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County plans no appeal of Davis public records ruling

Former Henderson County Sheriff Rick Davis has lost an ally in his effort to keep secret a lawsuit settlement that preceded his resignation last fall.

County commissioners and county attorney Russ Burrell said that they have no plans to appeal a ruling in a lawsuit brought by the Asheville Citizen-Times seeking access to the records. Superior Court Judge Mark Powell ruled that while personnel records are exempt from disclosure under North Carolina Public Records Law, the settlement agreement is not.
After the ruling, county officials said Powell's decision was consistent with what they have argued, too. Commissioners and Burrell say they don't even have a copy of the settlement in their possession and have been seeking it, too.
"We won," Burrell said. "The only document we have the court said is a personnel document."
Commissioner Larry Young and board chairman Tommy Thompson also said they hoped to receive and release the settlement document.
"We won the lawsuit," Thompson said. "That's what we've been asking for the whole time. We're certainly not going to appeal."
Judge Powell gave the parties 30 days to appeal.
The defendants were Davis, Henderson County, the Board of Commissioners and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, which holds the insurance policy under which a deputy was paid the undisclosed settlement.
Sean Perrin, the Charlotte-based attorney for Davis and the NCACC, was away from the office and unavailable for comment. Gary Rowe, the Citizen-Times attorney who handles First Amendment cases, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The case rose out of what Judge Powell described as "a threatened lawsuit" by a former deputy, which the sheriff settled. "Henderson County was billed and paid the deductible amount of $5,000 of this settlement," Powell wrote.
Judge Powell reviewed two documents in chambers.
The first was a letter to county attorney Burrell "complaining of alleged actions taken by a member of the Henderson County Sheriff's Office ... while on duty." That was a personnel document and exempt from disclosure, the judge said.
The second was the settlement agreement concerning the "threatened lawsuit arising out of alleged actions" by Davis.
After the settlement was made, Davis in November resigned, citing medical reasons he said had caused him to act erratically.