Summerfield Town Councilmember Teresa Pegram has filed an assault charge against fellow Town Councilmember Dena Barnes.
Pegram filed the charge of “simple assault” with the Guilford County magistrate’s office on Thursday, May 17, claiming that Dena Barnes assaulted her during a Monday, April 23 closed session of the Summerfield Town Council. That closed session was held to discuss the highly publicized removal of former Summerfield Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck from the six-person council.
Pegram said she didn’t wish to make any statement at this time regarding her filing but she indicated that she might be willing to do so at a time closer to the court date.
This is the second claim of assault made against Dena Barnes from that closed session: Earlier this month, Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham said she had filed an incident report in April with the Town of Summerfield stating that Barnes had slapped her across the right arm during a heated argument while the council was behind closed doors that night.
Dena Barnes, the wife of Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, is on the opposite side of Pegram and Dunham in a power struggle in Summerfield that revolves largely around issues of future development in that growing town of about 11,000 people. Rotruck, Pegram and Dunham say they want more controls and checks on development and the three members are political allies who quite often oppose moves favored by Dena Barnes and the two other town councilmembers, John O’Day and Reece Walker. For instance, the two camps split on whether Rotruck should be allowed to serve on the council until his appeal of the Guilford County Board of Elections ruling was decided in court.
Rotruck was removed from the council after the Board of Elections ruled in mid-April that he lived in Greensboro rather than Summerfield. According to state law, one must live in a town to serve on the town council, so that Board of Elections decision resulted in Rotruck being removed from the council. That battle is now being fought out in Superior Court.
Pegram, Dunham and Rotruck ran for their Town Council seats last year on platforms of fighting against the “old guard” in Summerfield. Perhaps no one has been more of a longstanding political force in the town than Dena Barnes, who has served on the Town Council since 1997 – a year after Summerfield was incorporated. Dena Barnes also served as mayor of Summerfield for four years and is currently mayor pro tem.
The key area of dispute has to do with what type of development should be allowed in that town – with Pegram, Rotruck and Dunham wanting to see more controls on development than some others in Summerfield do.
At the April 23 Town Council meeting at the Summerfield Community Center, the councilmembers, after a very heated exchange in open session, went behind closed doors to discuss the Rotruck situation in what by all accounts was an extremely contentious debate. At that time, Pegram attempted to record the closed session and there was apparently a disagreement between Pegram and Dena Barnes on whether Pegram should do so.
Earlier this month, when Dunham went public with her complaint that Dena Barnes had slapped her arm, Dena Barnes said she didn’t want to discuss the events that transpired in the closed session but she did indicate that her account differed from Dunham’s and said an investigation of the closed session events was being conducted. Dena Barnes said she would reserve public comment until that investigation was complete.
Dunham did not file a claim with a magistrate but instead with the Town of Summerfield.
While Pegram isn’t talking publicly about her May 17 filing, she has been vocal in recent weeks about what she argues is the town’s mistreatment of Rotruck, who has been, and still is, fighting in court to get the seat on the council back.
One of the many ironies of the new charge is that summons are served by the Sheriff’s Department and Dena Barnes is married to the sheriff.
On Friday, May 18, after learning of Pegram’s court filing, Sheriff Barnes said Pegram was attempting to tear down his wife’s reputation for political gain.
“I’m anxious for this to go to court,” he said of his wife’s case. “It will show how ridiculous these people are.”
He said he is fed up with the group that has it out for his wife and others in Summerfield government.
“She has done nothing but be a public servant in town for years,” BJ Barnes said of his wife.
The sheriff said Summerfield is still a nice place to live but only because Dunham, Pegram and Rotruck weren’t running things in that town. Dunham, as mayor, can only vote on matters in the case of a tie.
BJ Barnes said Pegram is also attempting to damage his reputation – by association – in an election year. He is running for sheriff this year to keep the job he’s held since 1994. He won the Republican nomination in the Tuesday, May 8 primary with 88 percent of the vote and will face off against Democrat Danny Rogers in November.
One source said the Barnes are considering a “defamation of character suit” against Pegram in light of her charge against Dena Barnes.
There were seven people in the April 23 closed session that has been the source of so much controversy – the five Summerfield town councilmembers (Rotruck was excluded), Summerfield Town Attorney Bill Hill and Town Manager Scott Whitaker.