Asheville City Council candidate Selina Sullivan was arrested Wednesday night by the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office on a misdemeanor charge of writing a worthless check in the amount of $1,500.
The incident comes less than a week before Sullivan vies with 14 other candidates for one of three seats on Council. In an open letter to city residents (see full text of letter below), Sullivan places blame on others for the lack of funds to cover expenses incurred by a religious festival she helped organize; she also states that she believes the arrest may be politically motivated.
But the matter becomes muddied at this point. The person who filed the arrest warrant against Sullivan — Willa Grant of Asheville — is not referenced by name in Sullivan’s open letter. The person who is referenced, Chad Stewart, owner of Stewart Sound, tells Xpress the letter references him directly because “I’ve been the one on a soapbox making the most noise.” Grant had not returned messages from Xpress as of Thursday evening to provide details.
Stewart, who says he is still owed $12,150 by Sullivan, was more than willing to talk about the matter as he made the rounds of local media outlets Thursday in the wake of Sullivan’s arrest. He also called in to “Take a Stand” with Matt Mittan on WWNC-570 on Wednesday to confront Sullivan on the matter during her campaign interview segment.
Earlier this week, Stewart supplied Xpress with a copy of what he said was of a contract and a bogus check in the amount of $14,450 from Sullivan for providing sound for the planned “Come Hither Worshipfest 2007” that had been scheduled earlier this year at the WNC Agriculture Center. He says he has since received only $2,300 in cash from Sullivan.
While Stewart says he cannot afford the attorney costs to try and recoup his money in court, he says that at least two other aggrieved parties plan to file arrest warrants against Sullivan. In an email to Xpress, Stewart lists several alleged victims from the botched event who together are owed $20,043.69 and had received worthless checks. Those individuals and companies could not be reached Thursday night.
Stewart scoffed at the notion his crusade is politically or racially motivated (Sullivan is an African-American who changed her political affiliation from Democrat to Republican). He says that he never worked with anyone other than Sullivan and that her name was on the check that bounced. The check does list Sullivan’s name, adding that she was doing business as “The Church of WNC,” a temporary umbrella organization of churches sponsoring the event.
“I never spoke to anyone other than Selina Sullivan. I never entered into any contract with anyone other than Selina Sullivan. And the only signatures I’ve ever gotten related to this event are Selina Sullivan’s,” Stewart says. “The churches just [told me], ‘We’re just a network of churches. This is Selina’s baby. None of us ever agreed to any of this.’ So, she’s the one that has initiated all this stuff and she’s trying to pass it on. It’s a shame she’s trying to play the victim card, but she just totally screwed up on this deal.”
Stay tuned to Mountainx.com for more updates on this story. See below for the full text of Sullivan’s letter to the public, in which she argues that Republicans resistant to her are staging an attack to derail her campaign.
— Hal L. Millard, staff writer
An open letter to the Citizens of Asheville:
Last night I was arrested and handcuffed on the charge of writing a simple worthless check in the amount of $1,500.
As you all know, I am running for City Council this year, and that puts a public face on something which would be an otherwise private matter. Although I believe that I have done my best to resolve the situation quietly and with what I believe to be due diligence, there are certain people out there who want to take advantage of this situation for their own political gain. The timing of this attack, less than a week before the primary, is telling.
Although the matter is now before the courts, I wanted to take this opportunity to explain the course of events as I see them. Earning and maintaining the trust of the people of Asheville is my paramount concern, and I do not want anything to jeopardize that dialogue or that relationship. As personally embarrassing and degrading as this situation is for me, as voters you have a right to know all the facts so you can be fully informed come election day.
Let me start at the beginning.
In January of this year, a group of five well-intentioned church representatives asked me to help organize a multi-cultural, inter-denominational festival here in Asheville. I know most of them well, and they knew that I had the interpersonal skills necessary to bring folks of different backgrounds and religions and races together for a common purpose. As a result, the six of us formed an umbrella organization named “The Church of Western North Carolina” and this council was empowered to make the necessary plans for what we were calling “WorshipFest
For those of you who know me, you know that I have a gregarious personality and am comfortable in leadership roles. I like to make things happen. This was no different. My belief in the project led me to assume the job of Communications Director; as the group’s “front man,” I was esponsible for marketing the event, entering into agreements on its behalf and providing its point of contact.
