Politics & Government

NC town is trying to oust a council member. She wants money spent to remove her repaid.

Village of Marvin website

A council member in the Charlotte suburb of Marvin wants a law firm to repay more than $5,000 in legal fees that she says were illegally paid, with public money, in an effort to oust her from the village board.

Council member Mary Shkut’s filing last week in Union County Superior Court continues a bitter spat that temporarily shut down village government last summer. Marvin’s mayor and a council member are challenging Shkut’s appointment to the board after a previous member resigned.

The dispute in fast-growing Marvin, which has about 6,500 residents and a $1.2 million annual budget, has led to lawsuits filed in both federal and state courts.

Shkut is a former village administrator and planner who has also served on Marvin’s planning board. Those roles, she says in court papers, brought her into conflict with developers and town officials including Mayor Joe Pollino and council members Kim Vandenberg and Nick Dispenziere.

“While the council consists of officials elected in non-partisan races, a deep divide exists amongst the council with respect to the future of the village and, specifically, its development,” said Shkut’s initial lawsuit, which was filed in state court last July.

Shkut has said that she favors low-density, small-scale commercial development. Marvin’s population has grown six-fold since 2000.

When council member Ron Salimao resigned at a meeting last May, he proposed that Shkut serve the 18 months left on his term. With one council member absent, the motion carried.

Shkut’s lawsuit claims that Pollino, Vandenberg and Dispenziere met with village officials, violating the open meetings law, to plot her ouster.

Following her disputed appointment, council members canceled two meetings last June. They also failed to approve an annual budget as required by July, leading to the temporary shutdown.

When the board met again last July, Shkut’s lawsuit says, it voted to declare her seat vacant. Pollino demanded that she leave the council table, it says, and when she refused asked sheriff’s deputies to arrest her. They declined.

Pollino and Vandenberg claim the vote to appoint Shkut was invalid because it wasn’t on the meeting agenda and passed with only two votes instead of the required three votes.

The defendants have denied they broke the open meetings law, and the lawsuit remains before a Union County judge. Shkut is still listed as a council member on Marvin’s website.

Last August, Pollino and Vandenberg returned fire with, they say, the village council’s permission. They filed under a state statute that allows private citizens, with approval of the attorney general’s office, to challenge whether someone has the legal right to hold public office. Their lawsuit asked a judge to nullify Shkut’s appointment to the board.

Union County Superior Court Judge Christopher Bragg dismissed the lawsuit last October, and reaffirmed the decision in December. Bragg ruled that the complaint had been served on Shkut one day later than the 90 days allowed by law.

Last week, Shkut asked Bragg to force the Brough Law Firm of Chapel Hill, which represents Pollino and Vandenberg, to repay at least $5,135 in legal fees to the village. She asserts it’s illegal to use public money in such an action.

Pollino and Vandenberg have filed notice they will appeal Bragg’s dismissal of the case.

T.C. Morphis, the Brough attorney representing Pollino and Vandenberg, said in an emailed statement that he has “acted appropriately and lawfully” on behalf of Pollino and Vandenberg, who he said hired him as citizens and not on behalf of the village.

Morphis said he’ll make additional court filings in the case before a Feb. 4 hearing.

Shkut is also a defendant in a federal lawsuit filed by developer Kenneth Orndorff, whom she had accused of “harassing, degrading and belittling” her over a three-year period. Orndorff accused Shkut in 2017 of slander, defamation and malicious prosecution after he said she referred to him as a “stalker,” the Observer reported in July.

In October, U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen refused to dismiss Ornforff’s claims of slander and malicious prosecution. Mullen dismissed Shkut’s counterclaims, including abuse of process, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.