Council authorizes legal action to collect $32K from councilman

Aug. 15, 2013 @ 06:09 PM

High Point City Councilman Foster Douglas could face a day of reckoning over a $32,000 court judgment he owes the city.

The city will try for a third time to collect the funds, which stem from the dismissal of a 2002 lawsuit filed by Douglas and his brother, Jerry Douglas, against the city.

The brothers accused the city of civil rights violations in its efforts to police a nightclub they owned on E. Kivett Drive during the 1990s. A federal judge in 2003 ruled that the Douglases had no evidence to support their claims and ordered them to pay for the city’s cost of defending itself against the allegations — $17,402 in attorney’s fees and $2,124.68 in expenses.

The judgment since has grown to $32,216.35 with interest.

Neither Douglas nor his brother has paid any amount of the judgment to date.

The city tried twice to collect the debt from Douglas before he was elected to the Ward 2 seat on council in November 2008. At the time, he owned no property that could have been seized by law to collect on the debt. Property and other assets up to a certain value can be exempted from the collection process. The city cannot garnish any money from Douglas’ employment income or the $14,410 in annual salary and allowances he earns as a council member.

City legal staff next week will attempt to re-execute the judgment after council members expressed support for renewing collection efforts.

“We should in all cases collect what is due the City,” Mayor Bernita Sims wrote in an email to council members and city officials Aug. 9.

No attempts have been made to collect the judgment since Douglas has been on council.

After The High Point Enterprise on Aug. 9 requested documents and correspondence involving the matter — material that was the basis for an Aug. 11 article about the fact that the money was still owed — council members voiced their support for another round of collection efforts.

“I think the city should collect any debt like that, especially if it’s an elected official,” said Councilman Jim Davis.

The city has tried other avenues to pursue the debt, including the backing of state legislation that would allow cities and counties to withhold compensation from council members or county commissioner who has not paid a monetary judgment they owe the city or county they represent.

House Bill 346 unanimously passed the House and is pending in the Senate. The earliest it could be acted upon is May 2014 when the legislature next convenes.

“Ideally, Mr. Douglas would right the matter, with his brother, that the court had decreed,” Councilwoman Becky Smothers said.

The judgment, which was issued in November 2003, must be renewed every 10 years to remain valid.

City Attorney JoAnne Carlyle said the 10-year window began in June 2005, when notice that the order had been filed in state court was sent to Douglas. She said the renewal process involves a simple paperwork filing.

Douglas on Thursday declined to comment on the matter.

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