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Chatham Coalition sends letter demanding apology

By Roland McReynolds
Posted Monday, April 24, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC - The Chatham Coalitionan, an umbrella PAC of several countywide citizens' groups, sent an open letter demanding an apology from Chatham Board of Commissioners Chair Bunkey Morgan for his political smear against the Coalition.

The Chatham Coalition
PO Box 1415
Pittsboro NC 27312

April 24, 2006


Chatham County Board of Commissioners
Chair Bunkey Morgan
12 East Street
Pittsboro NC 27312

An Open Letter to Chatham Board of Commissioners Chair Bunkey Morgan

Dear Chairman Morgan:

It has come to our attention that in a letter to the ACLU, dated April 19, 2006, you falsely asserted that the Chatham Coalition instigated the ACLU’s recent letter requesting that the Chatham Board of Commissioners refrain from invoking Jesus Christ in invocations at Board meetings. You owe a public apology to the Coalition, the candidates the Coalition supports for office, and to the voters of Chatham County for deliberately smearing the Coalition by injecting religion into your campaign for re-election.

In your letter to the ACLU, you stated that “a few weeks” prior to the Raleigh News & Observers’ February 17 article concerning invocations at local government meetings, an “individual” approached you after you gave an invocation at a Board of Commissioners’ monthly meeting. You further alleged that this “individual” said he or she was offended by your inclusion of Christ’s name in your prayer. You claimed the “individual” said he was a member of “the Coalition” and that “they would clean [your] clocks [sic] in the upcoming election.”

As you would have learned if you had made any attempt to verify with the Coalition our position and/or connection to the ACLU’s letter, the Coalition was not involved in the ACLU’s complaint. We had no knowledge that such a complaint had been made by the ACLU until it was revealed at the Board of Commissioners meeting last Monday, April 17. Likewise, you would have learned that no member of the Chatham Coalition Steering Committee has ever complained to you or anyone else about the Board’s prayer practices. The only “members” of the Coalition are its Steering Committee, which consists of Jeffrey Starkweather, Chair; Sally Kost, Vice-Chair; Jan Nichols, Treasurer; John Hammond, Secretary; Roland McReynolds, Communications Director; Judy Hogan; Margie Ellison; Rich Hayes; Patrick Barnes IV; Mark Barroso; Sonny Keisler; and Rev. Gary Simpson, Volunteer Coordinator. Furthermore, at the time this alleged “individual” allegedly approached you, Tom Vanderbeck also served on our Steering Committee. Vanderbeck resigned when he filed to seek your District 4 seat in the May 2 primary. We have verified with each of these Steering Committee members that they have never had a conversation with you concerning the issue of prayer at Board meetings.

Moreover, even without contacting the Coalition, you could have contacted the staff of the ACLU, which would have confirmed that they had no contact with the Coalition or its supporters concerning this issue prior to their letter to the Board. They would have confirmed their letter arose solely in response to the February 17 News & Observer article on the invocation of Jesus Christ at several local governments’ meetings. As you are aware, all three other Triangle-area governments received the same letter from the ACLU at the same time as the Chatham Board of Commissioners, proving that the ACLU was not singling out Chatham County or you personally.

Moreover, even without contacting the Coalition or the ACLU, you could have contacted the News & Observer reporter who wrote the February 17 article to inquire if any complaint from anyone associated with the Coalition had lead to the decision to write the article.

We challenge you to identify the individual who allegedly made this complaint to you and to demonstrate that person’s official connection to the Chatham Coalition. We are confident you cannot do that. Based on the specific factual allegation in your letter that the alleged incident took place “a few weeks” before the February 17 article in the News & Observer, and based on a review of the Board’s meeting minutes, this conversation had to have occurred at the Board’s meeting on February 6, which lasted approximately one hour and ended with a closed session to discuss possible litigation.

Coalition officers Jeffrey Starkweather and Sally Kost attended the meeting, as did Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities (CCEC) Board members Loyse Hurley, Rita Spina and Bob Eby, and District 3 Board of Commissioners candidate George Lucier. We have verified that none of these individuals has ever discussed the Board’s prayer practices with you, publicly or privately. Moreover, all those individuals confirm they saw no other attendee at that meeting who could conceivably have been mistaken as a member of the Coalition. The alleged assertion about “cleaning [your] clocks [sic]” during the upcoming election is also highly suspect given that no candidate had come forward to challenge you as of February 6.

The Chatham Coalition was formed to support candidates for local office based on their commitment to balanced economic development, sound land use planning, excellent schools and open government. Our Steering Committee, the candidates we support and our thousands of supporters all agree on these issues. Prayers at Board of Commissioners meetings is not an issue that has ever been addressed by the Coalition, nor has it been issue in this campaign. The Coalition Steering Committee currently includes a Lutheran Minister and the daughter of a minister, and Elder Carrie Bolton, Pastor at Alston Chapel Church, previously served on the Committee. Rev. Carl Thompson, the candidate we support for the District 5 Board of Commissioners seat, is Pastor at Word of Life Christian Outreach Center. Any implications of anti-Christian actions or beliefs by the Coalition, George Lucier, Rev. Thompson or Tom Vanderbeck would obviously be ludicrous.

It is profoundly insulting and outrageous that you, as Chair of our Board of Commissioners, would try to make political hay out of deeply held religious beliefs by deliberately spreading falsehoods to impugn the reputation of your opponents and their supporters. These actions are not Christian ones, nor are they consistent with the beliefs of any religion or code of ethics we are aware of. Therefore, we respectfully request that you make an official public apology to the Chatham Coalition, its Steering Committee members, George Lucier, Rev. Carl Thompson, Tom Vanderbeck, the Coalition’s supporters across the county and all Chatham’s voters for the false statements in your April 19 letter.


Jeffrey Starkweather, Chair Sally Kost, Vice Chair
Jan Nichols, Treasurer
John Hammond, Secretary
Roland McReynolds, Communications Director
The Chatham Coalition

CC: Tommy Emerson, Vice Chair
Carl Outz
Mike Cross
Patrick Barnes
Charlie Horne

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Chatham Coalition sends letter demanding apology
Chatham County Commission Chair Bunkey Morgan
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