This post is going to take a few minutes to read, so you might want to grab a snack or your favorite beverage and get comfortable.
In December of 2014 my family and I moved to Ramseur, North Carolina. Ramseur wasn’t my first choice of towns to live in, but property here was cheaper than most other communities we’d looked at. Turns out there’s a reason for that. Ramseur has issues; generations deep, complex and often childish issues that take several years of involvement in the community to begin to see for what they are, much less to understand. I’ve been here going on five years now and have only begun to scratch the surface.
Ramseur has a bad reputation. For one, rumor has it that our water is “bad”. I’ve read the reports and asked my brother, a environmental scientist, to read them as well. The water isn’t unsafe to drink, it just tastes and smells like crap sometimes; not to mention how the rust in the ancient iron pipes stains everything it comes in contact with.
Ramseur has perhaps been most notorious in recent years for the drama at Board of Commissioners meetings. Since 1999 nearly a half dozen (I’m still trying to sort this out) commissioners have resigned, relocated, or died in office, requiring either a special election or an appointment by the Board to fill unexpired terms of office.
Our last mayor, Hampton “Happy” Spivey, also resigned before the end of his last term in 2010. Mayor Spivey was notable for his quick temper and colorful language. His resignation came about after he was alleged to have assaulted a citizen outside a local convenience store.
The current mayor, Danny Roy Shaw, was Mayor Pro Tem in 2010 and ascended to the mayor’s desk upon the resignation of Mr. Spivey. In 2011, Mayor Shaw won election to the office in a tight race against Gary Hoover, by a margin of seven votes. Two years later Hoover ran for and won a seat on the Board of Commissioners, but resigned, sold his house, and moved away two years into his term.
I had entertained the idea of running for local office off and on for most of my adult life, and in 2015, having just lost my father, I needed something to keep me busy. In my grief being mayor of a town I’d only been living in for about six months seemed like a good idea. In hindsight, being a member of the governing board, much less the mayor, is the wrong job for anyone so new to any town. Nevertheless, I went down to the local Board of Elections office that July and placed my name on the ballot to run against Danny Shaw.
I tried to run a clean campaign and focus on local issues that I thought were important, despite my ignorance of recent local history and lack of context. Early in the race there was a free concert event held downtown, so I walked over to check it out and perhaps meet a few of my new neighbors. At one point during the evening Mayor Shaw came over introduced himself. I vividly recall him saying, “I will never slam you”. That should have alerted me to what was coming.
Over the course of the election cycle, Mayor Shaw and/or his supporters said many unkind things about me and my family. One nasty rumor that circulated alleged that my wife and I are Satanists. At first I thought it was funny, but my wife, having grown up in the area, took it much more seriously, and she hadn’t signed up for the abuse. It’s nobody’s business but my own if, how, or what I worship, but for the sake of full disclosure I will attempt to set the record straight.
I consider myself an agnostic pantheist, which means that I believe there is something greater than us – humanity – in the universe, and that we are all parts of a whole so great that we cannot begin to understand it. That got interpreted as, “he’s an atheist,” and then further distorted into, “he’s a Satanist,” by either Mr. Shaw or his supporters. I no more worship Satan than I worship Odin, Zeus, or any other god humans have invented at one time or another across our history. It’s difficult to worship a thing you don’t believe exists.
Many untrue things were said about me and my family during that campaign, including a written screed I never saw with my own eyes, alleged to have been written by Mayor Shaw himself and hung in the post office. Needless to say, by the time election day finally arrived I was ready for it to be over. I just wanted to go home, close my front door, and be left alone for a while.
I lost by 76 votes (101 to Shaw’s 185, plus 3 write-ins). I walked out of town hall after the results were announced and pretty much forgot about local government until late 2017, when the next crop of candidates vied for two seats on the Board.
The winners of that election were Vicki Caudle, a local business owner, and Randy Cox, a former law enforcement officer who lives in a travel trailer parked behind the barber shop he rents on Main Street. I decided that maybe it was time to begin attending town meetings again.
By the end of the meeting in December, 2017, it was obvious there were conflicting agendas at work, so I began visiting the mayor’s office to try and gain some understanding of what was going on in this town. I should have talked to a few more of the board members as well, but Shaw was readily available during the day.
I’d been warned about Mayor Shaw; told by more than a few that he speaks from both sides of his mouth and twists narratives to fit his personal agenda, but I failed to heed the warnings. I’m an honest person and something of an idealist; I want to believe that others treat me the way I’d like to be treated, especially when those others make such a big thing of their professed Christianity. I grew up in Christian churches and I took those lessons to heart. Hypocritical behavior by others played a big part in my decision to abandon organized religion and follow my own path.
Almost immediately after I began meeting with the mayor rumors began circulating that he and Commissioner Grant Cheek intended to appoint me to the Board of Commissioners before the next election. At that point I knew nothing of unexpired terms, board appointments, and special elections; it had never crossed my mind.
Commissioner Joe Lineberry was originally appointed to serve the unexpired term of Commissioner Ray Isley, who resigned his seat in December of 2014. Joe and I got to know one another during the 2015 campaign when he ran and won that seat in his own right. Joe had been in declining health since before I met him, and by early 2018 it was pretty obvious he was not going to finish his term. Sadly, after the 2017 election, he became the swing vote on many issues; two commissioners wanted him there while two others benefitted from his absence, and when tie votes occur the mayor gets to break the stalemate.
Sometime in January or February of 2018, Mayor Shaw asked me if I would be willing to serve out Mr. Lineberry’s term if he resigned or died in office. I told the mayor that if asked to serve I would do so, and from that day forward, Mayor Shaw, Commissioner Grant Cheek, and eventually Commissioner Randy Cox began filling my head with what could only be understood as their desire to have me on the board. I began frequenting the Municipal Building to get up to speed and be ready to serve when called. None of the above mentioned officials ever indicated that anyone else would be considered for the job.
