The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)


March 28, 2014

Candidate demands GOP chairman resign

Phil Burr used headquarters for meeting with bail bonds contributor

Thursday, March 27, 2014 — A Stanly County commissioner and Republican candidate for N.C. House demands the local GOP chairman resign because his son’s candidacy poses a conflict of interest.

For a third time Peter Asciutto asked Phil Burr to resign his post as the Stanly County Republican Party chairman since he is the father and business partner of the GOP challenger’s opponent. Asciutto claims his campaign efforts to unseat incumbent Justin Burr for the House’s 67th District have been compromised because Phil Burr is using his position to promote his son’s bid for re-election, instead of the overall good of the party.

Asciutto also claims that Phil Burr used the GOP headquarters for personal use, suggesting he is attempting to advance Justin Burr’s campaign while also promoting the family’s business — Burr Burr Bail Bonds.

Phil Burr denies the allegation while refusing to step down as party chairman. The elder Burr counters that the local party has not sabotaged Asciutto’s campaign, but that the challenger has distanced himself from the party by a lack of participation.

“He’s trying to play the victim,” Phil Burr said.

“We’ve bent over backwards to try and satisfy Peter.

“He’s never done one thing for the party.”

Asciutto officially asked Phil Burr to resign via a March 21 email and on the eve of the Stanly County Republican convention. The request marks the third time Asciutto demanded the resignation.

“Activities of the last few weeks have caused me to up the ante and ask you to resign as chairman of the Stanly County Republican Party,” Asciutto wrote.

“You have proven that you are not being fair to candidates. In addition, you have utilized your position as chairman to use the party’s headquarters for personal use.”

Part of Asciutto’s latest complaint stems from a Phil Burr email blast notifying Republican candidates about an April 3 debate for GOP candidates heading into the primary. Asciutto’s name as well as GOP county commission candidates Scott Efird, Heather and Ron Couick and Art Burleson were left off the email.

Ironically, Democrat Cameron Speights, primary opponent of incumbent sheriff Rick Burris, was among those notified. Speights is a former Republican who changed his party affiliation to Democrat Sept. 30, according to the Board of Elections.

Asciutto points out that it was a Phil Burr led party that orchestrated a Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner as a forum to promote Justin Burr and less for other GOP candidates.

“The 2014 Lincoln Dinner, which was supposed to be for the Stanly County Republican Party, looked like a re-elect Justin Burr campaign rally,” Asciutto wrote.  

“As chairman of the party, you set the agenda, scheduled speakers, arranged the layout of the room and allowed four of the eight people sitting on stage wear huge ‘Re-Elect’ Justin Burr stickers. You asked the NC GOP 8th District Vice-Chairman, Zack Almond, to introduce your son. In Almond’s position, he is not supposed to publicly support candidates during the primary.”

Phil Burr, who sat on the stage at the dinner, did not wear a campaign sticker.

Todd Poole, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, said Phil Burr’s kinship to a candidate does not necessarily pose a conflict of interest.

Party bylaws, however, prohibit an officer from using his or her power to promote a candidate during a Republican primary, he said.

Phil Burr also served as the local GOP chairman in the last election when his son faced Republican Darrell Almond.

Almond never asked Phil Burr to resign, but he, too, saw his role as a conflict.

“Anyone in their right mind can see it’s a conflict of interest,” he said.

“I thought he should have resigned. I just rolled over and took it because I saw the handwriting on the wall. Right-wingers control the Republican Party in Stanly County.”

Of the candidates slighted of the latest email blast, the Couicks were the only ones to agree with Asciutto that there is a group within the local party that demonstrate partiality.

Heather Couick, who lost to Asciutto in 2012 in a county commissioner’s race, shares her former opponent’s opinion that the local GOP shortchanged a few Republican candidates. She believes favoritism for specific candidates remains an issue.

“There is an inner circle,” Couick said.

“If you’re not in that click, you don’t get any support.

“The Republican Party should be there to further the party and promote all candidates and not a select group of candidates.”

Neither she nor her husband, Ronnie, also a county commission candidate, attended Saturday’s GOP convention because both had to work, she said.

“When it’s that click that’s there it didn’t really matter,” Heather Couick said.

“If I’m talking to that click I might as well be talking to a wall.”

