Summerfield Town Attorney Bill Hill has returned $943.50 to the Town of Summerfield over what he said was a mistake he felt at least partially responsible for.
The entire town found itself with some egg on its face last month when town officials discovered that a ballot referendum process the town went through last fall was completely unnecessary because the change the referendum was meant to bring about had already been made a decade earlier – it’s just that no one remembered it and that change had not been recorded in the town’s charter.
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, news spread through Summerfield that one referendum the town had put on the ballot and passed in November 2018 was pointless. That referendum changed the Summerfield town charter to state that, whenever councilmembers were appointed to seats, they would have to run again in the next election if they wanted to hold onto that seat rather than have the right to finish out the term of the councilmember whose seat was vacated.
That November 2018 referendum passed; however, when the town submitted the change to the state in February, state officials gave the town an unexpected response: The change to the town’s charter had already been made in 2008.
In 2008, the Summerfield Town Council voted to request the charter be changed and former state Rep. John Blust took that request to Raleigh and the legislature approved the change. However, somehow that change never made it into the town’s charter – and everyone forgot about it, including town staff and council members even though they played key roles in the process a decade ago.
There was a lot of finger pointing by town officials after that embarrassing incident, and two Town Council members –Teresa Pegram and Mayor Gail Dunham – said that it was something that Hill, as the town attorney, should certainly have caught. Some in the town have been arguing that Hill should refund the legal fees he earned for putting that measure on the ballot last November.
At the Summerfield Town Council’s Tuesday, March 12 meeting, Pegram brought up the subject.
“Why didn’t we get it [the town charter] changed?” she asked. “There is blame everywhere, but the blame comes back to us.”
She then asked, “How are we going to fix this?” and she began to bring up the legal fees that went into it; however, others stopped her and informed her that Hill had already reimbursed the town for the costs of all that legal work – fees that came to $943 and change.
Hill apologized for any oversight he had made in that process and said that he is not perfect and he does make mistakes.
Summerfield Town Councilmember Reece Walker said, “No harm, no foul,” regarding the incident, but Pegram said the town’s citizens put a lot of time, money and effort into the ballot referendum so there was harm done.