Pittsboro Matters threatens lawsuit over a Chatham Online Bulletin Board headline

Pittsboro, NC – On August 7, Pittsboro Matters has threatened the owner of the Chatham Online Bulletin Board with lawsuit over the headline “Pittsboro Matters “Endorses” candidates Bonitz, Foley & Terry for Pittsboro town council.” It’s the policy of the bulletin board owner to have his attorney review any threats of potential law suits and to act in accordance to his attorney’s advice. He also reserves the right to make all law suit threats public.

Chatham Coalition leader Jeff Starkweather

Former Chatham Coalition leader Jeff Starkweather is founder of Pittsboro Matters.

Below is content of the email from the Pittsboro Matters’ attorney, Robert Hornik of Chapel Hill, NC.

On 8/7/2015 3:32 PM, Robert Hornik wrote:

August 7, 2015

Mr. Galin:

Please see the attached sent on behalf of my client, Pittsboro Matters, Inc.

Thank you,
Bob Hornik

THE BROUGH LAW FIRM, PLLC

Bob Hornik

1526 East Franklin Street
Suite 200
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Tel.: (919)  929-3905
Fax: (919) 942-5742

Web site: http://www.broughlawfirm.com

This is what the attached letter read –

re: Demand to Cease and Desist/Correct Headline Regarding Pittsboro Matters, Inc.

Dear Mr. Galin:

I write this letter to you on behalf of my client, Pittsboro Matters, Inc., regarding a headline published yesterday, August 6, 2015 on your Chatham Bulletin Board website, which reads as follows: “Pittsboro Matters “Endorses” candidates Bonitz, Foley & Terry for town council” (copy attached).

The headline which you published is untrue and you, as the owner/moderator of the Chatham County Online Bulletin Board, know, or should know, the headline is untrue.

As you know, Pittsboro Matters, Inc. is a 501C(3) not-for-profit corporation and, as such, may not engage in political activity such as “endorsing” candidates. Your false and reckless headline could jeopardize Pittsboro Matters’ tax exempt status.

Therefore, on behalf of my clients, we demand that (1) you cease and desist from further publication of material indicating that Pittsboro Matters, Inc. has “endorsed” any electoral candidate, and (2) issue a retraction/correction of the headline.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
THE BROUGH LAW FIRM, LLC

Robert E. Hornik, Jr.

Here is my response –

From: CJ Editor
Sent: Monday, August 10, 2015 7:26 AM
To:
Subject: Re: Pittsboro Matters – Cease and Desist/Retraction

Mr. Hornik –

I have sent a copy of your email to our attorney for review and recommended action.

What headline would your client, Pittsboro Matters, like to see?

Here is their follow-up email –

Mr. Galin:

What my client prefers is a written retraction, in which you state that you erroneously wrote that Pittsboro Matters was endorsing candidates. In fact, Pittsboro Matters provided a factual summary of the statements and votes of the candidates concerning Chatham Park and an assessment, based on that summary, that  the race appeared to be a referendum on Chatham Park.

As Pittsboro Matters clearly and unequivocally stated in its explanation of its basis for providing the summary, Pittsboro Matters is not,  and will not be, “endorsing” candidates in this race,  because doing so would be prohibited by their 501(c)(3) non-profit status.

Additionally, the  headline should be corrected to read as follows: “Pittsboro Matters sees Pittsboro Election As a Referendum on Chatham Park Approvals.”

Thank you very much for your prompt attention to this matter.

Bob Hornik

THE BROUGH LAW FIRM, PLLC

Bob Hornik

1526 East Franklin Street
Suite 200
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Tel.: (919)  929-3905
Fax: (919) 942-5742

Web site: http://www.broughlawfirm.com

Mr. Galin forwarded this response from Pittsboro Matters to his attorney for review and advice.

Below is the copy of the post on the Chatham Online Bulletin Board that included the email Pittsboro Matters sent out that seemingly “approved” of three candidates for the Pittsboro town board.

