from other GOP Men’s breakfasts on YouTube. Pierce speaks in all of them.

Pierce said the group has nothing to hide and has no agenda other than to discuss issues that are important to the county. He extended a standing invitation to Paris to come to future GOP breakfasts.

Paris said he would be delighted to return and maintained that he was invited to Saturday’s event, as well.

City Councilman Brian Miller had attended an earlier breakfast and told Paris that several people wanted him to come and speak about the central office and Salisbury Mall.

“Several people there asked if I would attend, so I think that’s an invitation,” he said.

Paris said he was asked to speak and did. He said he was sharing a list of the city’s concerns about the mall purchase, not dictating to commissioners.

“I was surprised and shocked by (Pierce’s) reaction, and frankly, I’m surprised that he hasn’t apologized to me,” Paris said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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