Outspoken Summerfield resident Don Wendelken said he was just trying to have some fun – like a lot of people do – on April Fools’ Day.
Wendelken, who publishes the Summerfield Scoop newspaper and runs what he calls a “news and opinion” website covering local events, posted an April Fools’ story and the reaction illustrated how deeply divided the town is over growth issues.
Wendelken first put the joke story up on his Summerfield News website (https://summerfieldnews.com) with a picture of a grave marker (see above).
The story stated that, “Effective 4/31/22, Summerfield elected officials agreed to impose a special tax on Summerfield homeowners. The SPT is needed to ensure Summerfield can compete with growth similar to Greensboro. Those making over $60,000 will have a “special property tax” (SPT) of ten cents per $100. This is in addition to the current .0275 rate everyone is currently paying. We will update this story as additional details become available.”
Unlike some April Fools’ jokes, with Wendelken’s, anyone who read past the last line saw a disclaimer in all caps stating that it was an April Fools’ joke. But potential growth in Summerfield and the cost of that growth is a very hot-button issue in that town of 11,000 people just north of Greensboro. Anyone familiar with Summerfield knows that just about everything is controversial there – and April Fools’ jokes are apparently no exception.
Tensions are especially high in Summerfield right now because the Town Council is considering a large proposed residential development by local farmer and developer David Couch. One faction in Summerfield sees the project as a reasonable extension of the natural growth pattern the town is experiencing, while another faction is worried the development will be too dense and will spur unwanted changes that will eventually turn Summerfield into a mini version of Greensboro and cost citizens more in taxes and other expenses.
On Facebook, where Wendelken’s story/April Fools’ joke was re-posted, it got a swift reaction from the town mayor, former town councilmembers and vocal residents on both sides of the town’s growth debate.
Summerfield Mayor Tim Sessoms was one of the first to comment – namely to let Wendelken know that he, the mayor, didn’t find it humorous.
“It is important to let people know,” Sessoms posted, “this is ‘only’ your idea of an April Fools’ joke. Not a funny one.”
Sessom’s post drew some replies of its own from Summerfield residents.
Former Town Councilmember Elizabeth McClellan wrote in response to Sessoms’ comment, “Tim Sessoms you know what’s not funny – the way you treated citizens at the 3/17 meeting!! It was clear to everyone you are on the developers team and tried to squash thoughtful questions. Stand up for OUR laws that YOU approved!!!”
Sessoms shot back, “Why don’t you quote some more scripture and then yell at people like you did. That’s a great example. I treat everyone with respect but we will not tolerate people yelling and trying to hijack a meeting by intimidation.”
Mayor Sessoms went on to state, there’s a legal process for deciding development matters, and the town is following that process.
“We are fulfilling our responsibility to provide a fair hearing,” Sessoms wrote. “Council members have been listening to citizens, calling them and reading and responding to emails. It is a tough time but this too shall pass. The citizens are being heard and the council is responding. Thank you to a great staff and council for all they do!”
McClellan replied several more times.
“I did not yell at anyone,” she wrote in one post. “I asked the developer a question which he didn’t answer. I had not planned to quote Scripture but since you refused to confirm you would honor your campaign promises, the Holy Spirit led me to quote Jesus saying, ‘let your yes be yes and your no be no’ = be honest!”
Former Summerfield Town Councilmember Teresa Pegram chimed in as well, posting, “Tim Sessoms is this your ‘April Fools’ joke? Why are you writing lies about a Summerfield citizen? Why are you asking for scriptures? I never heard her yell. Just because you said so doesn’t make it true.”
There was more to the back and forth and there were other strands of argument posted in the wake of the joke as well, including a comment from former Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck, who engaged in a legal battle with the town for over two years after the town removed him for not meeting the residency requirement for Town Council members.