County to Save Taxpayer Dollars, Drop Lawsuit and Shift Tens of Thousands of Dollars in Advertising away from The Gazette
GASTONIA, N.C. – The Gaston County Board of Commissioners conducted a special meeting Thursday afternoon to take action on a number of pressing items before its rescheduled regular meeting, which will take place on Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. Like yesterday’s meeting, the meeting on the 29th will be held in a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During Thursday’s meeting, the Board consulted with the County Attorney in closed session to discuss the latest on the Board’s lawsuit against The Gaston Gazette. As with every decision of consequence, the Gaston taxpayer was at the center of its focus. After a healthy and thorough dialogue, the Board directed the County Attorney to dismiss the Board’s lawsuit against The Gazette, but to also actively explore and identify a proper, alternative paper of record to which most – if not all – of the County’s $70,000-$100,000 in annual notices and advertisements may be moved and published going forward.
In advance of formally approving the lawsuit, the Board instructed the County Attorney to seek outside counsel opinion and consultation before pursuing legal action. It was determined that the County would send a demand letter to the Gazette and preliminarily file suit leading up to prospective Board approval. Although the Board has decided not to pursue the lawsuit, the County Attorney has authority, under the County’s purchase order and contract threshold to process expenses incurred to date associated with consultation, the demand letter, and the filing of the suit.
Commissioners emphatically and unwaveringly stand by their position that the rush-to-print article over which the Board filed suit is in fact libelous, reckless, and irresponsible. Commissioners have never and will never settle any legal matter behind closed doors or in a closed session, contrary to what the headline and substance of the article would mislead you to believe. State and federal laws including, but not limited to HIPAA, are in large measure the very reason that closed sessions exist and why confidential employee information cannot be shared in open session. Furthermore, providing settlement authority to the County Attorney up to a certain dollar amount after being briefed on the facts of any given legal matter is vastly different than settling a matter right then and there in that closed session. In fact, much more work is required to get from settlement authority to successful resolution of a legal case.
The Board of Commissioners has concluded, however, that even though The Gazette failed to do the right thing by publishing and keeping libelous information on its website, the County must do the right thing by its taxpayers and stakeholders countywide and drop what could end up being an expensive lawsuit, win or lose. Instead, the Board will continue to be truthful with the Gaston public and actively identify another paper of record with which to do business.