Thursday, December 04, 2008

Annexation Study Commission Meeting

The first meeting of the Joint Commission to Study Municipal Annexation held this morning was quite interesting.

I arrived just before the start of the meeting. When I stepped out of the elevator and turned toward the meeting room, I saw people overflowing out of the double doors. When I walked into the meeting room it was standing room only and most of the people attending were citizens dressed in the signature red attire.

There were plenty of city officials and bureaucrats, but they were far outnumbered by the people who would like to see the municipalities reined in and stopped from abusing taxpaying property owners across North Carolina. These citizens included familiar faces of some who have been in this battle against forced annexation for many years, like Walter Murphy from Fayetteville. Today they were joined by some of the new faces of the latest victims of the horrible law, including the homeowners from Oak Level being annexed against their will into Rocky Mount.

The meeting itself turned out just as I thought it would in many respects. The Chair, Senator Malone, started the meeting by stating that there would be no time given to the public for comments. The meeting was going to be devoted to David Lawrence's presentation explaining the Annexation Statutes. It was an "informational meeting only" for the Senate members who had firmly declined at the end of the session in 2007 to be a part of the study that many House members wanted.

I talked to David Owens on that day in 2007 to try to find out why the Senate was refusing to endorse the study. His explanation was that the Senate remembers the last time annexation was studied and they didn't want to go through that again. All the time it took up! All the people beseiging the legislature about the issue! Not again!!

Funny how they remembered that much about the last study, but they now need a refresher course on the General Statutes that they are responsible for. It was apparently real important for them to hear David Lawrence from the School of Government explain annexation law to them again for the umpteenth time.

Kind of looks like an excuse to blow some of the extremely limited time this Commission has to examine what is actually going on in the real world of forced annexation. Hey! I have an idea! Just give our side a decent chance to tell them what's wrong with it and how to fix it.

But on the subject of someone speaking up about what's wrong with the law today, there were quite a number of the Commission members who weren't shy at all about laying the problems out on the table.

Larry Brown, Nelson Dollar, and Trudy Walend fired the opening salvos with questions for Professor Lawrence. They had questions about how other States deal with annexation; how NC cities are using annexation like a weapon against neighboring cities with the property owners being used like pawns. Questions about how the cities are providing (or not) water and sewer and other services. Rep. Walend tried to get Lawrence to explain the "five day window" that citizens have to submit applications for hook up in order to make the city bring the lines all the way to their property.
Lawrence was clearly trying to answer the questions "diplomatically" and Larry Brown 'called him out' on that. It looked to me like Lawrence was being very careful not to answer in a way that might upset the city lobbyists. He dodged any mention of the five day window until Larry Brown pinned him down on it. Go Trudy! Go Larry!

Nelson Dollar brought up the Nolan vs. Marvin case where the NC Supreme Court decided that annexing cities should actually have services to offer. Larry Brown brought up the problem with cities that really don't have significant "urban" services to offer being able to forcibly annex. He mentioned the other case that the Nolans took to court when Weddington also tried to annex their land.

Doug Aitken brought up the issue of what the members of the 1959 Study [that recommended giving cities the power to forcibly annex] were saying about the reasons to do it that would justify overruling the property rights of the citizens. This led to more interesting talk about provision of services and how much things have changed since 1959. Back then, only the cities were providing water, sewer, and zoning. Now we have Counties and special authorities providing these things and more. Dependence on cities for modern services is obsolete and it's time the cities face up to it and the legislature adapt State law to that fact of life.

Professor Lawrence ended up saying "I don't know" quite a few times during that meeting.

Lawrence was asked to explain the role of the Local Goverment Commission. That ended up being quite interesting and worthwhile.
Lawrence explained how NC is unique in having the 'LGC' as guardians of the fiscal health of the cities. He explained how the LGC was created during the 1930's depression when NC cities were going bankrupt. He gave the LGC the high credit for keeping the cities bond ratings high.

