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.

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