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.