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The Somerhill saga's final gasps; election season begins

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More than three years after Joe Rowand, president of Somerhill Gallery, declared personal and corporate bankruptcy, the artists could receive just a fraction of what they are owed.

It's common in bankruptcy proceedings for creditors to settle for far less than the debt. In the case of Somerhill, some artists such as Ginny Crouch Stanford, a painter from Sebastopol, Calif., are settling for as little as 1 percent. She was owed $16,675, according to bankruptcy documents; the proposed payment is just $182.30.

And she may not even get that.

Crouch and other general creditors will receive their sliver only if any money is left after $64,000 in Chapter 7 fees, $94,958 in administrative expenses and $22,890 in priority claims are paid.

Rowand's 2010 bankruptcy was controversial because over at least six years, he sold artists' work but did not always pay them for it. As the INDY reported at the time, several artists said Rowand told them the work had not sold, when actually it had. When he declared Chapter 11 and then Chapter 7 bankruptcy, he owed the artists alone more than $277,000, according to court documents.

While Rowand was not paying the artists—or his taxes, or his landlord or his other debts—he was compensating himself a monthly salary of $15,000, plus $3,330 in health insurance benefits. He also purchased a new $25,000 KIA Sorento after declaring personal and corporate bankruptcy. His 4,500-square-foot home on 22.5 acres north of Chapel Hill included a saltwater swimming pool.

Stanford told the INDY in 2010 that she checked in with Somerhill by email and phone, but "I was given the impression that nothing was selling. I thought I was losing my touch." As a result, she shifted her focus from landscapes and abstract works to portraits.

Stanford could not be reached about the latest developments.

After the bankruptcy, Rowand auctioned items from Somerhill to pay his creditors.

In April 2011, attorney Sara Conti sought damages on behalf of the artists, alleging Rowand diverted funds from the gallery, using it as a personal bank account to support his extravagant lifestyle. In court documents, Conti accused Rowand of misconduct, mismanagement, breach of financial duty and corporate waste. The complaint was dismissed; it was heard in bankruptcy court; no criminal charges were filed.

Rowand had owned Somerhill for 40 years in Chapel Hill and Durham. After closing the gallery in the Venable Center in Durham—he owed landlord Scientific Properties $350,000— he tried to reopen another space on Legion Road in Chapel Hill.

That space was vandalized shortly after opening. Roward could not make a go of it there, and now he is a private art consultant.

Disclosure: Somerhill also owed the INDY money for unpaid advertising. However, the publication did not file a claim.


Candidates, start your filing

Filing for the 2014 state, local and federal elections started Monday at noon, but already the field is filling in Orange County.

There, Mia Burroughs is running for the District 1 commission seat currently held by Alice Gordon; Gordon announced earlier this year that she is not seeking reelection.

District 1 covers most of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Burroughs has received endorsements from several former mayors of Chapel Hill and Carrboro: Mark Chilton, Kevin Foy, Ellie Kinnaird, Mike Nelson and Rosemary Waldorf.

She serves as the vice chair of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. She is in her second term on the school board. Info: miaburroughs.com

In District 2, which includes Orange County outside of Chapel Hill and Carrboro Mark Marcoplos has announced his candidacy. He has served on the Orange County Economic Development Commission, the OWASA Board of Directors, including two terms as chair, and the Orange County Planning Board. He helped initiate a living wage policy for county employees—now in effect—and on OWASA, aided in crafting water conservation measures. He owns a residential construction business (Marcoplos Construction), specializing in green building practices. He served on the board of directors of the NC Solar Energy Association, now the NC Sustainable Energy Association.

The seat is currently held by Earl McKee, who was elected in 2010.

A co-founder of Orange County Voices, Bonnie Hauser has filed her candidacy for the at-large seat on the Orange County Commissioners. This is the seat held by Barry Jacobs, a four-term commissioner. He has not announced whether he is running for a fifth term.

As a member of OCV, Hauser fought against the UNC airport and the county's waste transfer station. She lives in Hillsborough. Info: bonniehauser.com

Orange County Commissioners serve four-year terms. Mark Dorosin, Renee Price, Bernadette Plessier and Penny Rich are not up for reelection until 2016.

And in Wake County, Democrat Sarah Crawford of Rolesville has declared her candidacy for state Senate in District 18. That district, which includes parts of northern Wake and southern Franklin counties, was gerrymandered during the Republican-led redistricting to create a favorable political climate for neophyte and GOP favorite son Chad Barefoot to run. The plan, plus, a huge infusion of campaign cash, worked: Barefoot defeated long-time Democratic incumbent Doug Berger. But a backlash against the Republicans could make him vulnerable. Info: sarahcrawford.org

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