The right of cities and towns to exist in the state of North Carolina comes from the NC General Assembly and, as the soon to be staff-less Town of Summerfield faces a host of troubling issues, there have been rumblings that it’s possible the outcome of all this is that Summerfield ceases to become a town.

On Friday, May 24, credible sources revealed that the sister of a Summerfield town official had already sent a request to Raleigh for the state legislature to revoke the town charter.

The General Assembly has revoked town charters in the past – usually as a result of financial malfeasance or a lack of activity when it comes to providing services.

Former Summerfield Mayor BJ Barnes mentioned the possibility of the town charter being revoked in an online post, and Town Councilmember John Doggett stated this week that, “Rumors about the town potentially losing its charter grow louder by the day.”

One expert in state government who didn’t wish to be identified also said it was at least possible the charter could be revoked – if Summerfield isn’t able to get itself back on track and start providing more services than it currently does.

The loss of the town charter, and thus the loss of the town, would mean that the residents would become residents of unincorporated Guilford County.

It would be highly ironic if that did happen because the current tumultuous situation results largely from a fight to not allow 1,000 acres of the town to be de-annexed.  Much of the controversy has resulted from that battle between developer David Couch and town leaders over whether he should be allowed to build the 1,000-acre residential and mixed-use development the way he wants.

It now looks very possible the state could approve the de-annexation that would take Couch’s property out from under the rule of Summerfield –  and now some are saying it’s at least a legitimate question as to whether the entire rest of the town will get removed from Summerfield as well.

Barnes mentioned the possibility in an internet post, but he said later that he doesn’t think it would actually happen.

“That would be drastic,” Barnes said this week. “My point is that it is possible. The Town Council needs to realize that their actions, being so arbitrary seeming, without reason or transparency, could trigger that possibility.”

Summerfield Scoop newspaper Owner and Editor Don Wendelken, who usually isn’t in agreement with Barnes when it comes to Summerfield matters, also said he didn’t think the state would take that extreme action.

“I don’t believe that would happen,” Wendelken said of the state’s nuclear option. “I think as long as Summerfield works through this, the state won’t do that.”

The Town of Stokesdale, which was incorporated in 1907, had it’s town charter repealed in 1971 due to a failure to provide services. Stokesdale was re-incorporated in 1989.

In fact, in 1971, the state revoked a very long list of charters for towns across North Carolina.

And the state still revokes charters. The town of East Laurinburg, for instance,  ceased to exist as an incorporated municipality on July 1, 2022.  The NC Local Government Commission, which oversees the finances of local governments in the state, voted unanimously to dissolve the Scotland County town. That town’s finances were considered to be in disarray and the town was deemed unable to provide services to its residents.

The Town of Summerfield started out as a small spot where two roads met.

It was originally named “Bruce’s Crossroads” after Charles Bruce, who purchased 640 acres in what’s now the very center of Summerfield. Historians date the beginning of the community to around 1768, when those who lived in the area joined together and attempted to protect their homes from Tories who were stealing from them.

Over the years, the spot grew in population and was renamed Summerfield in 1812 when a post office was built there. The name comes from a well-liked evangelist, John Summerfield, who preached to the community and decided to settle down there.

The Town of Summerfield was incorporated in 1996 and it’s now grown to a population of about 11,000.

Some critics quietly say that the resignation of the town’s entire staff really doesn’t change much of anything since the town provides so few services. One said that “the Little League game schedule will be in disarray” or “someone might have difficulty renting the picnic shelter for a family reunion.”

Others see it as a crisis of major proportions.

Frayda Bluestein one of the foremost authorities on local governments in the state with the North Carolina School of Government, wrote the following about city and town charter revocations:

“The legislature has in fact repealed city charters, and has also enacted a blanket repeal of charters of inactive cities. In North Carolina, the legislature creates cities, counties and other units of local government, gives them their authority to act and their structure, and can modify this authority and structure in its discretion. While the legislature has given cities powers to change their structure locally, and to expand their boundaries through annexation, the legislature retains its authority to make those changes as well, and may do so by local act.”

She added, “Neither citizens, nor local governments as municipal corporations, have any constitutional or other legal right to the continued existence or current structure of local governments. So the legislature is free to modify or even repeal the charter (which is itself a local act of the legislature), as well as other local acts or statutes that establish local governments and define their powers and structure.”