It’s highly unusual for a town manager or county manager to weigh in on political battles that involve their town or county – for instance, Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing is always as quiet as a mute mouse if he’s ever asked anything about a county commissioner’s race. The same goes for most local government managers, who in many cases are hired and fired by the elected officials the citizens vote into office.
But that general practice hasn’t stopped Summerfield Town Manager Scott Whitaker from becoming a central figure in the upcoming Summerfield Town Council election. After a mass mailing went out in support of some Summerfield candidates known to be critical of Whitaker, Whitaker posted a statement on the town’s Facebook page claiming that some of the statements in the mailing were false – and, in the post, Whitaker offered extensive comments arguing against those claims.
The post also invited those with questions to call the town government.
“Many residents received a lengthy mailing this week that made disparaging claims related to your local government,” Whitaker wrote. “While citizens certainly have freedom of speech, some information was inaccurate, misleading, and undermines public trust. The purpose of this statement is to briefly address those over-arching narratives that are most in error and falsely represent town operations and efforts.”
In the post, Whitaker goes on to state that the majority of the Town Council supports his statement and press release, but he notes that Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham and Councilmember Teresa Pegram do not. Of course, that’s how it always goes in that Town of Summerfield since there’s a bitter political divide on the council between those two and the other four town councilmembers.
Many citizens in Summerfield have expressed outrage at the move and have cried foul: Some of the candidates in the race have shown open support for Whitaker and for the moves he’s made as town manager, they point out, while another batch of candidates has been highly critical of him.
Don Wendelken, who runs the popular “Summerfield Scoop” Facebook page, posted that people are now seeing “Summerfield Town Manager Scott Whitaker acting as the Campaign Manager for Summerfield Proud candidates” – a group of candidates who tend to see eye to eye with Whitaker on many issues.
Wendelken wrote in a subsequent post that “Scott Whitaker is the poster child for Summerfield Proud, and they enthusiastically support Scott Whitaker.”
Wendelken, who served on the Guilford County Board of Elections for years, said it’s disturbing to see the town manager using the town’s taxpayer funded resources to effectively favor one side over another in an election.
“Our question is – What’s Next?” he wrote in one post.
Whitaker wrote that the campaign materials were making false claims about deficit spending, financial mismanagement and making other unfounded charges regarding the town’s government. In the post – available on the town of Summerfield’s Facebook page – Whitaker stated that these kinds of false claims undermine public trust and therefore need to be addressed.