On Wednesday, Feb. 12, the town of Summerfield virtually exploded over a Facebook post that showed a town employee’s car parked in a handicapped space.
After the post was made, another town employee went off on the person who posted it, and, by late Wednesday, that employee had sent a written apology for his remarks to Summerfield Town Manager Scott Whitaker – and members of the Summerfield community were bitterly taking swipes online at one another along the same divisional lines that the town residents have been fighting on for years.
The incident began on Tuesday, Feb. 11, when an able-bodied town employee parked in a handicapped spot at the Summerfield Community Center, where the Summerfield Town Council was holding its February meeting. Don Wendelken, a town resident who runs the popular local news-oriented “Summerfield Scoop” Facebook page, took a picture of the employee’s car parked in the space. Though he didn’t mention in the post the name of the female employee who parked illegally in the space, another town employee, Summerfield Town Planner Chris York, heatedly jumped to the defense of his fellow employee, and the war of words began.
“It’s crazy,” Wendelken said of the social media and real world reaction that resulted. “I am so dumbfounded.”
By Wednesday evening there were nearly 100 comments on the post with some people angry at Wendelken, calling him petty, while others were angry at the employee for parking in the space.
Summerfield Town Planner Chris York, who goes online by the alias “Bobby Christopher,” defended the employee who parked in the space, called Wendelken a “stalker,” and used profanity – though at times the exact point York was making in his posts is difficult to discern.
Wendelken in turn argued someone making those comments online should no longer be a town employee.
In one post, York wrote: “To enforce ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] rules, all spaces must be clearly signed. The fact there is paint on the ground doesn’t govern, its a sign in a clear place….Now, there is a posted ADA sign, but its covered up by a bush. The Summerfield Community Center and Park is not owned by the Town. Per the NCGS [North Carolina General Statutes], without a sign or a sign indistinguishable, there is no enforcement remedy … It’s a good thing Summerfield doesn’t own this property. We only rent it. Gather up your turds before you attack the Town, me, my finance director, or my manager.”
A post from the “Town of Summerfield, NC” stated of the parking incident: “On behalf of the town, I apologize for the employee’s honest mistake. It wasn’t intentional and sometimes we all miss what’s in front of us. Please extend a little grace as no disrespect was intended. (Scott, the manager who also needs grace at times).”
Whitaker also later sent out an email to Summerfield Mayor BJ Barnes and others containing York’s apology.
York wrote in that apology: “After the Council meeting last night, I saw a post on social media attacking a co-worker for an honest mistake. I thought it was harmful and I chose to address the commentary. My frustration boiled over, I made inappropriate and offensive remarks that reflect badly on the Town, staff, and me individually… My behavior is inexcusable. I regret my actions; I did not represent the character of my fellow town employees or the citizens of Summerfield.”
York added, “I shall moderate myself better in the future. Please accept my apology.”
Wendelken said is post was not “attacking” the employee as York stated, and Wendelken pointed out that he did not even name the employee.
The incident was indicative of the deep divisions that exist in Summerfield, and have for years. At a deeper level, the parking space dispute is really about the future development of the town and the widespread disagreement as to how that should occur.
How about mentioning that the driver parked there on accident and has profusely apologized. She felt terrible. The spot is not marked well, it was dark, raining and isn’t even legally a handicapped spot. Why didn’t Don just let her know so she could move her car? Or just tell the Mayor and he could ask the driver to move her car. Instead, he posts it on the site he runs and blocks the lady so she can’t post her apology there. That tells us a lot about his character.
I agree with Mr. Wendelken! Had it been a local everyday person, we would have received the $200.00 fine. I’ve always heard, ignorance is no excuse to break the law. So, my next question, did the employee ever attend other meetings in the same location? guess it’s okay for some, but not others! While it may seem petty, the big picture is; it’s okay for city, government employees to break the law, but God help if it were an everyday tax paying citizen that pays their salary!
There was a deputy just inside the door of the building. Why didn’t Wendelken just tell him?
It was dark, raining and the spot wasn’t marked correctly. The employee was very, very sorry and apologized right away. She would have completely understood if she had received a ticket. She wasn’t asking to get away with anything.
This particular staff member is a very considerate of others, and would NEVER intentionally park in a handicapped space. It was raining and dark, you cannot see the wheelchair pulling into the space, and the sign is hidden behind the shrub. The door to the building is behind and toward the driver side of her car, so she was facing away from the space as walked in, again in the rain, and at night. She only comes to this site for monthly town council meetings, it’s not our town hall.
The person who took and posted the picture was videoing the meeting in the building. It would have been a simple thing to poke his head in the door, and ask this staff member if she was aware she parked in a handicapped space. Instead he felt the need to post it with this caption: “Handicapped Parking Violation By Summerfield Town Employee At Community Center On 2/11/20. No excuse!” What was the purpose of that, if not to publicly shame the staff member?
Pretty poor journalism, in my opinion, to only write about one side of the situation, and not challenge the poster about his motives.
Everyone should respect handicap parking areas wherever they may be, and only park in handicap space when they have a handicap parking permit. Why were so many people posting on Facebook so late at night that it was ok to park in handicap space? Simple post followed by town employee with nasty language. Janelle, why do you think the town planner using fake name and posting profanity is ok? How civil was that?
If you are really honest, the willingness to extend grace, to be understanding of an honest mistake, to accept apology and not only forgive but vigorously defend, only applies to certain people, not all people. The reactions, the fallout and aftermath would be much different if, for example, it would have been Gail Dunham, or some other disfavored person who made the honest mistake in parking,
or former employee Dana Luther who expressed herself publicly on Facebook. The extent to which rules apply or forgiveness granted is dependent on who the “offender” is. Disingenuous indeed.