Lots of people hope the New Year, 2019, will bring something better for them – but Town of Summerfield residents in particular are really, really hoping that 2019 will be a better year for their town than 2018.
Before January 2018, the small Town of Summerfield just north of Greensboro barely made the news, and usually when it did it was because of a particularly interesting parade or something equally as positive. However, over the past 12 months, Summerfield has been ground zero in Guilford County for confrontation and vitriol, and the town has, in the course of a single year, seen a stunning number of disputes, lawsuits, outbursts, arguments, threats, accusations and more. Summerfield probably had more political fights per capita than any other town in the state this year.
During the holiday period at the end of the year, the Summerfield Town Council even had an argument over whether the council should have a cake at a meeting to foster some unity among council members.
Summerfield Town Councilmember Teresa Pegram, who was opposed to getting a cake, told the Rhino Timeswhy it was a bad idea.
“We would probably have a food fight,” she said.
The Summerfield Town Council, like the entire town, is split over development related issues. That dispute got so bad that, just before the town had its annual Founder’s Day Parade in May, one town resident said that those backing Mayor Gail Dunham and her political faction would stand on one side of the parade route and those backing the other faction would stand on the other side.
The bitterness of 2018 in that town really hit the radar when Summerfield resident Janelle Robinson walked into the Guilford County Board of Elections office and filed a residency challenge against former Summerfield Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck, who was elected to that seat in November, 2017. Rotruck lost his seat on the Town Council in April 2018 after the Guilford County Board of Elections sided with Robinson and found that Rotruck lived in Greensboro rather than in a house in Summerfield that was undergoing major renovation.
Rotruck appealed the decision to Superior Court and lost, again. Rotruck has now appealed the court ruling to the NC Court of Appeals. At one point, while the case was working its way through Guilford County Superior Court, Rotruck even got into a highly public dispute with a judge in the case. That quarrel erupted after Rotruck sent the judge a scathing email.
While the court battle was going on, there were also disputes over whether or not to fill Rotruck’s seat, and then, who to fill it with.
In addition, there was a fight over the mayor’s emails, one that at times seemed to rival Hillary Clinton’s email battle.
Not to mention that the Town Council held a closed session in 2018 that resulted in not one but two different allegations of assault against Town Councilmember Dena Barnes.
Town Councilmember Teresa Pegram even filed assault charges against Barnes as a result of that closed session. However, those charges were later dropped after Barnes offered something of an apology just moments before the case was to be heard.
Summerfield doesn’t have a large budget and, in 2018, paying legal bills was one of the town’s top expenses.
One Summerfield Town Council member said in mid 2018 that he believes there’s a lot of common ground between the two sides – “90 percent” in fact. He said the common ground could be realized if everyone could calm down long enough to find it.
Residents are interested to see if anything like that happens in 2019.