County may settle suit by ex-manager

Union County commissioners may settle former County Manager Mike Shalati's long-running, costly lawsuit against the county as soon as today, a commissioner says.

Shalati's suit, alleging breach of contract and wrongful termination, seeks more than $600,000 in severance pay under a contract approved by the previous board. Shalati also claims the board's current majority – Allan Baucom, Parker Mills and Kevin Pressley – violated the N.C. Open Meetings Law and asked him to violate county policies.

The county government and the three commissioners deny the allegations and have refused to pay the severance. Meantime, the county has spent at least $227,000 defending the suit.

Commissioner Roger Lane says he expects the board to discuss a proposed settlement in the Shalati case during a closed-door meeting of the commissioners at 10:30 a.m. today.

“We're going to look at that proposed agreement,” Lane said, adding: “We're just going to mull it over. It may get settled tomorrow, or it may not.” He said he did not know the proposed agreement's details.

Commissioner Lanny Openshaw, who with Lane was not named as a defendant in the case, declined to comment. Baucom, Pressley and Mills did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.

Shalati and his attorney, Julie Fosbinder of Charlotte, also declined to comment. Attorneys for the county did not return calls.

Shalati was fired in January 2007. He sued the county in June. His attorneys and the county's Poyner & Spruill law firm took depositions in the case this spring.

Lane said he believes the county moved slowly on the lawsuit, hoping protracted litigation would drain Shalati's ability to pay his legal fees. The county has labeled Lane, a Shalati supporter, as a hostile witness in the case.

“The deposition was put off and put off for various people, including myself,” Lane said. “We had hoped to go to trial in May. And here we are, in July.”

Shalati's contract included an unusually high severance package.

Union County contends in its response to the lawsuit that the contract was invalid because it did not serve the public good and was “created through fraud, misrepresentation, manipulation, improper influence and conspiracy.”

Some of Shalati's allegations are related to the fast-growing county's stressed sewer treatment plants.

He says he was asked to give preferential treatment to certain developments, despite an imminent state-imposed moratorium on Union County sewer permits.

The Observer got involved in the case, seeking deposition transcripts. In addition, the newspaper sued Union County, seeking minutes of closed board meetings that included meetings involving Shalati's firing.

The county has argued that the deposition transcripts should remain confidential.