Thursday, September 27, 2007

Column for Sept. 27, 2007

Drop back and punt on ETJ a good thing

I read with interest the article in last week's edition of "The Selma News" about the failure of Selma and Wilson's Mills to come to an agreement on extraterritorial jurisdiction between the two towns. The failure to reach an agreement basically forced an agreement, which was to leave the jurisdiction over the disputed areas with the county rather than either of the two towns.

Personally, I believe that was the best scenario. I feel about an extraterritorial jurisdiction about the same way I do forced annexation. The town has corporate limits, and I would much prefer that the town's power extend no further than the corporate limits. Across the state, towns under 10,000 population have a one mile reach beyond their corporate limits into which to extend the tentacles of their influence and regulation. According to state law, "any city may exercise these powers within a defined area extending not more than one mile beyond its limits. With the approval of the board or boards of county commissioners with jurisdiction over the area, a city of 10,000 or more population but less than 25,000 may exercise these powers over an area extending not more than two miles beyond its limits and a city of 25,000 or more population may exercise these powers over an area extending not more than three miles beyond its limits."

Johnston County, for some unknown reason, has a two mile authorization. I have read in several journals and news articles that the State of North Carolina has specifically authorized towns in Johnston County to have the two mile authority with county approval, but not necessarily other counties. I have been doing more research into the topic and will be compiling some data for action in the future. I am sure that I will find out more and more facts as time goes on as to the whys and hows behind extraterritorial jurisdictions (ETJ) and Johnston County, in particular.

That same statute says, "Where the extraterritorial jurisdiction of two or more cities overlaps, the jurisdictional boundary between them shall be a line connecting the midway points of the overlapping area unless the city councils agree to another boundary line within the overlapping area based upon existing or projected patterns of development." Apparently, that agreement of another boundary line could not be agreed upon and both towns must have felt that it was mutually beneficial to drop back and punt rather than automatically have a line connecting the midway points of the overlapping area. That was probably the best scenario for both towns.

As I said a bit earlier, I feel about ETJ about the same as I do forced annexation. I especially feel that it is inappropriate to have an ETJ that extends two or three miles beyond the corporate limits of a municipality. There is a reason why it is called "city limits". I understand the reasons for allowing an ETJ, but regulation without representation other than to have some residents of the ETJ serve on the Planning Board is still regulation without representation.

There was a bill in this year's NC Legislature that would allow residents of an ETJ vote in municipal elections. Personally, I have no problem with that, though the NC League of Municipalities does. If people can be regulated by a town in which they do not live, they should have just as much right to vote for the nomenclature of that town's governing body as the town's citizens. That is only fair. I will take it one step further and say that people who own property in a town, though they personally reside in a different town, should be able to vote in any town's municipal election in which they own property or are influenced or effected by a town's regulatory body. Since the property owners will be subjected to the municipality's regulations and taxation, it is quite appropriate to allow them to do so, especially since towns and counties rely heavily upon property taxation for sources of revenue. I realize that is getting off the subject of ETJ for a bit, but the principle is the same.

One thing to keep in mind is the fact that towns extend their ETJ by ordinance. As we learned last week, a two-thirds majority vote is necessary in order to pass an ordinance the first time through, with time frames for secondary voting. I will watch with interest future ETJ expansion efforts.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Meet the columnist for FREE coffee and fresh pastries

On Saturday, September 29 from 9:30 AM until 12 noon, you can meet with me at Edelweiss Cafe and Bakery at 101 South Raiford Street in Uptown Selma. Feel free to ask questions, express concerns, share issues, or just swap stories. The coffee and pastries are my treat!

Column for Sept. 20, 2007

More problems with forced annexation?

One thing that this paper's editor, Rick Stewart, has hammered for a long time is the open meeting law as pertaining to town government. He has called the town to task a few times when the Town Council has gone into closed session to discuss subject matter that may or may not be material requiring closed session.

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?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Feedback on my latest column

Column for Sept. 13, 2007

Desiring the honest, despising the false

Today I had a couple of contractors at my house fixing problems left by a dishonest businessman. When I bought my house here in Selma, I found that the seller never disclosed the fact that the air conditioning system was in need of replacement. This violated our contract for purchase, but I had no idea until I was moved in and living here for a while. I eventually paid to replace the system with a new one. The contractor I hired was dishonest in that his license as an HVAC contractor was suspended, yet he sold me a system anyway. Because his license was not valid, he did not get the town to issue a permit for the work. I eventually had to go to an administrative hearing to testify against this contractor.

This man was given the opportunity to rectify his work, which was sub-par and would not pass inspection, anyway. He took a lot of shortcuts and left code violations. He also left old, abandoned air conditioning registers open, never having sealed them. Today, I had those removed, sealed, as well as some other work being done around the house. Much of the work being performed was because people were dishonest in their business dealings.

This is not new to me. I have dealt with dishonest people quite a bit just this year. I had dishonest people emailing me about positions I have stated in this column or on the internet who have twisted what I had written into something I did not say and insist it is the case. I have had people put up web sites just for the sole purpose of showing hatred for me. Yeah, it actually happened. I have had men who claim to be of good report fabricate stories about me, my dealings with them, and all for the purpose of self justification. According to The Sermon on the Mount, I must be blessed.

I have been talking to several people who have seen their long time spouses be deceitful and literally spread lies about them. Just yesterday, I was fellowshipping with a local pastor whose wife recently left him after being seduced by the dark side of The Force to follow after her own ways. I have seen this a lot with different people and simply fail to comprehend the lack of fidelity.

