Monday, April 22, 2013

N.C. lawmaker: 'Cities have too much power'

So, did GOP N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca, chair of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, let the cat out of the bag last week? In answer to questions about a slew of bills taking away assets or control from cities in the state, including one bill transferring Asheville's water system to a regional authority, he told the Asheville Citizen Times that the legislature was to a degree correcting decades of a city-centric power structure.

"There definitely is a feeling that the cities have too much power, and many times they have too much power over the county. I think what you're seeing more of, especially in Buncombe County and a few other places, is we're trying to give the county more of a say in what happens. I think cities have been given carte blanche over the past 25, 30 years, and now they're seeing some push back." Apodaca, of Henderson County, also said: "History shows you can't trust Asheville City Council."

This is a more aggressive anti-city sentiment than expressed by some other leaders in the Republican-dominated legislature. Observer political reporter quoted Mecklenburg legislators Ruth Samuelson and House Speaker Tom Tillis recently as chalking up legislative moves to a difference in philosophy. From Samuelson: "On the one hand we believe in local government. On the other hand we might be more sensitive to over-reach(ing) at the local level." From Tillis: "A part of the conflict is a different world view of the role of government, We're putting more power in the hands of the individual property owner."

That's also the take from Matthews Republican Rep. Bill Brawley, sponsor of a bill to seize the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport from the city of Charlotte and turn it over to a regional authority: "We are changing the management of publicly owned assets from people who use them for the benefit of a few to protect the rights of many."

But in N.C. cities, some leaders see lawmakers targeting cities, intentionally taking away their powers and ability to govern. Asheville leaders are especially feeling the sting. In the last legislative session, lawmakers took their airport and transferred it to a regional authority. The move, local officials say, could cost them millions. The city is projecting a potential $4.9 million deficit from legislative actions in the next fiscal year, including $1.9 million lost from putting the water system into the hands of a regional authority. Bills introduced and with a good chance of passing this year would not only shift the water system, they would prevent annexations by municipalities, shift control of the one-mile boundary of city limits to the county, and limit cities from enacting stricter development laws than the state has.

Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy laments: "This is not the time to dismantle our city. It seems like a lot of these issues are things based on what happened 15 or 20 years ago. At some point, they need to wake up and realize what they're doing is not just impacting city officials, these are citizens they're impacting."

This is the same kind of lament we've heard from Charlotte leaders over the airport authority shift. Last week, tensions over that legislative move and the involvement of nearby counties in pushing or supporting it led some Charlotte council members to question city support for regional or other counties' efforts.
Asheville officials say they might have no recourse but to sue the state over wresting control away of their water system without compensation - an asset they've invested in.

A report last week from the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, a nonpartisan think tank, said "suprisingly, the 2013 legislature is involving itself in many issues traditionally left to local governments... Traditionally, local issues would be decided in consultation between local government officials and the local delegation of all legislators representing the county. This year, state legislators are involving themselves in local issues outside of the counties they represent."

This is surprising and also dismaying. Not only are these kind of legislative actions dipping into local affairs unnecessarily and inappropriately but some of these proposals would mute the power of local residents' votes for local leaders.  They impose state will of state leaders over that of leaders local residents elect to make such local decisions. That's dangerous and not democratic.


Veronica said...

The Constitution does not recognize cities or counties. Their powers exist only at the pleasure of the state.

Veronica said...

Funny, I don't recall the Observer expressing concern for "dipping into local affairs unnecessarily and inappropriately" when Charlotte forcefully annexed outlying areas into the city limits.

Jonathan said...

Pretty funny that they're only sticking it to cities controlled by Democrats! As ever, politics trumps operational philosophy.

Jonathan said...

Unless, of course, your operational philosphy is to stick it to Democrats, in which case you have no real operation governing philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Its not like the state is usurping power from cities. Its trying to give muni's and countys more say when dealing with cities. As for the newly formed authorities, I'll hold back any opinion but look forward to more specifics.

Charles said...

Veronica is right - the Observer has always come out in favor of cities devouring surrounding areas via annexation against citizens' wishes.