The List: 3 facets of Tom Carruthers’ resignation

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Tom Carruthers (center) during a relaxed moment with Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter and blogger Roch Smith in 2014. (file photo)
  1. The city attorney makes big bucks, but doesn’t have much job security

The city attorney’s position in Greensboro has been a hot seat over the past 10 years, with a succession of counselors giving legal advice that may or may not go down well with the political majority on city council. The city attorney is one of two positions that city council hires directly, the other being the city manager. The city attorney carries a lot of responsibility, and is compensated accordingly: After City Manager David Parrish and Coliseum Director Matt Brown, Carruthers was the third most highly compensated employee of the city at $180,000.

  1. Carruthers was a power player who alienated some council members

Compared to many of his predecessors, Carruthers was far less deferential to the politics of his employers and demonstrated confidence in his opinions. Whether advising city council or a committee like human relations, it sometimes seemed as though Carruthers’ opinions boxed the governing boards into decisions that frustrated both voting members and community advocates. Recently, Carruthers led the charge on revising the city’s panhandling ordinance, first acknowledging that the previous ordinance was unconstitutional and then setting up a series of public forums to solicit concerns that would legally justify an anti-harassment ordinance. Councilman Justin Outling, the only lawyer currently on the council, sometimes had sharp exchanges with Carruthers from the dais. Mike Barber, a previous member who is also a lawyer, was likewise known for giving city attorneys, including many of Carruthers’ predecessors a hard time.

  1. They could have used him on Tuesday

The timing of Carruthers’ resignation was curious, or at least potentially fateful. His seat sat empty for the entirety of the city council meeting on Tuesday. During the speakers from the floor portion of the meeting, a local antiracist activist named Mitchell Fryer began to outline the outrageous and violent criminal history of an area Ku Klux Klan leader who is a federal informant (see story at triad-city-beat.com). One can imagine that if Carruthers had been at his post, he might have picked up on where Fryer’s remarks were going, and recommended that Mayor Nancy Vaughan cut the mic. Instead, Fryer named two Greensboro police officers as being the Klan leaders’ FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force handlers. Council members asked questions, and police Chief Wayne Scott responded, albeit stating that he was constrained from saying much “because of a security clearance related to the federal government.” At the end of the end of the meeting council went into closed session to discuss Carruthers’ resignation, and at then came out to publicly vote to accept it.

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