Thursday, September 20, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Now that the column is published, I can blog it here

This is what was printed in my column in The Selma News for this week.


This last week, the Selma Town Council again wound up it monthly meeting in a closed session. This was advised and requested by the town's attorney to discuss a current case of litigation against the town. I fully understand the need for this sort of closed door session, but I have to wonder whether or not this is necessary each and every time something is discussed. This is especially true when the subject matter is a very public affair.

In this case, a reliable source has shared with me some of what the Town Council was discussing in closed session. In journalism (not that an opinion column is necessarily journalism), you sometimes have to know your sources, and with this one, I know that he or she would be "in the know". Sure, I am not Woodward or Burnstein, and I would never want to be either of them, and I have no mystery "Deep Throat" informant.

I have gone on record as opposing forced annexation for Selma or any other town. When the issue came up a few months ago and was a small firestorm, I wrote in opposition to forcibly annexing property into the town corporate limits. Specifically, the folks in McCormick Heights have been upset about their incorporation into the town limits. I am in full sympathy with them, since the annexation seemed to be purely financial in nature and may not have been all that wise a financial deal for the town. Furthermore, the annexation had questionable legal issues that should have been thoroughly addressed rather than having been dismissed with such a cavalier attitude.

Now it seems that a technicality not even brought up in the legal objections to annexation may have arisen. In a lawsuit filed against the town, an issue of procedural voting on annexation may be a snafu for the town's plan to incorporate McCormick Heights. I was informed that a vote on annexation takes more than a simple majority. The reason being is that state law requires a two-thirds majority for any ordinance to be passed by a town. Annexation is accomplished through the process of passing an ordinance. According to state statute, "In addition, no ordinance nor any action having the effect of any ordinance may be finally adopted on the date on which it is introduced except by an affirmative vote equal to or greater than two thirds of all the actual membership of the council, excluding vacant seats and not including the mayor unless the mayor has the right to vote on all questions before the council."

In June of 2004, North Carolina Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, Jr. wrote in a decision for the high court, "Involuntary annexation is by its nature a harsh exercise of governmental power affecting private property and so is properly restrained and balanced by legislative policy and mandated standards and procedure". If my source of information is accurate, then this is a prime example of the reason for the quote by Chief Justice Lake. This annexation seemed rushed, arguments seemed discounted, and technicalities ignored.

By this procedural flaw, it seems that it may very well be that the annexation ordinance is null and void. The town did not have a two-thirds vote in the affirmative. There are other towns that have found out they had the same problem the hard way, when a Court of Appeals ruled against them.

This entire situation brings up one other question. If there was this procedural problem with this annexation ordinance, how many other ordinances in the town may actually have been enacted illegally for the same reason? It looks like the town may want to revisit its minutes of previous meetings in which an ordinance was passed and reaffirm its town code.

When the town residents, the Town Council, and those being annexed were assured that the annexation met all legal requirements, why was this potential snafu not known in advance? The League of Municipalities had this information readily available to the town, not to mention the statutes that someone in the town must have known about in order to conduct town affairs.

When you are talking about taking away the freedom and money of property owners and fellow citizens, a government can not afford to be slack. If this legal challenge is successful, how much town money has been spent on the reports, the consultations, the attorneys, and the procedure that could have been saved by simply respecting private property rights?

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