Sunday, July 27, 2008

State of Annexation Reform

After all the activity and effort put into trying to get the one recommendation that came out of the House Select Committee to Study Municipal Annexation to pass into law, it has been fairly quiet as far as further action from the General Assembly.

Yes...they adjourned the Short Session, and allowed Senator Rand to file the Moratorium Bill in the round file under his desk, but the Senate as a whole responded to the pressure from all of the calls and letters from people across NC. In response, the Senate decided that they would now have a joint committee to take over what the House Select Committee had decided to accomplish on their own. This is an 'about face' after the Senate flatly refused to have anything to do with an annexation study at the end of the 2007 Long Session.
Without the tireless and committed efforts of so many networked people over the last year or so, I doubt that the Senate would be joining the conversation right now.

But let's not pop any champagne corks over this turn of events just yet. Let's take a cold hard look at other possible motivators for this move by the Senate. The devil is going to be in the details with this Study Committee and we have to be realistic about the potential pitfalls. A look at the potential pros and cons would be useful:

  • We have both the House and the Senate studying the issue.
  • We have a targeted opportunity to educate the Senate about what the cities are doing from our perspective and front line experience.
  • Resulting changes to the law might move more quickly through to passage.
  • The size of this Committee will increase the time spent in debate.
  • The membership of the Committee could end up weighted in favor of the cities.
  • Much of the discussion that has already taken place with the House Committee will have to be repeated.
  • The opinions of the House Select Committee members will be diluted and possibly outnumbered by the additional members.
  • Consensus will be more difficult to achieve.

Most of you are probably familiar with the quote "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it's mistakes". That is why we need to understand what has been done and what has been said on both sides of the issue before today. If we think that we are breaking new ground and bringing new information to today's discussion, when in reality we are simply re-inventing the wheel, we give our opponents the advantage in this discussion more than they already have. We can't afford to kid ourselves about the level of skill that our opposition has acquired over the years in defending itself against possible arguments we bring to the table.

The NCLM has been down this road many times before. Their counterparts in other States have gone through these challenges before also. They are networked on a National scale to hone their skills together against the waves of protest that build to the point where the State lawmakers react with a 'Study'. The National League of Cities is the umbrella for the defense of annexation laws that favor cities and the NCLM Director holds a key position in the NLC. They collectively have lawyers and staff by the legion and dedicated funding just for this kind of defense.

On the reform side of the battlefield, the troops are often outnumbered Legislators who believe that forced annexation is wrong on principle, along with varying numbers of people from a new crop of citizen activists; people who have been recently handed the task of absorbing laws and historical facts about municipal annexation in a crash course time frame. Valiant efforts have been undertaken by some of these groups, progress made, and small successes achieved at times, but the goal for true reform remained.
It's a tall order to drink all that in and put it all in historical perspective in order to effectively take the conversation and the effort for reform to a higher level of success, but I believe we can do it if we are informed, realistic, and committed to an extended effort.

We have already spontaneously created a new element in the annexation battle in North Carolina, and that is the connected, coordinated activity, information sharing, and brainstorming between all the various groups across the State. This has never been achieved before.
Less than four years ago, the groups of property owners who rose up and organized to fight against forced annexation were fighting in isolation, unaware of similar efforts being waged in some other part of the State. Each group focused singularly on what seemed to be the logical target for their efforts; the offending City Government; not realizing until it was nearly over that the laws on the books in Raleigh were stacked against their success. Taxes were saved, lawyers were paid, but eventually new city residents were forced to accept their new status and they moved on the best that they could. We now refuse to leave it at that and that is progress in the right direction!

Let's use a knowledge of history and arm ourselves to take the battle to a higher level.
After spending some time researching and looking at the past committees on annexation, useful information is revealed. The goal was to see how the membership of these past studies were decided, what prompted the study, who was involved, what was said, and what the resulting changes to the annexation laws were.

There was one significant study in 1983 that produced law changes and another in 1998.
The 1983 Study produced significant changes to the law, and some changes that all of us who've had to fight forced annexation have come to know. The 1998 study has some interesting details regarding what prompted it, the public involvement, and what it accomplished.

I'll be posting the related information that I have found regarding these studies to the StopNCAnnexation "Resources" page soon.

For now, for our side of this effort for reform, the immediate task at hand is to continue to contact Senators and Representatives about who is going to selected as members for the Committee. The NCLM has been given two seats at the table and that will be in addition to the one member of the House Select Committee that they had in Judith Wegner. Past studies have allowed the NCLM to choose city officials for members, but the language in the current study is written in a way that would allow Ellis Hankins himself to be a member.
Two seats will go to the County Commissioners Association to choose, and they are likewise open to seating direct members of their organization. This is another place where we need to try to steer the selection toward members who aren't "in the pocket" of the city advocates.

