Former Asheville City Councilman Chris Peterson and retired attorney Sidney Bach have filed a lawsuit seeking to declare the November approval of a $74 million bond referendum invalid, according to a website backed by Peterson.
Asheville Unreported reports that the lawsuit, filed Dec. 20, argues that issues with wording render the bond referendum invalid:
One is the apparently inadvertent use of the word “Charlotte” instead of “Asheville” in the authorization resolution approved by city council on August 9; the other is a shift in verbs that alters the meaning of an important clause.
Asheville voters on Nov. 8 gave the city the OK on three general obligation bonds: $32 million for transportation projects; $25 million for affordable housing projects; and $17 million for parks projects. All three passed with 71 percent or more of voters saying yes to the borrowing plan. (It’s the first time since 1986 that city voters have said yes to a bond referendum.) The city has up to seven years to issue the bonds, and about 20 years to pay them off. City officials have said that issuing $74 million in general obligation bonds could require a property tax increase of 4.15 cents per $100 of property valuation to pay off the debt.
Bach spoke out about the wording issue earlier this year. Asheville Unreported notes that Bach spoke up during the public comment period of Asheville City Council’s Aug. 9 meeting. And the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Bach asked the Buncombe County Board of Elections to change the wording on the ballot on Oct. 13, but the board voted unanimously to keep it unchanged. City officials said they were confident the language meets state law, and that they were following language proposed by a special attorney in Charlotte who helps cities and other local governments negotiate state bond referendum rules, the Citizen-Times reported.
The Asheville Unreported story by writer Roger McCredie says City Council’s Aug. 9 resolution “calls for a public hearing ‘to consider the issuance of bonds by the city of Charlotte … ,’ an obvious mistake made as the result of ‘boilerplating’ language from another city’s resolution and not caught by any subsequent proofreading – seemingly a small thing but sufficient to render the entire resolution bad, the lawsuit says.”
The other issue is that public notices advertising the city’s intent said the city “shall” or “will” levy new taxes in an amount sufficient to pay for the bonds, according to Asheville Unreported:
But the August 9 resolution backed off that language and substituted the phrase “may be levied,” making it sound as though there were a possibility issuing the bonds might not, after all, result in a tax increase.
But, the suit alleges, the city was always fully aware that the bonds, if passed, would raise taxes. To change the wording to “may” on voter ballots rendered the entire statement false and constituted a misrepresentation, the suit says.
Peterson, former vice mayor of Asheville, also addressed Asheville City Council on Aug. 9, speaking out against the bond referendum. He actively campaigned against the bonds through Asheville Unreported. He’s also had a running battle with the city this year regarding riverfront property he owns that’s been home to the popular 12 Bones barbecue restaurant. The city used eminent domain to take the property, as well as a number of other parcels, as part of a multi-million plan to realign Riverside Drive and improve infrastructure in the River Arts District.