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With a bunch of legalese gobbledygook Jeff Starkweather and friends at Pittsboro Matters deny it but it’s pretty evident that…
*Pittsboro Matters “Endorses” candidates Bonitz, Foley & Terry for Pittsboro town council*

From: Pittsboro Matters
Date: Jul 25, 2015, 11:36:52 AM
Subject: Election News and Analysis
Who’s Running in Pittsboro 2015?

A Referendum on Chatham Park Approvals

Town Board elections are always a referendum on the actions of the incumbent board members when they are running for re-election. That is even more the case in Pittsboro’s November 3 municipal election because there is one issue that has totally dominated the actions of the current town board for the last two years. That issue clearly divides the eight candidates, including four incumbents, now seeking three town board seats (out of five total board members). The issue is the current Town Board majority’s continued rubber-stamping of a “blank slate” master plan for Chatham Park, which put the Cary developers, Chatham Park Investors, in the driver’s seat for Pittsboro and Chatham County’s future.

As a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, Pittsboro Matters will not endorse candidates for election. However, our educational mission allows us to keep you informed on candidates’ positions and actions. We explain this further at the bottom of this article.

Only Three Candidates Clearly Oppose Chatham Park Plans

Three candidates running for three seats on the Town Board have voiced clear and specific opposition to the current Chatham Park Master plan.

In announcing his candidacy on Facebook, environmental professional John Bonitz said he was running to “return to governance by the people, rather than by developers,” and he asked his friends to join him in this “referendum.” Bonitz testified twice in public hearings to oppose a master plan that ignored objections raised by citizens and the Lawrence Group consultant.

Bonitz made his Chatham Park views even clearer when he wrote that a January 9, 2015 letter to the editor of the Raleigh News and Observer from Mayor Bill Terry “struck a deep nerve in me and was a big part of my motivation to serve Pittsboro, now and in the future.” The Mayor’s letter explained why he had refused to sign the rezoning approval as Mayors normally do; Mayor Terry accused Chatham Park Investors of deceiving the Town in order to obtain another rubber-stamped approval of the proposed master plan. See Bill Terry letter to the editor

The other two candidates raising objections to the Chatham Park master plan are incumbent Commissioner Bett Wilson Foley (who has consistently raised concerns about the master plan) and incumbent Mayor Bill Terry (who decided not to seek re-election as Mayor and instead opted to seek a Town Board seat where he would have a vote and the possibility of joining a new majority committed to addressing concerns about Chatham Park.) “I was willing to run for a Commissioner’s seat and be that third person dedicated to eliminating what I believe to be the inappropriate and excessive influence of the developers of Chatham Park on the administration of the Town government,” he said in the local media. “It is my judgment that this criterion was met when John Bonitz and Bett Wilson-Foley filed for Commissioner seats.”

Four Other Candidates Voted FOR or Spoke in Favor of Current Master Plan

Town board incumbents Jay Farrell and Beth Turner are seeking re-election; both have consistently voted to approve all of Chatham Park Investors’ planning requests. A recently appointed town planning board member Oakley Bennett, who voted twice in support of Chatham Park, is also seeking election to the Town Board. He voted to recommend approval of both the Chatham Park master plan and the revised Planned Development District Ordinance as proposed by Chatham Park Investors. “I’m for Chatham Park and economic growth in our town and ETJ,” Bennett recently wrote on the Chatham Bulletin Board list serve, adding that while the master plan isn’t perfect, “the BOC (Board of Commissioners) and the developers worked together on it.”

Also seeking election to the Town Board is Heather Johnson, local conservative activist and downtown business services owner, who testified at a November 25, 2013 Town Board meeting in support of the first Chatham Park master plan proposal because she claimed it would directly benefit her business.