The rest of the members are at the discretion of Speaker Hackney and Pres. Pro Tem Basnight. The language doesn't specify legislators only, but selecting legislators has been the tendency in the past, unless otherwise specifically stated that a citizen or delagate from an interest group was to be chosen, assurances from legislative staff not withstanding.

Let's continue to weigh in with the Legislators about this Committee, because they need to start picking the members and get down to work. How much can they get done before the elections and Holidays even if they start ASAP? Let's not stand idly by and let them use delay tactics without a fight.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fate of HB2367

Today the General Assembly worked on wrapping up leftover business between the House and the Senate with an eye on adjourning the Short Session for the year.

One somewhat surprise for the annexation reform citizens was thrown into HB2431 at the last minute. I have no details yet on who was behind the scenes negotiating, but a Joint Study of Municipal Annexation was authorized in this Bill today.

You can look at the language authorizing the study in Section 46 of

I don't know if it matters who were the original sponsors and co-sponsors of the Study Bill that was used as a vehicle for additional studies, but it might be worth noting. The most important thing to note is who will be on the Committee and who will appoint them.

You will see a number of things that do not bode well for our side of this issue.

  • First, there is the fact that the members of this Committee will be chosen by Speaker Hackney and President Pro Tem Basnight. They have shown us that they are more interested in what the NCLM has to say and wants than what we are interested in seeing done with the annexation laws.

  • This Committee is HUGE. And the NCLM has TWO SEATS at the table directly! Never before in any study has the NCLM been given direct members ON the Committee. They have always been given priority time to present and clearly have open back room access to Legislators on Committees that are discussing issues important to them.

  • There is NO direct input or membership on this Committee from any other non-governmental unit. No Citizens! No Annexation Policy Experts critical of the current law!

  • The time that the Committee has from now until December 31st is short and filled with distractions like the Elections and the Holidays.

  • This Committee will replace the House Select committee that was much more favorably seated with reform minded legislators. The Select Committee members will be moved to the Joint Committee.

But here is a point to consider; IF the Senate had cooperated last year at the end of the Long Session of 2007, the Study committee that would have resulted would not have looked much different. It would have been stacked with pro-city legislators, and it would not likely have had any citizen members. It might have been smaller in numbers, and it might not have had NCLM members appointed to it.

Some in the annexation reform effort had set their goal toward working for another study of annexation rather than rally the effort behind some or one of the many Bills to enact actual change that have been introduced in the last several years. Some believed that to ask for more than a study was a losing game. Perhaps it would have been. Perhaps not.

So here we are.

It's time to decide if we have enough committed people to step up and put heads together to come up with a strategy to defeat this obvious attempt to high-jack and railroad the people's demand for real reform instead of into a repeat of the past where not much changed in favor of the affected citizens.

Share your thoughts on this with me.

Cathy Heath

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A REAL Moratorium Passes the House!


This skirmish in the battle for reform was a BIG winning step forward!

When HB2367 was heard on the House floor for the Third Reading, it was another wrestling match between the People and the City Lobbyists, and this time the People prevailed.

The NCLM was there in full force and they were doing all they could with their insider tricks to defeat any attempt to restore the Bill to the status of a REAL moratorium. It was quite a show that they put on, passing notes to their friendly Legislators on the floor and watching over them.
Ellis Hankins was texting away on his PDA nearly the whole time. At some point, he did not look happy. Maybe that was when Speaker Hackney left the session early, so did not Chair when H2367 was open for debate.

I watched out in the lobby as Hankins and Romanet dictated some notes that were written on what looked like a copy of HB2367. This was promptly delivered by a House Page to Rep. Carney. She was soon consulting with Rep Ross, Rep Lucy Allen and some others.

Carney made excuses for voting FOR the intact Moratorium Bill when it was heard in Finance! Allen made a last ditch effort to block the amendment by telling the House members that they could vote against the amendment and then would still be able to vote for a moratorium. Your letters to the Legislators informing them that the Committee subsitute was NOT a moratorium made sure that statement didn't fly. I'm wondering if Lucy Allen could speak if the NCLM didn't tell her what to say. And she represents a largely unincorporated District. ??

Carney and Allen were the most vocal opposition to amending the Bill back to a real moratorium, right behind Rep Dan Blue's impassion plea for the Cities. Whoops...he forgot the people!

But Earl Jones gave an excellent rebuttal to Blue's defense of the cities. He pointed out that they were elected to represent the people, not the cities. He also pointed out that Blue's argument for exempting the larger cities "that do it right" would be unequal treatment and unfair to all the other cities in NC.

Please check the Roll Call Vote on the NCGA website:

Rep GoForth, Leubke and all the Study Committee members should be thanked for all that they went through to get this moratorium through. With your help, they pulled it through.

Representative Bruce Goforth, Co-Chair
Representative Paul Luebke, Co-Chair
Representative Larry R. Brown
Representative Nelson Dollar
Representative Earl Jones
Representative Louis M. Pate, Jr.
Representative Edgar V. Starnes
Representative Fred F. Steen, II