Dear Commissioner Pertalion,
I don’t know you personally—in fact, I don’t think we have ever spoken directly to one another—but you sure did take a cavalier and dishonest approach to talking about me and one particular issue in your recent answers to the Pam’s Picks Questionnaire for the upcoming Democratic primary. One of the questions you were asked was, “Do you support or oppose the County’s decision to demolish the downtown Turner House without holding a public hearing?” This was your answer:
The Commissioners held public meetings on this issue for over a year, including two with a representative present from the Historical Society. There was an open offer to sell the house for $1 and pay to move the house. There was no interest in this option. In 2020, the Board of Commissioners needed to move forward on the parking needs for public access to County Buildings and the Courthouse. Based on the public’s response, the Board made its decision.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. When I spoke before the Watauga County Commission on May 7, 2019, I explicitly stated that I was doing so with authorization from Boone Town Council as the chairperson of the Boone Historic Preservation Commission, not on behalf of the Watauga County Historical Society. The distinction between the HPC and the WCHS is one you might wish to better understand if you want to be taken seriously on preservation issues. When I spoke to the Commission again on December 17, 2019, I was abundantly clear that I was appearing individually and not on behalf of any other organization. When I wrote to the Commission on December 14, 2020, I again made it abundantly clear that I was speaking in my personal capacity as a resident and in my professional capacity as a historian. I have never indicated at any time that I was speaking or appearing on this issue before the Watauga County Commissioners as “a representative from the Historical Society.” Both of my public records requests were also made in a personal capacity, not on behalf of any organization. Similarly, this letter is written to you in my personal capacity, not on anyone else’s behalf.
On a more substantive level, though, your glib answer to this question ignores the fact that at the time the Commissioners decided to proceed with demolition of the Turner House (also known as the Oscar and Suma Hardin House), there was a well-publicized, well-documented agreement between the Town of Boone and the Watauga County Commissioners to work together on creating a joint parking deck at the present Town of Boone parking lot just north of Queen Street, with the expectation that the Commissioners would work with the Town of Boone to convey the Turner House to the Town and thus facilitate its preservation. Suddenly, and without any warning to the Town of Boone, the Commissioners abandoned this agreement in November 2020 and voted by “consensus” behind closed doors to proceed with demolition of the Turner House, all without any public input whatsoever. Despite public appeals from Town Manager John Ward, Pam Williamson, and me to stop the demolition, the Commissioners held a second, formal vote—again without benefit of a public hearing prior to voting—to authorize demolition in December 2020. You were one of the Commissioners who voted yes, even after receiving those written public appeals addressed to you and the other Commissioners. Indeed, my written appeal explicitly cautioned the Commissioners and the County Manager about the illegality under NC law of proceeding without public input and the Commission’s numerous improprieties regarding public notice and minutes recordation on this issue. You voted to demolish anyway.
Your reply to the Pam’s Picks Questionnaire also states, “There was an open offer to sell the house for $1 and pay to move the house. There was no interest in this option.” In actuality, no formal statement of such an “open offer” has ever been documented by County Manager Deron Geouque, despite exhaustive public records requests for documentation that the County had advertised this specific offer. Furthermore, an offer of $300 for the house was in fact conveyed by local resident Mark Scruggs to County Manager Geouque via telephone in 2020. As reported to me in March 2021 by Mr. Scruggs, County Manager Geouque’s response to this offer was to tell Mr. Scruggs that the $300 offer would not be accepted by the Commission, and that Mr. Scruggs would need to offer at least $1,000 and pay for the cost of moving the house. Thus dissuaded by Manager Geouque, Mr. Scruggs abandoned his pursuit of trying to save the house by moving it to nearby property.
What’s particularly galling is that you were aware of this offer from Mr. Scruggs at least by April 2, 2021, when I wrote to Manager Geouque and copied you and the other Commissioners specifically requesting all documentation regarding Mr. Scruggs’s offer. The answer from Manager Geouque regarding this request was as follows: “All requested information was provided per your previous public records request. No formal offer was made by Mr. Scruggs. Communications with Mr. Scruggs was [sic] via telephone/in-person conversations.” In short, Manager Geouque’s reply—which you were copied on—affirms that these conversations with Mr. Scruggs took place and that there was, in fact, interest in acquiring the house until Manager Geouque shut down that interest with a counteroffer that does not match what you claim the County was “publicly” willing to accept. For you to issue a public statement in 2022 that mischaracterizes the terms the county was willing to accept and that denies that there was any local interest in saving the house under those terms is an example of either gross incompetence or a despicable lie. In either case, shame on you.
In the end, the historic Turner House is gone for a gain of roughly a dozen surface parking spaces, since the County has done absolutely nothing else with the lot since January 2021. You claim in your statement that the Turner House had to be demolished to address “parking needs for public access to County Buildings and the Courthouse,” yet this entire lot remains closed to public use. Meanwhile, the proposed Queen Street parking deck that could have solved our mid-Town public parking issues for another couple of decades is dead in the water. That’s the anti-preservation, anti-community legacy that the Commission’s rash decision to demolish has left us, and you’re trying to whitewash it now in the middle of primary season.
The people of our country have seen enough gaslighting from some of our politicians over the past seven years to last a lifetime. I really don’t want to see it from a local official, especially one who sits on my end of the political spectrum. Be a leader. Own your mistakes, be accountable, and learn from them. Don’t mislead Wataugans about what happened just to suit your political goals. You are—or at least should be—a better human being and a more conscientious fellow citizen than that, especially if you want us to trust you with our votes, our tax dollars, and our community’s future.