Friday, May 16, 2008

"What Happened"..why it matters

First, UNC-TV is airing a show on the annexation reform debate tonight at 7:30 pm.
Advocates for both sides have been interviewed, so it should be interesting to watch.
The show is called 'North Carolina Now'; Legislative Review.

The post about the Annexation Moratorium Bill has people responding by saying that the exclusion of Satellite Annexations is not important since we are working for reform of Forced Annexation. This is true in a narrow way but there is more to consider here.

We can concede that satellite annexations can't be forced annexations as governed by the Statutes in 160A, and therefore shouldn't be relevant to our concerns.
Okay... except for the relevant fact that cities have been enacting ordinances making annexation of satellite areas MANDATORY _ and that the use of satellite annexation has contributed to the creation of those "dough nut holes" in the cities that the forced annexation apologists frequently bring to the table to defend the need for forced annexation.

These are the least of the points that have relevance, but these particular problems are getting bigger because the city lobbyists have expanded and overridden the original limits put on the use of satellite annexation. They have gained exemptions every year since the cities were granted the power to satellite annex. The cities originally could not have satellite areas that collectively exceeded 10% of the total central city or were located more than 3 miles from the actual city limits.

Since the original law was passed in the '90's, nearly every NC city has been granted exemption from the 10% limit. Now they are lobbying for extensions of the 3 mile limit and some cities have been granted this extended reach. More will quickly follow.
This policy flies in the face of two other excuses for forced annexation: "the efficient extension of urban infrastructure" and "orderly urban growth".
The city lobbyists have succeeding in having it both ways in the General Assembly.

Above and beyond all of this, the most egregious problem that the release of the Moratorium Bill language highlights to the citizens of NC is a lack of legislative process transparency and possibly a capricious disregard for legal procedure and the rule of law.

The last time the Municipal Annexation Study Committee met publicly, they voted to recommend a moratorium on involuntary AND satellite annexation. Period.
It was immediately obvious that the City Lobbyists didn't like the inclusion of satellite annexation in a moratorium. We all expected them to weigh in and oppose the inclusion of satellite annexation with claims that they are all voluntary in nature. But when they would be given this public opportunity to make their case, the proponents could also make the case to keep satellite annexation in the moratorium.

But when did that debate occur??? IT DIDN'T!! At least, not for our side it didn't.

How and when was the decision made to ignore the public vote of the Committee and erase part of what they voted for? Who was involved in this decision? Shouldn't this have been done during a publicly held meeting of the Committee?
This makes the proposed Bill's omission of part of what was voted on outrageous!
Most citizens suspect or know that the General Assembly is run by a few power brokers, but c'mon.... Why don't we just send most of the Legislators home for good and admit that the State is governed by a handful of people and be done with the pretense.

The debate over reform of forced annexation has been lopsided from the beginning.
During the few times that the Committee has met, outside of the Public Hearings, the advocates for keeping forced annexation have been given ample time in front of the Committee to give lengthy presentations. Professor Lawrence from the UNC School of Government was given an entire meeting to give a presentation that the legislators have heard numerous times before.
Granted, a refresher course is not a bad idea, but the S.O.G. is not reform friendly.
The School of Government is practically a creature of the NCLM and a entity that gives undue authority to the argument for Involuntary Annexation. The S.O.G. is not a fan of reform no matter how neutral and 'above it all' they try to appear.

Another meeting gave the Director of the NCLM over 30 minutes to repeat his well worn and shallow defense of Involuntary Annexation. The City Lobbyists can confidently stand in front of our legislators and declare what the will and will not tolerate.
The voice of the citizens are squeezed to snippets and dismissed as less important.

Hankins was preceded by an equally generous slot of time taken by the Charlotte City Attorney waxing poetic about how wonderful forced annexation has been for Charlotte. Having the Charlotte City Attn. speak was a blatant power play by the City Lobbyists. Having Law Professor, Judith Wegner on the Committee is another.
She is actively helping the cities and their lobbyists behind the scenes.

The pro-reform side has been left with Public Hearings that gave us 3 minute blocks to try and make a case against forced annexation. People have clearly done an outstanding job of highlighting the abuses in spite of the limits, and the letters to legislators are having an impact, but we also need time to make logical reasoned presentations.
When we finally were given 20-30 minutes at the last meeting where Tony Tetterton presented his excellent Power Point showing clear abuses, that was met with an arrogant protest with threats from the City Lobbyist/Attorney, Andrew Romanet. Romanet was not even corrected to state his name for the record when everyone else who failed to do that was.

Doug Aitken, the other non-legislator Committee member that the House Leadership has allowed our side to have actively included in the debate, has made a valiant and valuable contribution to the argument against forced annexation, but I suspect that he feels some marginalization regarding all of the discussions on the issue between the Legislators and others.

I'll wager that he was not even made aware of the discussions that led to the Bill language that we have going forward and only became aware of the change when he was sent a copy of the proposed Bill.

The fact that the citizens are being kept at an arms length at best, and totally in the dark at the worst, in regard to the discussion on reforming forced annexation, is what we should be standing up against as strongly or even more so than we are standing up and speaking up for real, meaningful change to the Involuntary Annexation Laws.

Enough of having the legislative process stacked against the citizens and in favor of special interests.

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