Sunday, May 28, 2017

Beaty Street: Lawyers, threats, and karma at Davidson Town Hall

Davidson Town Hall was the set for some high drama last Tuesday - drama worthy of an episode of Matlock or even the climactic scene from a John Grisham novel.  The action included:
  • Three very southern lawyers sitting around a Town Hall conference table sort of sizing each other up while being unfailingly polite.
  • A threat to clear the room when the gallery got a little vocal.
  • A closing argument one-liner that will forever live in Davidson's collective memory.
The scene starts at the 1hr16min mark of this video from Town Hall.  It has already shattered records for the number of views of anything Davidson Town Hall has on file.

In what appeared to be an orchestrated event intended to finally quash opposition to Town Hall's plans for the 19 acre Beaty Street property, former Town Attorney Rick Kline was summoned to Davidson Town Hall on Tuesday as an "expert witness" of sorts.  Kline was the attorney when the Town of Davidson bought the majority of the Beaty Street land back in 1985.  He should know if the land was intended as a park, right?

Over several minutes of questioning, mostly by Commissioner Jim Fuller, himself an attorney and former judge, Kline recounted the history of the purchase as he remembered it and according to "his file".  Meanwhile, there's a gentleman in the back of the room who has stood multiple times throughout it all as if asking to be recognized.  Who was he?

As the story began to unfold, Kline said he didn't remember the land being purchased with any "strings attached", either "legally or non-legally".  He said that in spite of his own documents referencing a park multiple times.

At that point the attendee in the back of the room who had stood speaks up and says, "I just wanted to let you know I'm here.  I'm Ralph Clontz.  I was there."  To that, the room erupts into applause. Who is Ralph Clontz?  Well, he turns out to be none other than Ralph Clontz III, the grandson of Venie Clontz who sold the property to Davidson over 30 years ago.

Kline proceeds to say all the documents that mention a park were from him as if to parse the fact that references to a park were just his and that there was no obligation for a park because he didn't remember it that way.  That of course flew in the face of at least one document aShortChronicle showed readers in this piece from Tuesday AM.  That document had been circulating  on social media for days.  The crowd grew restless at these conflicting statements by Mr Kline coming on behalf of the Town's position.

In response to the restless audience, one can hear Commissioners tell the crowd to settle down. One of them blurts out "we'll clear the room if we have to!!"  (Has that actually ever happened in Davidson - a real threat to throw the public out of Town Hall???)

Doing the right thing, Commissioner Fuller asks if the Board would "suspend its rules" of normal procedure and allow Mr Clontz to speak.  Having little choice with a room full of people, they allow it.  If the room had been empty who knows what would have as happened.  One can easily see Mr Clontz being asked to "set up an appointment with staff" to discuss in detail - a tactic sometimes employed to keep uncomfortable discussion out of the Board Room.

Instead, the public heard several minutes of quote unquote "testimony" that directly contradicted the Town's star witness, Mr Kline.

Mr Clontz, now the third attorney in the discussion, recounted clearly knowing his grandmother intended to sell that property to Davidson for use as a park.  Saying :  "I know.  It was important to her.  She believed that this was going to be used for a park."  When describing the negotiations between his grandmother and the Town, Ralph Clontz told of the sale being at "somewhat of a discount", saying "she was trying to do something very wonderful for the Town of Davidson - that being a park.  That's what we thought was going to happen."

There were a few more minutes of discussion, then Mr Clontz says  "I just hate for my grandmother to have been so generous and then...poof."

To that Commissioner Jenest interjects that all the proposals discussed include at least some park uses.  After acknowledging that as "good to know" Mr Clontz goes back to the original intent of the sale with this closing line.

"You can decide to ignore the wishes of a little old lady who was very generous if you want to, but...(dramatic pause)...that's some bad karma."

Being legally required and following the original intent of something aren't necessarily the same things.  So, it looks like the Town of Davidson has a decision to make - do what's legal or do what's right.

Whichever one it chooses, the jury (aka the citizens) will be watching closely.


  1. Thank you Rick for all you do to bring the facts to the citizens of the community.

  2. Thank you for presenting THE FACTS.

  3. Has anyone checked to see if there is a deed restriction? That would have been the proper way to ensure the property's future attach a deed restriction only allowing it's future use as park property. That's what the closing attorney should have done.

    1. There is not, but the deed was prepared by the town attorney.

    2. There is not, but the deed was prepared by the town attorney.

    3. A deed restriction reduces the land value, so a discounted sale to the town without the restriction gets a larger charitable tax deduction. I dont know if this was considered, but this is my guess. I live on Beaty, across from the property.

  4. Certainly the original discussions with the owner was that she wanted the property to be developed into a park that all Davidson folks could enjoy for many years. Going against that wish is wrong and the town should NOT turn this property into a housing development or anything else but a PARK!

  5. Thanks Rick! It is important to get the unaltered facts. One of the things that attracted us to move to Davidson last year was it is a small town in a metropolitan area. We assumed the town board would be an open, considerate group, who could be counted on to keep commitments made by previous boards, and listen to the citizens of Davidson. This episode appears to be significantly different than that expectation. We will more closely watch what is going on at town hall in the future. Thanks again!!

  6. I couldn't agree more. Rick you are doing a fantastic job trying to keep Davidson in "check". If the expectation upon sale that the land should be a park - then that's certainly how it should end up. We also moved to Davidson thinking it would be a town that was run by folks with integrity - I'm starting to question whether that is the case

  7. Thanks Rick for "trying" to keep our town officials honest. Clearly the sellers intention was that the land be used for a park - I'm not sure how there can possibly be any room for interpretation.