‘If he sits there, we’re in violation of the law’

Town attorney Bill Hill spars with mayor about status of Rotruck’s seat
No action taken during meeting

Previous coverage
April 18 – Town attorney: Rotruck’s seat is vacant
April 17 – Board of Elections rules Rotruck does not live in Summerfield

Staff report

SUMMERFIELD — Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham opened the special public meeting at Summerfield Community Center at which Dunham, town attorney William “Bill” Hill and members of the Town Council were to discuss the status and future of the council seat formerly occupied by Todd Rotruck.

Todd Rotruck

Todd Rotruck

The seat was declared vacant by Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne after last week, when the county Board of Elections voted 4-0 to “correct’ Rotruck’s voter registration to a Greensboro address — not one in Summerfield, as Rotruck had claimed since the summer of 2016 shortly after buying a house on Strawberry Road and filing as a candidate for town council. The Board of Elections determined during its April 17 meeting that Rotruck never made the Strawberry Road house his permanent home.

Dunham said she wanted to wait until she had something in writing from the Board of Elections. Hill countered that would be a waste of time, and that state law did not spell out a specific procedure by which the council must move forward. Instead, Hill continued to assert his legal opinion that Rotruck was no longer an elected official in the Town of Summerfield.

“If he sits there,” Hill said, “we’re in violation of the law. End of story. He cannot sit there unless and until he wins an appeal.”

Any appeal must be filed with Guilford County Superior Court within 10 days of the April 17 hearing date.

Dunham persisted, saying that she hadn’t received anything in writing.

“Yes you did,” Hill replied. “I emailed it to you on Friday.”

“So long as Mr. Rotruck sits here, we can’t have a meeting,” said Councilman Reece Walker.

Hill agreed.

Rotruck disagreed, however, and said there was no official documentation. Rotruck also attempted to dismiss the authority of a blog by Robert “Bob” Joyce, a professor of Public Law and Government with the UNC School of Government in Chapel Hill, has written on this subject for the institution’s blog. Rotruck also attempted to invalidate the legal opinion of Payne, the county attorney.

Hill then said Rotruck could leave, or officials could call the sheriff’s office.

Mayor Pro Tem Dena Barnes asked Rotruck if he would be willing to sit in the audience because, to that point, Dunham could not officially call the meeting to order. Rotruck agreed to do so — under protest.

Dunham then called the meeting to order and then asked for a motion to go into closed session, in accordance with the reason the meeting was called in the first place. Councilmember Teresa Pegram questioned why the meeting was to go into closed session. Dunham echoed Pegram’s concerns. Hill said the specific purpose of going into closed session was to receive legal advice from the town attorney, which qualified the session to be closed from the public.

Dunham then reiterated her opinion that the town’s legal position should be guided by the Town Council — not legal opinions such as those offered by the county attorney or an expert with a UNC School of Government official.

Pegram said she also didn’t “understand the urgency” of the meeting.

Hill said the town charter requires five Town Council members, not four.

Dunham also questioned the urgency of the meeting, noting the town offers “no essential services” such as police and fire. She said previous vacancies on the board didn’t constitute an “urgent” response from remaining town officials.

After nearly 20 minutes of dialogue and back-and-forth, Councilman John O’Day made a motion to go into closed session. Walker seconded the motion. The motion passed, 3-1, with Pegram in dissent.

The motion to adjourn the meeting was only a little easier than the effort to call the meeting to order. Pegram made a motion to adjourn, but some Town Council members wanted to read a statement. Barnes read part of the statement, but the statement was not read in its entirety because not everyone agreed on the wording.

As expected, there was no action taken during the meeting.


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