Efird, who is running against local GOP Vice Chairman Mike Barbee, said he talked to Phil Burr about the party’s failure to notify him and is satisfied that it was simply an oversight.

He said he has no problem with the party’s practices, despite Barbee’s role as an officer while running for office.

“I’m not going to ask Mike (Barbee) to resign,” Efird said.

“If Mike wants to resign, well, that’s up to him.”

Burleson said he learned about the upcoming debate by Facebook. He, too, talked with Phil Burr about the lack of communication and is satisfied with the explanation.

“I don’t have a problem with it now,” he said.

“I could understand since I’m new to politics. I can’t say it’s Phil’s fault.”

Phil Burr hinted GOP support is a matter of reciprocity. Or, candidates that support the local party garner the support of the party.

“Peter has been to one party meeting in a year,” Phil Burr said.

“He’s never done anything for the party.

“He whines either way, but he’s back on the email list.”

Asciutto claimed previously that he has reached out to volunteer on behalf of the party, but his offers were rejected.

Phil Burr said it is Asciutto who alienates himself from the party.

“Nobody in the Republican Party is backing him on this,” Phil Burr said.

Kari Hill, a member of the Stanly County Republican Women, agrees the party denies Asciutto fair campaign opportunities. She said the local GOP has an “inner circle” and those candidates outside the group are dismissed as legitimate contenders worthy of party support.

“It’s apparent that they can attack who they want, but we can’t question those in the inner circle,” Hill said.

Asciutto contends that Phil Burr is the center of that inner circle with an objective to re-elect Justin Burr.

He also calls Phil Burr’s decision to host a Feb. 20 N.C. Bail Agents Association meeting, which the elder Burr also serves as chairman, at the GOP headquarters in downtown Albemarle another example of a conflict of interest.

The group contributed $8,000 toward Justin Burr’s last re-election campaign, campaign finance records show.

“Were you having a fundraising meeting for Justin inside party headquarters?” Asciutto wrote.

“If you weren’t fundraising in the meeting, were you discussing, planning and soliciting votes for your son during the meeting?”

Phil Burr said the decision to meet at the headquarters was due to hectic preparations of the Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner that was two days later.

“There was no fundraiser,” Phil Burr said.

“I couldn’t go to Raleigh because of the dinner and these 18 guys, as a favor to me, drove down here.”

This is not the first time the N.C. Bail Agents Association raised the specter of a conflict of interest.

In July 2012, Gov. Beverly Perdue signed Senate Bill 738 into law that enabled the nonprofit association to become the only group allowed to supply educational services required of bail bondsmen. Before then, the association had a competitor for the services.

Justin Burr recused himself from voting on the bill.

A Wake County Superior Court judge issued an injunction, citing the law as an unfair monopoly.

Last November, the N.C. Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that the law was unconstitutional.

Asciutto suggests in his letter that Phil Burr is wielding his influence to sway support in those elected offices that could most benefit his bail bondsman business, especially since Stanly County will maintain its own prosecutorial district at year’s end.

“Since the two of you are bail bond agents, there is an appearance that your business can benefit if candidates for sheriff, judge and district attorney that are favorable to the bail bond industry get elected in a reduce court district,” Asciutto wrote.

Burr Bail Bonds is one of three bail bonding companies in Stanly County. Neither the Clerk of Superior Court nor the N.C. Department of Insurance, which oversees the bail bonds industry, tracks the number of bail bonds an agent issues or its percentage of the market.

In the 2012 elections, Phil Burr’s led Republican Party focused on judicial races in an effort to unseat District Court Judge Lisa Thacker.

Asciutto said the GOP ignored local races, such as county commissioners and the Register of Deeds.

Phil Burr claims Asciutto’s allegations lack merit and that The Stanly News & Press is only publishing a story because Asciutto “is a friend to the newspaper.”

Asciutto contributed articles to the SNAP, detailing county-related events from the perspective of a commissioner, as well as coverage of local running events.

“Commissioner Peter Asciutto submitted periodic columns that informed readers about areas of county government seldom visible to the public,” SNAP publisher Sandy Selvy said.

The SNAP also previously published contributions from Justin Burr and other state legislators about developments in the General Assembly. Once those legislators became viable candidates for re-election the SNAP discontinued their columns as well.  

To submit story ideas, contact Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email ritchie@stanlynews


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