Yes, that's right, it is the fact that NC has the LGC providing fiscal oversight that keeps those city Bond Ratings high, _NOT forced annexation, (which represents a fraction of the growth of the cities). Having a few 'city initiated' annexations blocked by the property owners would not likely have a impact on the bond rating.

McCarley, Wegner, and Soles made feeble attempts to spin the discussion more in favor of the cities, but it wasn't working. Foriest tried to explore the possibly unconstitutional idea of establishing a pro-rated tax structure to make up for any delays in service provision.

The two County officials on the Commission, Grainger Barrett and Tina Hall, stepped up to the plate and threw some pitches toward the negative affect of city annexations on County revenue. This is where Wegner tried to shoot down the idea that it affected County balance sheets at all, but Ms. Hall came back and quickly put that attempt in it's place. Go Tina!

After all of this, I can tell you that the really good stuff was saved for last. In the end, Earl Jones spoke up and said that he'd like to see some statistics about the fiscal health of cities in other States where forced annexation is not an option. He wanted this data so the Commission could move past that and get down to doing the work of addressing the House Committee's concerns about protecting and restoring the property rights of citizens. YEAH Rep Jones!

Rep. Goforth seconded Rep. Jones comments and pointed out that the Commission needs to "get on target" because their time to do anything is short. YEAH Rep Goforth!
(Message to Goforth and Jones: We, the affected citizens, feel so marginalized in this debate that we strongly suspect that the final recommendations of the Commission have already been written. We'd like to help you change that.)

Chairman Malone was ready to wrap up the meeting and get out of there after that. He told all the members that they had better attend the next meeting because if the didn't their input would not be included in the final recommendations. Sounds pretty final to me. Dec 17th and "that's all folks!" was the message sent.

Larry Brown had the final suggestion of the day. He recommended that the Commission move the Dec 17th meeting to the auditorium or somewhere larger that would accomodate more of the public who want to attend. YEAH!
Stay tuned and you might want to plan to add yourself to the fun at that meeting.
Although I don't think that more three minute comments are going to add much to the debate, a large crowd hanging over the Commission's shoulders would definitely be _as Ms. Stewart says_ a "good thing".


  1. Anonymous10:17 AM

    I am concerned that the Commission is not addressing Voluntary Annexation. I am under the impression that Voluntary Annexation requires 100% of the property owners to agree? If that is correct, the argument of the will of the people only seems to do with Involuntary. If one person can stop a voluntary annexation what alternative is there for say 75% of the people who want to voluntarily annex for various reasons?

  2. You are absolutely right that this aspect of voluntary annexation needs to be addressed. The Commission members touched on the topic, but had decided at the start of the meeting that the focus would be on forced annexation.

    The city lobbyists like to say that allowing the community to have a vote on city initiated annexation would amount to allowing the majority to veto the wishes of a minority of the property owners.

    The city advocates don't seem to understand what a veto is when they say this.

    They ignore the fact that in the case of voluntary annexations of communities being required to have 100% approval of all property owners, this sets up a situation where ONE property owner can stand in the way of the wishes of the majority.
    THAT is a veto.
    VETO: noun, 1. a vote that blocks a decision

  3. Anonymous4:51 PM

    Why would anyone want to stop "voluntary annexations"? Under the present law that means the owner of a tract of land must petition, or request, that his or her land be annexed into the local municipality. If that is what a landowner wants to do so be it - that should be the owner's decision. Forced annexation, of course, is a different matter.
    The problem really only surfaces when you have a neighborhood that is split on the issue of annexation and the statutory requirements for a voluntary annexation can not be met without an entire, or the majority of a, neighborhood agrees to be annexed.
    Also, in virtually every political setting "vetoes" are not typically given to each and every individual voting member of a political body - only to the leader of the entire political subdivision. Otherwise, nothing would ever get passed by virtually any political body anywhere.


Thank you for your feedback and insights!