Councilman still owes city $31,000
The recent financial issues surrounding Mayor Bernita Sims have refocused attention on another High Point leader who owes the city money.
Councilman Foster Douglas is among the plaintiffs who owe the city $31,381.78 as a result of a 2003 judgment High Point won against him in federal court.
Douglas and his brother, Jerry Douglas, were owners of the now-closed Club Comfort Zone at Brentwood Street and E. Kivett Drive. High Point police responded to numerous incidents at the club, which led to stepped up law enforcement efforts that the brothers claimed formed a pattern of racial harassment.
The brothers sued the city in 2002, claiming civil rights violations.
In November 2003, a federal judge ruled against the Douglases on summary judgment, finding their allegations unreasonable, frivolous and without foundation.
“Astoundingly, when required by the rules to produce evidence to support those claims, the Plaintiffs conceded they were without such evidence,” the late former U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen Sr. wrote in his order dismissing the case. “Not a scintilla of evidence was produced by the Plaintiffs.”
The judge ordered the brothers to pay for the city’s cost of defending itself against the claims — $17,402 in attorney’s fees and $2,124.68 in expenses.
High Point City Attorney JoAnne Carlyle said Friday that neither Douglas nor his brother have paid anything on the judgment, which has grown to at least $31,381.78 with interest.
The city has tried to collect the debt from Douglas in the past, but he owned no property at the time that could have been seized by law.
“Earlier this year, we tried other methods to obtain the settlement,” City Manager Strib Boynton wrote in an email to the council Friday. “Our efforts to obtain the settlement judgment were ignored.”
In February 2004, Douglas and his brother filed a statement with the court claiming that they had financial hardships and were unable to pay.
In an email to Douglas Jan. 30 of this year, Boynton wrote that he and other city officials would like to meet with him to discuss payment alternatives to settle the debt.
“We presume your hardship has passed and that your are now in a position to satisfy your share, as the city has paid you $60,000 in salary, plus allowance and travel expenses since you assumed office in 2008. The city is currently paying you $14,410 annually in salary and allowances,” Boynton wrote.
The city cannot seize money from Douglas’ salary, but a pending bill in the North Carolina General Assembly would grant this power.
House Bill 346 would allow cities and counties to withhold compensation from council members and county commissioners who have not paid a monetary judgment they owe the city or county.
One of the primary sponsors of the bill was state Rep. John Faircloth, a High Point Republican and former council member.
The bill passed unanimously in the House before it was attached to another bill in the Senate that never made it to the floor for a vote in the last days of the General Assembly. Boynton said he suspects it will come up for consideration in the 2014 legislative session.
“In the meantime, unless he is willing to pay the judgment assessed against him, the next step will be to go through the serving and collection process again. We would appreciate your direction,” Boynton wrote council Friday.
Council member Judy Mendenhall responded by email to Boynton and the rest of the council that she agreed with taking this step.
“I see nothing left for the City except to make every effort to collect this....not doing so would not set the example I believe we have to provide to our citizens,” Mendenhall wrote.
Douglas defeated six other candidates to win the Ward 2 council seat in 2008. He defeated two challengers to win re-election in 2010 and ran unopposed in 2012.
When reached by phone Friday, he declined to comment.