In icy relations between Asheville City Council and N.C. lawmakers, a bit of a thaw

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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asheville_city_hall_smallBy David Forbes

Playing defense: the city’s long road ahead in Raleigh

Every year, like clockwork, Asheville City Council approves a list of legislative priorities, things its members want from the state legislature.

In what is, as political science types put it, a “mother may I?” state, this is a particularly important event. While Council and city government have some important powers, many things require state approval or legislation to go forward. Alternatively, legislation can have a major impact on how a city operates, from the rules it’s allowed to make to the cash it brings into its coffers to the services it can provide.

In Asheville’s case, fights with the state legislature, especially the Republican part of the local legislative delegation, were a major political battle of the last four years. City government’s clashes with Rep. Tim Moffitt, in particular (and to a lesser extent, Rep. Nathan Ramsey) involved fights over the water system, the ownership of the airport, what the city could tax and control and even a possible overhaul of the city’s elections. Moffitt frankly tore into local government, called Asheville an enemy and asserted local government needed an overhaul. For its part, city officials were united in their opposition and had no shortage of sharp words. The city fought the takeover of the water system in court (so far successfully), held rallies and retained its own lobbyist to help keep off the legislative axe.

But last November, everything changed. While most Republican legislators held their seats, Moffitt and Ramsey did not, losting to Democrats Brian Turner and John Ager, respectively.

And like that, a huge political battle ended; it was doubtful any of Moffitt’s colleagues, for example, had his particular animus against city govenrment. At the same time, the city still wants certain things done at the state level and still has new legislation it fears going into effect.

So what’s the lay of the land look like? Late last year, Council approved its legislative hopes for 2015, and they’re a revealing picture. Last week, the N.C. General Assembly gaveled in its session while municipalities, including Asheville, wait to see what will happen.

Cash and authority

This year, the city’s demands boil down to two basic things: it wants more revenue (or lost revenues restored) to help avoid any more cash-strapped budget years. It also wants to keep its authority, especially over zoning and development, which are big issues in a growing city like Asheville.

On one of those fronts, the city is placing itself in opposition to the North Carolina Press Association and print papers across the state. It’s siding with a bill to end the requirement that cities place notices of public hearings and other major events in newspapers. Instead, the new rules would allow them to post those notices online.

From the city’s viewpoint, it saves them money and fits a more digital era. From the viewpoint of print publications, it stops informing large swaths of the community about major public events (and loses said outlets money as well).

Council also wants money it lost when the state curbed its ability to levy privilege license fees on businesses restored, as well as an increased ability to collect fines and parking tickets through electronic means. As the major city in Western North Carolina, the government wants the restoration of historic preservation and other tax credits scuttled during legislative battles last year. Also, it would like stricter rules on coal ash, given the role rivers have played in the area’s revitalization.

Other matters are less specific, but the word “oppose” shows up a lot. Given that its thinking isn’t exactly in line with the party that controls the legislatures, Asheville’s government at least wants to maintain its authority over zoning, building inspections, public utilities (like the water system) or even regulating trees. Some state legislators have proposed putting more of these under state control or sharply limiting the ways municipalities can regulate then, ostensibly to help businesses and standardize rules across the state.

While to some these may seem like somewhat bureaucratic matters, locals who are concerned about development or the environment might be in for a shock if the rules governing these issues were set in Raleigh instead of City Hall; these issues often form a major part of what Council considers.

In essence, even with the more direct threat of Moffitt and Ramsey’s potential legislation gone, the city is still a Democratic stronghold in a Republican legislature, and its agenda reflects that. While some of the rancor may have vanished, Asheville is still playing defense.

A thaw… or not so fast

Nonetheless, despite all these concerns, Mayor Esther Manheimer notes that, since the events in November, she believes things will be more cordial with the local legislators, Republicans as well as Democrats. Henderson’s Rep. Chuck McGrady is now the local delegation’s major Republican in the House, and, Manheimer says, “we get along really well. We’re still pretty divided over water, but we’re both lawyers. We know how to put that one issue over the side and talk about other issues. We’ve been able to find some common ground.”

