Saturday, November 15, 2008

Annexation Study Committees_ the end game

So here "we"* are....
(*those in the effort to put an end to forced annexation)
And where is that?

"We" have, collectively, over the last ten years or so, been working toward putting an end to forced annexation. Yes, at least ten years. That is how long it's been since the New Hanover Good Neighbors group started the effort to go beyond battling their offending local City Council and took the battle through the courts to the Federal Fourth Circuit.

During the time frame when this GNU group poured their hearts and souls and resources into this judicial odyssey, the General Assembly had a Committee working on a study of municipal annexation. This study was authorized in 1996, and it took two years before the resulting Bill and legislation came forward in 1998.

Some type of outcry for reform has actually been ongoing for over thirty years. There were studies done in the 1980's also. You can find the records of the 1980 study and more at the School of Government website, where new pages of information have been added, dedicated to the history and current events in the annexation legislation battle:

The New Hanover Good Neighbors found the time and the commitment to attend all of those Study Commission meetings, in addition to pursuing their case through the courts. They presented recommendations to the committee that reflected the wishes of affected landowners. So what did the 1998 Commission do with those recommendations?
To read the record of these meetings should be quite enlightening to anyone today who feels equally committed to getting the law changed.

For starters in the lesson on how "annexation studies" have gone and what they have produced in changes to the law, take a look at the report from the 1980 study: LINK HERE

If nothing else, just look at the table of contents.
What do you see? Does it look familiar??
As Solomon lamented in Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun."

As you read through this document, notice that this Committee, authorized by the Legislature, was comprised entirely of members from the League of Municipalities and the County Commissioners Association. You might also note that the tone and conclusions are dominated by the Municipal League's point of view. The County Commissioners Association folded in 1980 and failed to really stand up for what is right. We now have signs that some of our County officials are pushing back.

In this early study, you can also read ALL of the very same arguments for forced annexation that we continue to hear today over and over. When you read the city boosters claim that the NC annexation law was judged the best in the nation, know that the "authority" that they fall back on is an opinion from the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations on the merits of consolidation.
The ACIR opinion that they hold onto is an OLD opinion; based on an early view that urban areas should be consolidated. The cities were well represented on the ACIR Commission in the 50's and 60's. The ACIR has since revised their opinion on the benefit of consolidation, as evidence to the contrary has become apparent.
But the NCLM lobbyists know that they can conveniently skip over inconvenient facts, and continue to spew propaganda, because it has worked for them every time so far.

Well__Don't you feel like the time has come to say "ENOUGH"!! ?

ENOUGH with the studies!
ENOUGH with the NCLM approved tweaks to the law!
ENOUGH with throwing aside the input and recommendations from the landowners who have been run roughshod over with laws that enable predatory annexation by municipalities!

Enough with trotting out the same pro-city presentations by David Lawrence from the School of Government and half hour presentations by the Director of the League of Municipalities and City Attorneys, while shutting out presentations from policy experts who think the annexation law has serious flaws.

ENOUGH with "Annexation Studies" PACKED with known city apologists for keeping the law intact. Names and faces that show up on the roster of the Committees over and over again. Names like Clodfelter and Wegner to name a couple.

"WE" should be students of history in the annexation debate and savvy enough to learn from it. "We" should be able to recognize when the "dog & pony show" is being trotted out for the benefit of the record and the cities while the people are once again being run off into the weeds with a sham.

It should be abundantly clear that this 'Joint Legislative Committee on Municipal Annexation' is, and was always meant to be, a SHAM.
I, for one, will take no comfort out of being able to say "that's what I thought would happen" _after it is all over with.

The House Select Committee, the one that the Joint Committee swallowed up and disarmed, was born out of some sincerity towards reforming the law, and to moving the conversation in the right direction, but that Committee has been cut off at the knees. The members are still at the table, but they have been outnumbered. The defenders of city power are swaggeringly confident that they have everything, including the outcome, well within their control. The evidence of this is screaming at anyone paying attention:

1) The Senate had been refusing for over a year to participate in another study. When they felt the overwhelming outcry from all of us, they jumped in at the last minute with this Joint Commission as 'damage control'.

2) The timing gives them no time to legitimately study what should be done. Lots of available excuses for why they won't meet more than once or twice; _the elections, _the holidays, _the legislative deadline on the lifespan of the committee.

This commission is legislatively required to end the moment that the 2009 Session begins. Extension of its existence is not up for negotiation. Another Commission would have to be formed. Consider that State Law does not allow study commissions to meet while the General Assembly is in session. Even Standing Committees must meet between sessions and during recesses.

The writing is on the wall that the Joint Commission's "recommendations" are already written, hatched behind the scenes, and ready to launch.

The first meeting on December 4th is already scheduled to be taken up by another rerun of having David Lawrence explain NC Annexation Law. Every legislator on the Commission has heard this presentation before, but it's a handy time filler.

The Senate leadership clearly intended to stifle the conversation, not help it along. They clearly wanted to control what came out of any Annexation Study Committee and not to honestly listen to any arguments against forced annexation. Remember the arrogance with which they blocked the Moratorium Bill!

The friendly Legislators on the Commission need to hear from you encouraging them to stand up for what is right and for what the people want.

The unfriendly Legislators need to hear what the "line in the sand" is for the people and that anything less will be vocally opposed by the people! Tell them you know they are 'cooking the books' as to what comes out of this Commission!

Let them all know that no matter what they do, WE ARE ALL WATCHING!

REMEMBER that it was the increasing outcry from growing numbers of people across the State that made the House take action and the Senate scramble to regain control of where the annexation issue was going!!
THAT IS OUR AVENUE TO SUCCESS in achieving the end of forced annexation!

We should learn from history and not let ourselves be led down a path to repeat it. The people need to take control of this issue in the General Assembly. This strategy requires more than just a couple of citizens on the Study Commission. It is going to take all the same efforts and response that hundreds (thousands?) of people took that pushed the Moratorium Bill through the House successfully and restored it from a gutting. That kind of grassroots outcry multiplied several times over is our strength and what is needed.

WE all need to enlist our friendly legislators to submit and sponsor one Bill that spells out what we, the affected people, really want. Then WE need to focus ALL of a unified grassroots outcry, like the outcry evident last session, toward the General Assembly, behind that one Bill.