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Salisbury mayor says months of closed meetings ‘winding down,’ action could be taken Monday

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Following months of hours-long meetings closed to the public, including one “emergency meeting” on a Saturday afternoon, the Salisbury City Council will meet again on Monday, and Mayor Karen Alexander says there could be council action afterward.

To date, the council has taken no action despite meeting for hours at a time each time. The city of Salisbury also has declined to provide some correspondence in response to Salisbury Post public records requests, citing a general personnel exemption to the state’s public records law.

Council members have been meeting in closed sessions since late August to discuss personnel issues. On some occasions, the private portions of the meetings were noticed as usual in meeting agendas. Other times, it was added to the regular agenda at council meetings. In one instance, on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 12:36 p.m., the city of Salisbury sent out a notice about an emergency meeting to take place less than 30 minutes later. Nearly all of the “emergency meeting” occurred in closed session.

Alexander and other city officials have declined to provide any details about the nature of the meetings. While declining to provide details, Alexander said on Friday that she thinks the city may be “winding down,” with the possibility action can be taken following Monday’s closed session meeting.

Alexander said she was concerned that any breach of confidentiality could result in a lawsuit by anyone involved in the personnel issue.

“Anything that is worth doing in terms of city business is that they can count on this council (to do it) in the absolute, most professional and legal way,” she told the Post on Thursday.

In mid-October, the Post submitted a public records request to the city, requesting copies of all emails sent by city department directors to Salisbury City Council members in the previous six months, and vice versa. Additionally, the Post requested the names, costs and descriptions of work performed by attorneys hired by the city of Salisbury, not including city attorney Graham Corriher, in the previous two years.

The records show that the city spent approximately $2,926 on general personnel advice in 2018 and $18,529 on general personnel advice in 2019.

Records show $2,275 has been spent on general personnel advice since August. On two separate occasions, the city has used the services of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP, which has offices in Charlotte, Raleigh and Wilmington.

Present at Thursday’s closed-door meeting was attorney Kelly Hughes of Ogletree Deakins, a firm based out of Charlotte. Alexander said the council was using her services related to the closed session.

Hughes’ area of practice includes employment law and litigation.

In response to the Post’s request, the city said some emails sent to and from city council members and staff related to the closed sessions were not provided. The city did not state how many records were excluded.

The Post also requested the subject line, date, recipient and sender of emails and any contents of emails that otherwise did not contain personnel information. City Clerk Kelly Baker’s response was that all of an email is excluded from a public records requirements if part of it contains personnel information.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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