- 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.
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.