There have been many shady deals that have been perpetrated upon the citizens of North Carolina. We were told we would pay for schools with a lottery and then we have bond referendums and now tax hike referendums for the same purposes. We have seen national shame come upon the state and specifically, three men at Duke University because of one dishonest man with an agenda. We got the lottery because of a dishonest political play in the state legislature. We got a budget surplus because of over taxation and then the state dishonestly kept the overage to spend on pet projects. We were told that additional school spending would raise test scores but recent results published in within the past week or two show the opposite. All of this does not even get into bribery and corruption scandals associated with Jim Black.

Once in a while, I run across an honest man. Recently, I paid a business to perform a service for me. I got exactly what was promised, for the amount promised, and even earlier than promised. I may have paid more than I would have with other companies, but I got a quality product from an honest man.

I wish that sort of honesty would transcend the world in business, personal relationships, and government. One of my biggest pet peeves in life is being lied to. Lying is what got Bill Clinton impeached. He did not get convicted in the Senate, but he was still impeached. Being dishonest does not pay dividends in the long run. I expect and demand honesty from my friends, family, business dealings, and my government officials. You should, as well. Sure, I expect worldly people to act like the world does, but that does not mean that I should not demand honesty. I don't know about you, but I am very tired of being lied to by the media, government, and people in general, hence this rant. It may seem like a personal "bone to pick", but it really is just a general frustration lately with so much dishonesty coming from so many directions and from so many sources.

Just last week, I found a deal on some "best of" CD collections, so I picked up some Billy Joel and ABBA (yes, I am actually old enough to remember and enjoy them) which were missing from my music collection. One song from the collection by Billy Joel that has been going through my head for a week is "Honesty". I leave you with the chorus to that classic song.

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honest is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Column for Sept. 6, 2007

I wish I could thank Congressman Etheridge for his visit

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the purpose of government. As I write today's column, I have just returned to my office from the Jernigan Building in Uptown Selma. Congressman Bob Etheridge was holding office hours today for his constituents. When I arrived, there were already dozens of people seated in the former court room seats waiting to speak with their Congressman.

I went because I wanted to speak with my Congressman, as well. However, the purpose of my visit was most likely very different than most of the visitors. I was told that if I wanted to speak to Mr. Etheridge, that I should sign in on a log book on the podium. I went up to the front of the room, grabbed a pen, and proceeded to sign my name and address into the log book. After finding that I had the one pen in the bunch that was running out of ink, I found one that did write and finished my log entry. I noticed that there were two or three full sheets of names ahead of me, all waiting to see Mr. Etheridge.

After I stood in the back of the room, having elected not to sit in the hard folding seats, I remained standing. I had been seated most of the day already. I watched people as they came into the room. I saw many sweet looking, blue haired old ladies. I saw a young, beautiful Latina holding the hand of her toddler. I saw middle aged men and senior citizen aged men. I saw men that I know come in to the room and sign in to the log book. I saw our Police Chief enter and check on the gathering. I saw a local politician waiting for a photo opportunity and seizing it when a photographer arrived. Of course only loyal Democrats such as Will Crocker were at this event and he was able to squeeze his mug into a shot with the Congressman. Never mind the idea that a United States Representative does just that. He represents all constituents, not just those of one particular party. This works just the same when the Republicans have their public relations machine in place. I observed all of this with interest. I pondered whether this was worth my time, when a stamp is only 41 cents. Two hours of my time was worth more than 41 cents to me.

What was heartening was that there were so many people there to see their elected representative. What was troubling was that there were so many people there to see their elected representative. What was troublesome about it was that so many of these people were present to see what the government could do for them rather than to meet the man elected to be their mouthpiece and give their opinions. There were people who were veterans who had trouble with the Veterans Administration, people with Medicare issues, people with Social Security problems, and the like. Many people were filling out forms authorizing the Congressman's office to investigate their problems. A Congressman is a representative, not a troubleshooter. Were there not so many entitlement programs and socialist agendas in government, we would not need a full staff for each of the 435 members of Congress to deal with the very bureaucracy that they created.

Why was I there? I had a simple question or twelve that should have only taken five minutes or less. I had a pocket copy of the United States Constitution with me and a list of the bills that supporters of Congressman Etheridge have touted as some of his wonderful stances. Those include repealing the restrictions on federal spending on embryonic stem cell research, a bill allowing the government to negotiate directly with drug companies to lower prices for Medicare, and Mr. Etheridge's own "The America's Better Classrooms Act of 2007", which provides $25 billion in bonds for school construction and modernization.

My biggest questions were: 1. Have you ever read the entire Constitution? 2. If so, please show me in the Constitution where any of these projects and bills are authorized by the Constitution. I was ready to supply a copy for his personal use. 3. If such authority for Congress is not allowed under the U.S. Constitution, then why, Mister Congressman, are you supporting completely unconstitutional measures?

I have a history with Mr. Etheridge, having interviewed him on the radio on several occasions and always asking tough questions. One time, his campaign manager even told him not to answer one of my questions while we were live, on the radio. Rest assured that I would ask the same if Mr. Etheridge was a Republican, only I would cut him even less slack. I thought the better of waiting a couple of hours for this and figured that the value of a stamp is far less than that of my time. I left baffled and yearning for a return to Constitutional principles.