Our View: Douglas’ payment is overdue

Aug. 18, 2013 @ 01:39 AM

For the past 10 years, Foster Douglas has stiffed the taxpayers of High Point on money he owes the city. Five years ago, we voted him into office, and as a member of High Point City Council, he draws nearly $15,000 annually in salary and allowances from the taxpayers.
Douglas, who represents Ward 2, and his brother Jerry Douglas owe the city $32,216, stemming from a 2003 court judgment against them. They’ve paid nothing to the city, despite attempts by city officials to collect several years ago.
Last week, when contacted by the Enterprise for a news story, Douglas refused to comment about the court case and the money he owes the city. But really, there is not much Douglas should say about the matter — except, “Yes, I will pay the bill.”
And it’s past time for him to pay up.
Douglas incurred this debt when he and his brother filed a lawsuit in 2002 alleging civil rights violations by the High Point Police Department in relation to a nightclub the Douglas brothers owned and operated on E. Kivett Drive. In 2003, a judge ruled the lawsuit was frivolous and assessed the Douglases for the city’s attorney fees and legal expenses. At the time, the judgment totaled $19,526. With interest over the 10 years, the amount has grown to $32,216.
Last week, following Enterprise new reports, City Council instructed the city’s legal staff to again pursue action to force collection of Douglas’ debt. That certainly is appropriate action for the city to take. However, it would be better for all concerned if Douglas were to voluntarily agree to pay. After all, since the city is paying him thousands of dollars a year to be a councilman, he has income he could commit to a payment plan.
Unfortunately, the city can’t unilaterally deduct funds for the judgment from Douglas’ city paycheck; state law currently does not allow such action. That would change under a bill passed by the N.C. House this year that currently rests in a Senate committee awaiting consideration next year.
House Bill 346, sponsored by Rep. John Faircloth, a former High Point City Council member, would give cities and counties the authority to garnish wages of elected officials in such cases. We’d urge quick Senate action next year on this bill, which passed the House with a unanimous vote.
Douglas was elected to Council in 2008, capturing 30 percent of the votes in a six-candidate field. He won re-election in 2010 and ran unopposed in 2012. The judgment was an issue in the 2008 campaign, but has received little notice since then, until now. After Douglas’ election to City Council, High Point officials backed off of efforts to force collection of the debt. We wonder why. The thousands of dollars that Douglas owes was sorely needed then by the city, and especially so now during these tight financial times.
But as an elected official, paying debts due to the taxpayers you serve is just the right thing to do. Douglas should pay up ... now.
And voters should remember this in 2014.