Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham has filed an incident report with the Town of Summerfield stating that she was assaulted by Summerfield Town Councilmember Dena Barnes during a closed session of the council at a contentious Monday, April 23 meeting.
The report the mayor filed with the town states that, in that closed session, Dena Barnes gave Dunham a “hard slap on the right arm” and used her hands “aggressively” in other ways as well.
“It was assault,” Dunham said, adding that it was painful when Dena Barnes slapped her arm.
Dunham said she was extremely disturbed by the incident.
“It was so horrible,” the mayor said. “This should not be happening.”
Dena Barnes said she did not wish to comment on what transpired but she did say she was aware that the incident report had been filed and she also indicated that her account differs from what is stated in the filing. She said that, though she would not comment at the present time, the truth will be known after statements by all parties had been collected and an investigation was complete.
“I think there will be an investigation for all the people, and they will know what happened,” Dena Barnes said.
Dena Barnes is the wife of Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes and has served as mayor of Summerfield before.
When the Town Council came out of the closed session into open session at the April 23 meeting, members of the Town Council were visibly upset by what was, by all accounts, an extremely heated session in the back room of the community center.
Immediately before the closed session that night, Summerfield Town Attorney Bill Hill told the councilmembers that former Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck could not participate in the meeting. One week earlier, the Guilford County Board of Elections had ruled unanimously that Rotruck, who was elected to the council in November, was not a resident of Summerfield. State law requires that a town councilmember live in the town in which he or she serves.
Rotruck, who stated at the April 23 meeting that he was appealing the Board of Elections’ decision in Superior Court, grabbed a folding chair, took a seat at the dais and attempted to participate in the Town Council meeting. At that time, Dunham argued that Rotruck should be allowed to take part since there was no written Elections Board decision and the town had not received any official notice of the decision. Barnes, along with other councilmembers, argued that Rotruck should not take part in the meeting since the town attorney was adamant that Rotruck couldn’t legally do so.
Dunham said at that meeting – and said again this week – that the board had no right to go into the closed session because the state’s open meetings laws do not allow the council to go behind closed doors to discuss how and when Rotruck’s seat would be filled.
Hill said the closed session was held so the Town Council could preserve attorney-client privilege.
Eventually, Rotruck left the dais and the group went into the closed session where a heated argument ensued.
Dunham said that she was taking notes at the closed session and Dena Barnes took issue with that.
When Dunham refused to stop writing, Dena Barnes said something to the effect of, “Well, you can take the minutes then,” Dunham said.
The argument accelerated and came to a head when a prepared statement was provided by town staff for the council’s approval. The document stated that the seat formerly held by Rotruck was now vacant and the Town Council would fill the seat soon – however, the town councilmembers couldn’t agree to that or any other common statement.
One source who was in the closed session said that when Dunham was talking, Dena Barnes shouted out, “Let’s just shut up and listen to Bill [Hill]!”
At another point Dena Barnes reportedly shouted, “Open your ears! Open your ears!”
When the encounter between Dena Barnes and the mayor got very heated, one source in the meeting said, others in the room tried to calm them down but there were other arguments going on as well.
The Town Council came out of closed session and quickly adjourned and, as soon as they did, Summerfield Town Councilmember Teresa Pegram and Barnes were in each other faces having a very heated exchange, though it’s not known what was said between the two. Other councilmembers looked rattled as well but would not comment on what went on in the closed session.