Agreeing to serve was my first mistake, but taking Shaw, Cheek and Cox at their word was worse. These three men played me for a fool because I trusted that they were dealing with me honestly.
One day, not long after the conversation related above, I walked into the Municipal Building and found a local business owner standing at the counter talking to the mayor. He was in the process of moving his store to a new site and had run into zoning complaints from a citizen who lives near the new location.
The business owner had gone to great lengths to follow the rules and was concerned that his new neighbor, a recent candidate for commissioner and runner-up in the 2017 election, might be appointed and cause problems for his business. The mayor told the business man that “under no circumstances” would his new neighbor be appointed, and then proceeded to describe, in detail, a scenario in which I would be appointed by his tie-breaking vote.
On another occasion some friends of mine from Gaston County, David and Karen Turner, had won a contract to do redesign and host the Town of Ramseur’s official website. I met them at the Municipal Building on the day they came to sign the contract and watched Mayor Shaw stand behind the counter and absolutely gush about how much he needed me on the Board. I’m certain that Commissioner Cheek and our Town Clerk were also present.
Over several months Commissioners Cheek and Cox often alluded to their desire to appoint me to the Board of Commissioners. By midsummer I was convinced of their sincerity and had begun reading everything I could find about how local government works in order to be ready when the time came and not be a hindrance to the Board.
Then, on July 10, 2018, Commissioner Joe Lineberry died. Twenty days later, on July 30, 2018, a special meeting of the Board of Commissioners was called for the purpose of “interviewing” candidates to fill the open board seat. Candidates who applied for the position were myself, former Commissioner Robert Hesselmeyer, JC Parrish (runner up from the most recent election), another man I had never seen before nor since, and a younger man, Ronald “Adam” Smith, who had moved to town four months prior and lives next door to Commissioner Cheek. A portion of Smith’s interview with Commissioner Randy Cox can be seen in the short video below.
Smith claims to be a real estate investor, a motivational speaker, and an “internet capitalist”. He also claims to have earned a bachelor’s degree in business by taking online classes while serving in the United States Marine Corps.
Recall that in 2015, when I ran against Mayor Shaw, my six to twelve months (six when I filed and nearly twelve when the election was held) as a citizen of Ramseur was deemed by many too short a residency for anyone seeking elected office, but on the night of August 6, 2018, Ronald “Adam” Smith showed up to the only regular meeting of our Board of Commissioners with his entire family in tow, dressed to the nines, reeking of cologne, and apparently knowing that he was about to be appointed to that empty seat.
By this time I had begun to see the writing on the wall, and before the meeting I spoke with Commissioners Cox and Cheek and reminded them of the things they had said to me over the past six months or more. All I asked was to have my name put into nomination and the opportunity to be voted up or down. Beyond that I really didn’t care about the outcome.
The meeting was called to order and soon enough the business of the empty seat came to the floor. Commissioner Cheek immediately nominated his new neighbor, Smith, and Commissioner Caudle nominated Mr. Parrish; Commissioner Cox failed to nominate anyone and refused to look up from the desk the entire time. At one point Commissioner Overman became frustrated with the process and re-nominated Mr. Parrish. Soon afterward, Mayor Shaw closed the floor to further nominations, or, as he put it, called for “nominations to cease”. After a brief discussion the votes for Mr. Smith were called; then, very quickly, votes for Mr. Parrish were called.
Mayor Shaw is always quick to remind citizens that he doesn’t get to vote unless the Commissioners votes split equally, but on this evening the mayor was in such a hurry to get “Adam” Smith appointed that he failed to follow regular order and voted with the Board. He even had the audacity to argue when he was reprimanded by attorney Bob Wilhoit. I left the building before Smith was sworn in; I was very angry at that point. You can watch it all in the video above.
I went home and again tried to forget about local government, but before too long I began watching videos of the meetings that Tim Matthews posted to YouTube. Tim has done a great service to our community in making these recordings available for all to watch at our convenience, but at the meeting held on November 19, 2018, Commissioner Smith reportedly approached Mr. Matthews in an effort to intimidate him into ceasing his recording activities, which are perfectly legal under NCGS 143-318.14(a), which states in part, that “any person may photograph, film, tape-record, or otherwise reproduce any part of a meeting required to be open.” Unfortunately, that incident was not captured on any recording I am aware of, but it has been corroborated to me by several diverse witnesses.
Then, on December 17, 2018, during the mayor & commissioner comments period at the end of the meeting, Mayor Shaw and Commissioners Cheek and Smith incited a majority of the Board to pass a resolution to spend our tax money paying attorney Wilhoit to pursue legal action to reveal the anonymous administrators of the Ramseur Watchdog 2 Facebook page and make an effort to shut it down. That was a bridge too far for me.
This is the United States of America, and we have constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. If Smith, Cheek, and Shaw want to violate those rights, I decided I would give them a fight. It was then that this website, RamseurWatchdog.com was conceived and came into being.
Elected officials in Ramseur, and I assume every other branch of elective office in this nation, take an oath of office wherein, among other things, they swear or affirm that they will preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies foreign and domestic. At least two of our officials in Ramseur, Mayor Shaw and Commissioner Smith, are US military veterans who took similar oaths upon enlistment.
To even suggest, much less pursue legal action to infringe upon the First Amendment to our Constitution is, in my opinion, dereliction of duty. The three men who led our Board of Commissioners across that line, Shaw, Cheek, and Smith, should do us all a favor and resign from office immediately, and all who voted for the resolution should publicly denounce it at their next opportunity.