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Something happened — but what?

Something big happened.
Several big things happened.
Doug Paris at age 28 totally out-negotiated a City Council of experienced professionals with his employment contract as city manager. After a national search, he was selected from 70 or 80 applicants Not every candidate was a perfect fit. For that matter, Doug wasn’t either. By any standard, a pool that size is a buyer’s market. With that much demand for the job, the city should have dictated the terms of the contract. But before working a single day on the job, Doug negotiated a severance benefit more than double the amount rewarded to the retiring city manager, David Treme, who had served more than two decades.
During his two years as city manager, Doug left a trail of dissatisfaction which cumulatively lacked sufficient gravitas for dismissal.
More than any local official in memory, he relied on old-fashioned cronyism to create internal political support by appointing and promoting people around him whose first job was be loyal to him, regardless of their competence or suitability for the job. He fired and accepted “voluntary” resignations from some of the city’s best employees. Still not enough for dismissal.
When Moody’s downgraded the Fibrant bonds, Doug “disagreed.” As a former banker, I laughed. Most borrowers try to fix the problem, not insult the lender.
Then the something big happened. After a normal two-hour meeting, City Council veered from the agenda and went into an emergency five-hour closed session emerging with a mutual agreement for Doug to resign and committing the taxpayers — including me — to pay him more than the combined annual salaries of five or six teachers. Again, Wonder Boy out-negotiated the City Council, walking away with more than $200,000. And the promise of a great reference.
North Carolina law allows closed sessions for personnel matters to consider initial employment or to investigate a complaint against a public employee. This was about a resignation. Did this cloak of secrecy fit within the definition of an “investigation?”
As stewards of city business for all citizens, if something this big happened, why didn’t the City Council just fire him? That would have taken five minutes. If that breached his employment contract, Doug could sue the city. As a taxpayer, I’d rather pay $200,000 to defend a lawsuit than pay Doug.
Would Doug have wanted the investigation to be aired in public? Rumors are flying that his negotiating strength was that he had some aces up his sleeve that would have, at the least, been embarrassing to the City Council. Whatever big happened, all lips are sealed, and city taxpayers are picking up the tab.
When the public trust is at stake, sunshine is the best disinfectant. Because contracts only work when both parties agree, they are easy to litigate. A contract is really an agreement to disagree.
Has Doug been paid yet? Can we citizens file a lawsuit to prevent the city from paying him?
Can these City Council members be re-elected? Unlike most public issues that generate both support and opposition, this incident has been universally disapproved. Brian Miller may deserve a pass for having the courage to raise the question, whatever it was. With the next election more than a year away, voter forgetfulness may be the City Council’s best campaign strategy.
The next big thing may be electing an entirely new City Council.
David Post lives in Salisbury.

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