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The lowdown in High Point

by the YES! staff

High Point is the one Triad city without a local election this year, but right now all eyes are on two city council members in the state’s ninth-largest municipality.

Last week, three council members — Ward 5’s Jim Davis, Judy Mendenhall from Ward 3 and Jason Ewing of Ward 6 — called for the resignation of Mayor Bernita Sims and Ward 2 Councilman Foster Douglas. Former mayor and current At-large representative Becky Smothers called only for Sims’ resignation.

Douglas and Sims both have their share of problems, each one involving money, but other than that their situations are very different.

Sims is involved in an alleged criminal matter stemming from the settlement of a family estate. The State Bureau of Investigation has been looking into an allegedly hot check she may have written to a family member for $7,000 and other issues concerning the use of funds from the estate. No charges have been filed to date. The Sims matter seems to be selfcorrecting: The check alone is a felony charge in North Carolina, and if she’s charged and convicted, state law dictates that she’s unable to serve as an elected official. If she’s neither charged nor convicted, she will still have to face voters when her term comes due.

Perception is reality. And right now, it looks as if the problems on High Point City Council run far deeper than the actions of two of its members.

The charge that Sims’ predicament is eroding confidence in the council is valid, but if negatively affecting voters’ confidence in their elected officials is grounds for resignation, then we’d have an awfully hard time keeping people in office around here.

Douglas’ situation, a civil matter involving the city, is another matter altogether.

In 2002, Douglas and his brother Jerry sued the city of High Point, accusing the city and its police department of discrimination in regards to the policing of a nightclub, the Comfort Zone, the brothers owned in the 1990s. This was before Douglas was elected to council in 2008.

A federal judge dismissed the suit in 2003 and ordered the brothers to pay the city’s legal costs. Ten years later, the unpaid debt is nearly $32,000, and though Douglas has said he will make full restitution, the money has yet to materialize.

Douglas’ infraction seems to be much more detrimental to confidence in city institutions than that of Sims. By his actions, Douglas himself shows disdain for city government and its functions. It’s also the easiest fix: The smart move here would be to just pay it off and apologize.

But…. This is North Carolina. And given our history, when four white council members call for the ousting of two black ones, a racial component will — and must be — explored.

No doubt, black voters won’t exactly feel a surge of confidence in city council if two of the people they helped elect can get pushed out by a white minority.

Perception is reality. And right now, it looks as if the problems on High Point City Council run far deeper than the actions of two of its members.

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