Photo by Patti Stokes/NWO | Mayor Gail Dunham exchanges words with Councilman John O’Day at the June 12 Summerfield Town Council meeting after O’Day read a statement outlining why he was making a motion to express a vote of no-confidence in her leadership.
By PATTI STOKES
SUMMERFIELD - Embarrassing. Shameful. Circus act. Those are just some of the adjectives that have been used to describe the behavior of some, or all Summerfield Town Council members as meetings in recent months have been marked by insults, lies and denials, misinformation - and bickering, lots of bickering.
Along with many citizens, three town council members say they have had enough and made a statement to that effect at Tuesday's town council meeting. Several hours into the meeting that lasted until 1:51 a.m., Dena Barnes and Reece Walker voted along with John O'Day to approve his motion of no-confidence in Mayor Gail Dunham's leadership. Council member Teresa Pegram opposed the motion, which passed 3-1.
Although the no-confidence vote becomes a matter of public record, no further action will be taken on it, so it will not necessarily alter the council's course of direction. O'Day said he hopes it will serve the purpose of putting the mayor on notice that her leadership style has been unacceptable.
The following is what O'Day read when he presented his motion for a vote of no-confidence...
"Over the course of her first six months in office many concerns have been raised regarding Mayor Dunham's actions as an elected official in our town. In an attempt toward building a working relationship with her and new council members, we scheduled a retreat to map out the year's priorities. The mayor and new members chose not to enter the room, because they disagreed with the agenda proposed.
"Further attempts were made to build a relationship by bringing in the School of Government to give us guidance both legally and to facilitate a session to bridge the obvious divide we've had. Since the March 17 session with the SOG facilitator, the mayor has not demonstrated a willingness to work with the council, or follow the decisions of the council. While the following is by no means a complete list, the following nine separate actions by the mayor, since December, are very concerning to the public, staff and council:
1.) Mayor Dunham, you have refused to respond to requests for public records, on multiple occasions, which is a failure to uphold the duties of the office as defined by NC General Statutes and other applicable laws.
2.) On April 26, you had a meeting with Marsh Prause, Todd Rotruck's attorney, in the back of the parking lot behind Town Hall. This meeting occurred just prior to service of the lawsuit on the town by Mr. Prause, at approximately 10:45 a.m. Mayor Dunham failed to report this meeting or the discussion that occurred to the council or town attorney. There were multiple witnesses, and from those reports the meeting lasted at least 10 minutes.
3.) You have failed to dispense duties as the mayor of Summerfield by representing our citizens in court. Instead, Mayor Dunham sat on the side of the opposition during two separate hearings, while attorneys defended citizens from monetary damages sought against the town.
4.) You have further failed to perform duties by declining to enter a scheduled retreat meeting and publicly blaming said behavior on members of the town staff, most notably the town manager.
5.) On April 10, you did participate in the evaluation of an employee in public - specifically, the town manager.
6.) You failed to respond to multiple requests to produce a recording of the April 23 closed session meeting that members of the media and others have been told exists. You have not denied the existence of such a recording.
7.) You have made knowingly false statements to the media and public, i.e. made statements regarding instability of the Martin House, as well as stated there is no septic on the property.
8.) You have operated a separate email account dispensing 'town news' as mayor without notice to, or approval of council. In addition, you did not copy council, after requested, on those communications, which are public records.
9.) You have conducted relentless personal attacks on staff, most notably the town manager.
"For these and other actions not specifically named above, I respectfully request a vote of no confidence in Mayor Gail Dunham to perform her duties as outlined in the North Carolina General Statutes, Summerfield's Code of Ethics, and as directed by the Summerfield Town Council.
"I've had enough!" O'Day concluded after reading his statement.
"I've had enough!" Dunham echoed. "I want to be clear about one thing. I have never had conversation with Todd Rotruck's attorney and I'm tired of you blaming me." The mayor proceeded to read G.S. 160A-67, which says "the mayor shall be recognized as the official head of the city for the purpose of civil process."
"And that's exactly what I did," Dunham said. "We did not have any long conversation in the parking lot. We came in the building and he presented the lawsuit and I signed it and that was my mayoral duty. There was no subversion, no malfeasance, nothing. All I did was accept the legal service. There was no 10-minute conversation. I want to see proof of that. I want to see proof of all your allegations!"
At least three town employees say they witnessed Mayor Dunham and Marsh Prause, Rotruck's attorney, talking in the parking lot for about 10 minutes after he delivered the papers to the town and she signed for them. Town Attorney Bill Hill said if that is true, as mayor of Summerfield it was unethical for Dunham to have a private conversation with an attorney who represents a person suing the town.
As for not providing emails and meeting recordings as requested by two citizens who submitted public records requests for them, Dunham said she was out of the country mid-May and didn't have access to email.
"I am really buried in emails," she stated, adding, "I haven't seen the emails (regarding the public records requests)... I don't even know what is being requested."
One of the requests is for "emails from the mayor with 'important updates from the mayor' and any other newsletter-type emails sent out to some citizens but not all citizens and any other updates about Summerfield and town goings on between the mayor and some citizens."
Another public records request from the same citizen is for all emails Gail Dunham has received and sent from the email@example.com account since Nov. 1, 2017.
A third public records request is for all video and audio recordings of meetings conducted at Town Hall between Dunham, Pegram and Rotruck.
Town Attorney Bill Hill said he had emailed the mayor about the public records requests several times.
"More than anything, I'm sad that it has come to this," O'Day told the Northwest Observer the day after the meeting. "However, we need to hold each other accountable to follow the rules established by the state, our ethics, and other applicable laws or policies. We have deferred to Gail the last six months, probably too much, in an effort to try to get along and foster some type of working environment. It's clear to me, and I'm sad about it, the mayor doesn't appear to want to work with the council. I hope for the benefit of our citizens that changes."