As is often the case at the outset of a project, enthusiasm levels ran high. People were really excited at the idea of bringing different folks together from different parts of the country in a spirit of celebration and ecumenism. Plans were made and budgets were drawn up. We started making arrangements for the big day.
But as the months marched on, the initial good intentions of the group gave way to personality conflicts and turf battles. Looking back, other red flags went up. Promises of financial support from the group were not honored. Responsibilities were not carried out. But the work had to go on, as people were relying on us. I and some others continued to pour our time and resources into the project to salvage what we could, but as the day approached, things began falling apart quickly.
Stewart Sound was contracted 3 days before the event after learning that we were being overcharged by $20,000.00 from the previous sound company. Because the date was so close, Chad wanted the bill paid in full. I told him that the money was not there as of now, but I was promised the money and was sure it would be there before on the day of the show. The day of the event, the promised funds were not there, but Chad was promised by Wendell Blair, that if he would go ahead with the show, he would be paid and Chad agreed. But, Stewart Sound did not go forward—- and I believe, reneged on their contract—- and left us empty-handed. Although we tried our best to go on, the show was clearly not what people had in mind and we ended up having to refund our ticket sales. It was a disaster.
Chad also attempted to contact Wendell the next day asking for payment, but was told that he would not be paid because he did not do the work. Even though that is true, I made the decision to ensure Chad did not lose any money, so payments have been made.
Early on, before things fell apart, one of the organizers was written a check to reimburse her for some expenses related to advertising. It was mutually agreed that she would hold the check until after all was said and done, until after the vendors were paid. Now, this person has changed her tune. She’s pressing the case despite the fact that we all suffered financially.
I never anticipated a large return for the charities for whom we were raising money, of course, but there was an understanding among the group that we went in this venture together and that we would share collectively both in its success and, if necessary, its loss. That didn’t happen. When the event went south, no one else was there to step up to the plate and share responsibility. They scattered like rats and I was left holding the bag.
In hindsight, I should have washed my hands of it when I saw those warning signs and walked away, but I didn’t. In that I clearly made a mistake in judgement. Another mistake I made was believing in the initial good intentions of those around me. In that I guess I was a little naive. These people were only looking to make a quick buck on the back of the church.
Another mistake I made was not anticipating that this situation—- one I believed to be more akin to an unfortunate business venture than anything else—- would be used against me for political purposes. But it has, and not by whom you might think.
In the course of the last weeks, I have come to learn that this situation is being exploited by certain of the more radical members of my own political party. They have been actively spreading rumors and innuendo, further instigating the situation with the intention of forcing me to withdraw my candidacy. I believe that it has been with their active manipulations and string-pulling that this matter has escalated from a private, civil matter to a public smear.
To understand this matter fully requires a lesson in the dynamics and history of the party here in Buncombe County…but suffice it to say, they didn’t see me coming. I represent a new kind of Republican here in Asheville—- someone who believes in tolerance, inclusion, and multiculturalism. I’m a strong black woman who believes everyone should be at the table no matter who they are and I’ll fight to my last breath to be sure every voice is heard. That’s the problem.
I’m a threat to some [sic] the more extreme elements in our party who happen to shout the loudest, get the most press, and sadly—- try to control the agenda—- because I speak my mind. I don’t agree with some of their views or their tactics and now they know it. I won’t be told how to think by a bunch of bigots, be them Democrat or Republican.
Maybe it was the fact that I clearly stated my admiration for Barack Obama in the most recent issue of the Mountain Express [sic]; maybe it was my statement the other night on Matt Mittan’s show about my openness to the idea of benefits for the domestic partners of city employees, I don’t know. I do know many people in my own party see me and my campaign as a threat to the “purity” of the Republican party. They see me able to bring folks of all races, backgrounds, faiths, lifestyles and even political parties together and they don’t like it one bit.
So, on top of everything else, I’m dealing with an ambush from radical elements inside the Republican party, made up ironically of some former good-ole boy George Wallace Democrats. They’ve purposely fanned the flames of a private matter to try and ruin me politically. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t count on my resilience or my resolve. I will not be bullied into abandoning my candidacy.
I ask for your understanding, your patience, and your prayers as this matter all gets sorted out.
Candidate for Asheville City Council