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Chatham Coalition demands Bunkey apologize for religious smear

Posted Monday, April 24, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC - The Chatham Coalition, a political action committee, today called on Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chair Bunkey Morgan to issue a formal public apology for making false statements regarding the Coalition and for making a reckless religious smear.

Morgan stated in an April 19 letter sent to the North Carolina ACLU that a mystery "individual" complained to him about the Board's before-meeting prayers. Morgan alleged the individual claimed to be a "member" of "The Coalition," and charged that this alleged individual instigated the events that lead to ACLU's April 10 letter to the Chatham Board of Commissioners regarding the Board's prayer practices.

In fact, no member of the Chatham Coalition has ever said anything to Morgan or anyone else about the Board's practice of beginning its meetings with a prayer, said Roland McReynolds, Coalition Communications Director. The ACLU has already confirmed that it was not contacted by any member of the Chatham Coalition regarding the Board's prayer practices. In an April 24 letter to the Board of Commissioners, the Coalition's Steering Committee called on Morgan to identify the alleged individual and prove his connection to the Chatham Coalition. It also called on Morgan to publicly apologize to the Coalition, the candidates it supports in the May 2 election, its thousands of supporters and all Chatham voters for engaging in a political smear.

The Coalition has endorsed George Lucier, Rev. Carl Thompson and Tom Vanderbeck in the May 2 Board of Commissioners Democratic primary. Vanderbeck is challenging Morgan for the District 4 Commissioner seat, and Lucier, Rev. Thompson and Vanderbeck alike have campaigned against the disastrous policies the Board has pursued under Morgan's leadership.

Morgan's supporters have also tried to connect the Coalition to the recent ACLU action around the Board's prayer practices. In a full page ad published in the Chatham News/Record last week, developers Holland and Rebecca Gaines implied that the Coalition and its candidates oppose Christianity. The Gaines are developing a gated community on Jordan Lake that was rejected by the Chatham Planning Board. The Board of Commissioners, with Morgan's help, approved by the project anyway.

"Morgan's three and half years in office have left Chatham with higher taxes, overcrowded schools, crumbling infrastructure and an unbalanced tax base," said McReynolds. "Voters know Morgan's record, so he and his backers are shamefully using religion and smear tactics to rally support."

The Chatham Coalition was formed in 2004 to support candidates for local office based on their commitment to balanced economic development, sound land use planning, excellent schools and open government. Thousands of Chatham residents support the work of the Chatham Coalition, and the Coalition's membership is composed of the people who serve on its Steering and Regional Committees. "If someone claiming to represent the Coalition had ever approached Morgan on the prayer issue, it would have been simple for Morgan to confirm the claim by asking members of the Coalition, and he knows many of us well," said McReynolds. Bunkey's letter to the ACLU implies that the mystery individual took his complaints to the Raleigh News & Observer and/or the ACLU. But if Morgan were really concerned about the truth of why the paper or the ACLU took an interest in the case, he could have asked either organization, and both organizations would have confirmed the Coalition had no involvement.

"That Morgan and his backers would resort to manipulating the deeply held religious beliefs of Chatham's people for political ends in this way is profoundly insulting," said McReynolds. 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. The Coalition endorses Rev. Carl Thompson, Pastor at Word of Life Christian Outreach Center, for the District 5 Commissioners race, against incumbent Tommy Emerson. "To launch a religious smear against the Coalition takes the politics of division practiced by Morgan's backers to a new low," said McReynolds. "The people of Chatham will not be fooled by their desperate tactics."

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