I oppose forced annexation in its entirety.
Forced Annexation Battle Across North Carolina
By Betty Jackson
From 1959 until the summer of 2011, North Carolina had arguably the longest-standing and most repressive policy of municipal annexation in the United States. In the last 10-15 years, the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) and their adherents in state and local governments billed North Carolina as having the most “progressive” annexation law and held it up as a model that other states should emulate. In fact, however, no other state tried to copy the law because of its severity and unpopularity among the majority of the population.
Last summer the North Carolina General Assembly passed a new annexation law that finally gave people in unincorporated areas under threat of forced annexation way to fight back. Now, if a municipality wants to initiate an annexation move, the city must have more disclosure over a longer period of time, and ultimately if 60% or more of the property owners indicate by petition that they do not want to be annexed, the process is stopped in its tracks for three years. The new annexation law is a compromise between the NCLM and the citizen groups who have stood against forced annexation because under the new legislation, the assumption is made that if a city begins annexation proceedings, it will automatically go forward unless enough property owners resist it. The means of using the protest petition process is not the same as conducting an election.
Now let’s talk about the North Carolina League of Municipalities’ role in all this. The NCLM has not been called the “shadow government” of NC for no reason. This organization, a lobbying group, is likely the most powerful lobby in the state, rivaled only by the North Carolina Association of Educators. The NCLM has benefited tremendously over the years from the practice of forced annexation. The organization receives money, in the form of dues, from every member town, village and city in NC, based upon population. The more municipalities annex and tax, the more money the NCLM receives. So the group has a significant interest in the continuation of unrestricted forced annexation.
After the passage of the new annexation law, the NCLM was desperate to find a way to overturn it. Under the direction of Executive Director Ellis Hankins and chief lobbyist Kelli Kakura, the NCLM persuaded the city governments of several NC cities to get their city attorneys to submit letters to the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ), stating that the new law with its protest petition process actually represented a vote, and the new law should therefore receive approval from the USDOJ due to provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[i] The USDOJ responded with a letter stating they found no need for any preclearance before the petition process could occur. (See John Locke Foundation Daren Bakst’s letter to the DOJ, urging them to conclude that preclearance was not required.[ii]
Not to be deterred, the NCLM counseled the same NC cities[iii] and their attorneys to file a lawsuit claiming that the new annexation law was unconstitutional according to the NC Constitution. The lawsuit basically presents the same argument that was presented to the USDOJ – that the petition process is actually an election and somehow disenfranchises people who live in rental units (because some of them might be racial minorities) and that the people who live in the municipalities should also be allowed to weigh in on the determination of an annexation. This is ironic since for 50+ years the NCLM was insistent that those who live outside a municipality did not deserve a chance to weigh in on an annexation. Additionally, for property owners who actually wanted to be annexed, the NCLM crafted voluntary annexation law that required 100% of them to sign what was in essence a petition process in order to be annexed.
Now we citizens of North Carolina find ourselves in a situation where the NCLM and these cities, via their lawsuits, have drawn into the fight every taxpayer in the entire state of North Carolina. Not only have citizens in areas undergoing contested annexations been made to raise tens of thousands of dollars to hire an attorney to oppose the lawsuit, but the State and various counties must also become involved. The cities’ lawsuits also name as defendants the State of North Carolina, the State Board of Elections, and the several county boards of elections. The cities have also retained the services of an outside law firm. The State Attorney General must become entangled, as must the counties’ legal representation, as well as an attorney for the citizens whose property is threatened, added through a court approved motion to intervene.
Cities of Fayetteville, Goldsboro, Kinston, Lexington, Rocky Mount and Wilmington
Some citizens of these cities
Represented by the city attorneys and the outside law firm of Parker-Poe
State of North Carolina
North Carolina State Board of Elections
Boards of Elections of Cumberland, Wayne, Lenoir, Davidson, Nash and New Hanover Counties
Property owners in the above counties
Represented by North Carolina State Attorney General, the counties’ attorneys and outside attorney Jim Eldridge
As anyone can see, a scenario exists now where all NC taxpayers are forced to fund one or both sides of the argument, which is a terrible waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars at a time when everyone is looking for ways to economize.
This situation has led Senator Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore of the NC Senate, to write a letter to Ellis Hankins of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and sending copies to the Mayors of the plaintiff cities, stating that if the NCLM doesn’t pipe down, the NC General Assembly will take action against the cities to prevent further taxpayer-funded waste on frivolous and abusive legal maneuvers.[iv] Others across our state have called for a legislative fix that would deny any state funding to municipalities that want to continue this absurd contest.[v]
The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard the week of March 26 in Wake County Superior Court. Let us hope that the NCLM and the cities will soon come to their senses and stop the insanity.
[i] The Voting Rights Act (VRA) bans racial discrimination in voting practices by the federal government as well as by state and local governments. Passed in 1965 after a century of deliberate and violent denial of the vote to African-Americans in the South and Latinos in the Southwest – as well as many years of entrenched electoral systems that shut out citizens with limited fluency in English – the VRA is often held up as the most effective civil rights law ever enacted. It is widely regarded as enabling the enfranchisement of millions of minority voters and diversifying the electorate and legislative bodies at all levels of American government.
[iii] The five cities are Fayetteville, Goldsboro, Kinston, Lexington and Wilmington. Since the first lawsuit, the City of Rocky Mount has added a second lawsuit towards the same goal.