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January 18, 2021

Editorial: Salisbury City Council leaves questions unanswered

There are plenty of times when councils, boards and commissioners go into closed sessions or private meetings to discuss personnel matters.

It’s happening now as the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education considers superintendent candidates. Boards and councils also do it regularly for items like manager evaluations.

It’s not unusual for closed sessions about personnel to last for hours at a time, but rarely are there several meetings over a series of months, each lasting one or more hours, with no public action at the end. A still-secret issue considered by the Salisbury City Council falls into this rare group.

It’s particularly puzzling that private meetings lasted as long as they did only to conclude with a short, opaque statement by Mayor Karen Alexander at Monday night’s meeting: “We have worked through a confidential personnel matter. The matter has been resolved and there are no actions to report.”

That means no actions to report after months of private meetings, many hours of discussion and an “emergency meeting” that lasted over an hour on a Saturday for which the public was given less than 30 minutes notice.

N.C. General Statutes state that an “emergency meeting” is one scheduled because of “generally unexpected circumstances that require immediate consideration.”  If there was, indeed, an emergency, the public deserves to know.

That the council is handling the matter “in the absolute, most professional and legal way,” according to Alexander, does nothing for transparency, which is a critical aspect of good government, and strays from the notion that City Hall is the people’s house.

Making the matter more puzzling is the fact that the Salisbury City Council has relatively limited authority to hire and fire employees. The council can hire, fire and discipline a city manager. It also has direct authority over the city attorney. But neither of the two men in these positions, Lane Bailey or Graham Corriher, appear to be in hot water for their performance in the job.

So what is it?

Corriher told reporter Natalie Anderson for a story published today (“Salisbury City Council’s closed meetings end without public action”) that council members can become involved in personnel issues related to city staff and/or city departments — the most useful statement yet by a city official. Still, trying to discern anything from that is like reading tea leaves.

The city has been responsive to the Post’s public records requests, but we believe there are items not being disclosed that should be.

So, while the council ended its long private discussions about a personnel matter Monday, there’s still more work to do for the benefit of the public.

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