Publisher's note: The author of this post is Sam A. Hieb, who is a contributor to the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
Despite SBI probe of finances, Sims says she will step down only if convicted
HIGH POINT - By a 6-3 vote divided along racial lines, earlier this month the High Point City Council approved a resolution requesting the resignation of Mayor Bernita Sims due to reported personal financial problems.
As it stands now, however, it appears the resolution will have little effect.
"It is not my intention to step down from this seat. It's not going to happen," Sims said during an impromptu public hearing following the council vote. "For those council members who said they wanted this on the record, I hope the record shows there was a room full of people saying that's not their desire."
Indeed, that was the case. Every speaker from the floor - most of them African-Americans - stated their support for Sims, High Point's first black mayor. Some chastised council members who voted for the resolution.
"If you're going to address Mayor Sims' performance, then you have to address your performance, too," said High Point resident Charity Belton.
Voting for the resolution were council members Becky Smothers, Judy Mendenhall, Jason Ewing, Jay Wagner, Jim Davis and Britt Moore.
Joining Sims in voting against the motion were council members Jeff Golden and Foster Douglas.
"I do not believe any public officials' private lives are any business of their colleagues," Douglas said. "To me, this resolution is not worth the paper it's written on." Douglas' defense may have done little to sway his colleagues, considering his own financial issues with the city. The High Point Enterprise reported in August that Douglas owes High Point $31,000 as a result of a 2003 judgment the city won against him in federal court after Douglas and his brother filed a lawsuit claiming civil rights violations.
Sims has a variety of personal financial issues. She recently paid the city more than $500 in past due utility bills, and her mayor's salary is being garnished for unpaid state income taxes.
But the biggest concern is a State Bureau of Investigation probe into Sims' handling of her deceased sister's estate. The probe stems from allegations reported in May by the Enterprise that Sims wrote her other sister a worthless $7,000 check as part of the settlement of the estate.
The surviving sister reported the worthless check to the High Point Police Department, which asked the SBI to step in.
Sims steadfastly has refused to address the investigation, even after the resolution calling for her resignation passed, despite repeated questions from members of the media.
"If I am convicted of a crime, then I should resign," was her only comment.
That may be the only way Sims will leave office, at least until she faces re-election in 2014. It does not appear as though the council will take legal steps to remove her from office.
"This was nothing but a public statement. Now we're finished with it," said Smothers, herself a former High Point mayor. "We have taken a stand. Now it's her call."
If this indeed is the "end of it," as Smothers said, it will be the end of a very public debate played out in the media. The Enterprise published a letter from four council members - Smothers, Mendenhall, Ewing, and Davis - calling for Sims' resignation. Sims fired back with her own letter, reaffirming her stance.
Sims is not the only Triad mayor with financial difficulties. Greensboro Mayor Robbie Perkins also faces myriad personal and financial problems.
Perkins declared bankruptcy in April, saying his property development business took a hit during the financial downturn. His downtown high-rise condominium went into foreclosure, and he has made repeated Guilford County District Court appearances after his ex-wife filed a contempt motion claiming he has not made support payments.
Like Sims, Perkins has refused to resign and has run a strong re-election campaign heading into the Nov. 5 municipal election, in which he will square off against City Council member Nancy Vaughan.
Perkins' problems recently resurfaced in a very personal way. The Greensboro News & Record reported recently that Perkins' ex-wife made a $100 campaign contribution - to his opponent.