Chatham Journal newspaper requests State Board of Elections investigate Pittsboro Matters

Pittsboro, NC – On August 18, the Chatham Journal newspaper submitted a request that the North Carolina State Board of Elections investigate the possible political activities of Pittsboro Matters.

501c3 guidelinesUnder the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Voter education with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, constitutes prohibited participation or intervention.

Therefore, as a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, Pittsboro Matters is not supposed to endorse candidates for election.

However, in a newsletter email that they sent out dated July 25, 2015 Pittsboro Matters has put out a list of candidates for the local Pittsboro elections and the group appears to be publicly supporting certain candidates.

A copy of that email newsletter was submitted to the board of elections and the content of that email is located below.

************************** Pittsboro Matters Email Newsletter **************************

From: Pittsboro Matters
Date: Jul 25, 2015, 11:36:52 AM
Subject: Election News and Analysis

Who’s Running in Pittsboro 2015?
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– Pittsboro Election –

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 Bonitzsaid 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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