Voller Associate Also Running But Silent on Chatham Park

Also running is Casey Mann, a former NC Democratic Party operative and close political and business ally of former Mayor Randy Voller. (It was Voller who unsuccessfully pushed for a rushed vote on the Chatham Park master plan in November 2013 and has been championing CPI plans ever since.) Mann is new to Pittsboro and has been a Chatham registered voter for less than a year (since September 23, 2014). Voller had hired her to be Executive Director of the State Democratic Party in February 2014; she resigned that position a year later when Voller declined to seek re-election as party chair. ) Mann’s LinkedIn resume shows that her only experience related to local and state government has been as a political party operative and campaign organizer.

Mann’s statement announcing her candidacy omitted any reference to Chatham Park or development and she declined to share her views on Chatham Park with the local media. She has spoken one time at a Pittsboro Town Board meeting to make a personal request unrelated to Chatham Park. Her candidacy does raise a possible conflict of interest concerning her board membership on the community development corporation (CDC) Sustainable Prosperity, which was founded by Voller and over which he still serves as President. Mann recently made a presentation to the County Commissioners on behalf of the CDC seeking public funds and support for a proposed affordable housing project on land the CDC owns in the town. Former Mayor Voller recently wrote that the CDC also wants to do local projects on sustainable energy, water reuse, the provision of clean drinking water, management of solid waste and wastewater, downtown revitalization, social and health welfare, and jobs that pay living wages. It is hard to see how this CDC could do such projects locally without support of the Pittsboro Town Board and cooperation with Chatham Park.

Mayoral Candidates Decline to Provide Statements on Chatham Park

Two candidates are seeking election to the Mayor’s seat: retired Pittsboro real estate attorney Cindy Perry and Pittsboro Ford employee Averisto (Al) Mendez. They have not made statements about their views on the current Chatham Park master plan.

Pittsboro Matters will Keep You Factually Informed But will Not Endorse Candidates

Pittsboro Matters as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit cannot endorse candidates in local political races. Nor can it actively support any candidate for a partisan or non-partisan local government race. We do not intend to do that. However, we have a right and obligation to educate and inform our members, supporters and the public about issues related to our mission: the preservation of the local economy, environment and culture of their community. Without question the town board’s two year-long and ongoing deliberations and decisions concerning the proposed 8,000 plus acre, 55,000 resident Chatham Park is directly related to that mission.

We plan to keep our members, supporters and the public informed throughout the election process about the qualifications, statements, positions, and relevant organizational associations of primarily the eight candidates running for three town board seats. It is clear from the events of the past year, it is the three member majority of the town board that can decide Pittsboro’s fate concerning Chatham Park and other policy decisions related to the preservation of the local economy, environment and culture of our community. We plan to stick strictly to reporting public facts, which can speak for themselves. Of course, we will continue to give our views about Chatham Park and other policy plans related to our mission as they are presented to and deliberated by the town board. But we will not suggest whom you should vote for. That is up to each voter to make up their own minds, hopefully based on facts as they relate to each candidates’ policy positions and actions.

Of course, anyone associated with or supporting Pittsboro Matters is free to publicly express their views about the candidates and even actively support candidates, in their roles as individual residents, but we ask everyone who does that to make clear they are not doing this on behalf of Pittsboro Matters. Thank you.

We’re deeply grateful for all who have previously made a donation. If you would like to support our ongoing legal battle, please consider making a donation now, online or by mail to:
Pittsboro Matters
PO Box 1001
Pittsboro NC 27312

Your help will make a difference as we continue to press forward with the Town and in the courts. Together we will succeed. Thanks again for all you do for our amazing community.

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The current Pittsboro Matters Board of Directors includes:
Jeffrey Starkweather, Co-founder, Vice Chair – (919-417-0969)
Amanda Robertson, Co-founder, Chair –
Elaine Chiosso, Secretary –
Dee Reid, Communications Officer –
Peter Theye, Board Member –
Mike Watkins, Treasurer –