Board of Elections: Rotruck does not live in Summerfield

Board upholds Robinson’s challenge to councilman’s voter registration

By Kevin Spradlin
PiedmontPostNC.com

GREENSBORO — Summerfield Town Councilman Todd Rotruck does not live in Summerfield.

That was the unanimous finding of the Guilford County Board of Elections during a hearing that lasted nearly two hours Tuesday afternoon at the old Guilford County Courthouse in downtown Greensboro. That is a problem, because County Attorney Mark Payne said after the vote that in order to hold office, an officeholder must be a qualified voter of the district he or she represents.

What immediate impact that has on the makeup of the Summerfield Town Council is unclear. Payne said North Carolina General Statute 160A-59 indicates that “whenever an elected municipal official ceases to possess all the qualifications in Article VI of the North Carolina Constitution, which includes being an eligible voter, the office is vacant. I believe that statute is self-executing and that the office formerly held by Mr. Rotruck became vacant when the Board of Elections issued its decision.”

Payne emphasized that it’s not necessarily his opinion that matters most. Instead, he deferred to the Summerfield Town Council and town attorney Bill Hill.

Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com Summerfield resident Janelle Robinson, right, challenged Summerfield Town Councilman Todd Rotruck's voter registration. The Guilford County Board of Elections upheld her challenge during a two-hour hearing Tuesday in Greensboro.

Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com
Summerfield resident Janelle Robinson, right, challenged Summerfield Town Councilman Todd Rotruck’s voter registration. The Guilford County Board of Elections upheld her challenge during a two-hour hearing Tuesday in Greensboro.

The four-member board took into consideration the place Rotruck voted in the November 2016 election in Greensboro, not Summerfield, despite having indicated he moved to a newly purchased home on Strawberry Road in September 2016. In addition, his children continued to attend Greensboro city schools without having requested or obtained an out-of-district permit. Further, the Lewiston Road home address was listed on numerous public documents — some notarized — as his primary place of residence. Finally, Rotruck himself offered testimony during the hearing indicating that he moved from the Lewiston Road home to Strawberry Road with the knowledge that he would be moving back to Lewiston Road in the near future as work began on his Strawberry Road home.

Kathryn Lindley, vice chair of the board, said that “in order to fix your residence, it has to be fixed. You have to abandon your prior residence. He never did that.”

Lindley noted that both Rotruck and his wife, Amy Rotruck, referred to the Lewiston Road residence as “home” on multiple occasions during their testmony.

“If you told me that you were moving but you didn’t change your voter registration for over a year … after you reportedly moved, and you still voted in Greensboro, that leads me to believe that home is still Greensboro.”

North Carolina Statute 160A-59 seems to indicate that the Summerfield Town Council has a vacancy.

North Carolina Statute 160A-59 seems to indicate that the Summerfield Town Council has a vacancy.

For both Lindley and Eugene Lester, part of the Janelle Robinson’s challenge to Rotruck’s voter registration came down to the family pets.

“You don’t leave your pets behind,” Lindley said, “if you intend to change your residence to another residence. It seems to me they … never moved from Lewiston Road.”

Upon the 4-0 vote, Robinson embraced her attorney, Marshall Hurley.

Lindley expanded on her position.

“I think the challenger has met the burden,” she said. “I’m not saying (the Rotruck family) intended to try to avoid or somehow falsify their residence … merely a part of life that he lived (on Lewiston Road) and there were lots of issues that came along with selling a residence. That’s where he resides. He never abandoned his prior residence. It’s a nuance that he may not have been aware of. I think … the Lewiston (Road) home is his home.”

Rotruck ran on a figurative ballot with now-Mayor Gail Dunham and Councilwoman Teresa Pegram on a “no-Planned Development” campaign platform. In November 2017, 27.76 percent (2,227) of the town’s 8,021 registered voters cast a ballot. Dunham defeated former mayor Tim Sessoms by 19 votes. Pegram was the top vote-getter of four candidates with 1,165 votes, followed by Rotruck (1,086) and then-incumbents Mike Adams (1,076) and Dianne Laughlin (1,034).

On Tuesday, Dunham sat in the back of the meeting room. Only Rotruck’s wife, Aimee, and father, John Rotruck, along with former Summerfield Town Councilwoman Elizabeth McClellan, offered testimony in support of Rotruck. Patti Stokes, owner/publisher/editor of the Northwest Observer, was in attendance but did not provide testimony in support of Robinson’s challenge. Stokes did testify during the February preliminary hearing in which the Board of Elections found probable cause to move forward with a full hearing.

Rotruck attempted to explain to board members that “Summerfield’s a small town” and Robinson’s petition was merely “small-town politics.”

“We’re definitely seeing polarization on two different fronts,” Rotruck said. “We’re requiring accountability. There’s a lot of resistance. I think we have somebody here who is very politically motivated.”

For Rotruck, he and his wife tried to explain how a series of unfortunate and unexpected events helped to create the current situation. First, Todd Rotruck said, closing on the selling of their Lewiston Road home was delayed multiple times and wasn’t finalized until December 2017. Second, one of the couple’s two daughters had a serious medical condition which required a recovery they felt would be best supported by returning to the Lewiston Road residence.

Rotruck said he planned to appeal the Board of Elections decision to the Guilford County Superior Court. The Board of Elections staff, meanwhile, was directed to “correct” Rotruck’s voter registration based on his Lewiston Road address.

 

 

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Regional News, Summerfield

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