Meanwhile, Turner and Ager, whom Manheimer respects, are still relatively new. Even putting their part affiliation aside it will take some time, she notes, for them to learn the ways of the legislature.

While many of the city’s goals note opposition or hope for restoration of lost funds, she still sees the situation as less defensive than the past few years.

“It’s very different, positively,” Manheimer, who was once did a stint as an attorney for the legislature, said. “We spent a lot of time on the defensive in the last few years. It wasn’t: can we get this initiative accomplished? It was: can we avoid whatever this bad legislation is that will affect us. First and foremost we will hopefully enjoy not having to spend time on the defensive, concerned about bills that will negatively affect Asheville.”

This year, she observes, many of the issues on the city’s agenda are less aimed at local legislation that targets Asheville in particular and more at statewide changes that might harms its interests as they reduce the authority or money that cities across the state receive.

“Funding transportation, not taking away our zoning authority, not taking away our environmental regulatory authority, those are statewide issues,” she says, adding that some legislation the city wants, like a ban on toplessness (in response to the annual rally in Asheville) or stricter laws on graffiti, were unlikely and aren’t really a point where the city’s willing to put political capital.

“I don’t know that the city is concerned that we’ll see those,” she adds with a chuckle.

Nonetheless, some of the statewide changes might hit home for local elected officials. While Moffitt’s bill to overhaul city elections might be dead, “I understand there’s going to be a push to move city elections to even years,” something she notes municipalities are opposed to.

“It’s purely political,” she says. “The odd year elections draw out these Democrats that live in cities and Republican don’t like the way that voting goes. The goal is quite clearly to get more Republicans on city councils.”

So despite the thaw, there might still be plenty of rivalry ahead as relations between Raleigh and Asheville remain, to put it politely, complicated.

David Forbes is a local journalist and editor of the Asheville Blade, a reader-supported site for sharp news and views.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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  1. Henry January 22, 2015

    I’m just glad we have Brian Turner to protect us from Bothwell trying to impose a city mandated minimum wage on everyone!

  2. RedHotPoker January 22, 2015

    this website, like others run by lieberal progressives in AVL is suffering from censorship and will die a slow death.

    various allowed viewpoints keep readers coming back…
    censorship kills. think multiple MtnX forums that fizzled and of course, scrutinyhooligans as the supreme example…

    1. chris January 22, 2015

      What’s that, Fisher? Someone getting tired of your hate-filled spew?

  3. Barry Summers January 20, 2015

    More McGrady news: At the beginning of the 2013 session, Chuck filed a bill to create a referendum for a Constitutional Amendment to restrict the use of “eminent domain”. It died without a hearing in the Senate.

    He re-filed it last week. There’s one very specific change to Chuck’s bill from the last time he filed it. The “power of eminent domain” granted to corporations for things like roads, railroads, public water systems, electric power lines etc., has one more criteria under Chuck’s legislation. Can you guess for what new purpose to take private property Chuck McGrady (the environmentally good Republican) wants to give to corporations?

    Yep: “facilities related to the distribution of natural gas”.

    Thanks Chuck.

    1. Tim Peck January 21, 2015

      “Yep: facilities related to the distribution of natural gas.

      And why not? Current law allows for the delegation of eminent domain authority for various utilities and other public uses. The newly-created public use should be added.

      40A-3(a)(1). By whom right may be exercised.
      Corporations, bodies politic or persons have the power of eminent domain for the construction of railroads, power generating facilities, substations, switching stations, microwave towers, roads, alleys, access railroads, turnpikes, street railroads, plank roads, tramroads, canals, telegraphs, telephones, electric power lines, electric lights, public water supplies, public sewerage systems, flumes, bridges, and pipelines or mains originating in North Carolina for the transportation of petroleum products, coal, gas, limestone or minerals.

      1. Barry Summers January 21, 2015

        Yeah, what the frack, right? When Duke seizes your land for a pipeline compressor station, thank Chuck McGrady.

        Are you on his payroll yet, or just doing this on spec for now?

        1. Harry January 22, 2015

          You’re still nothing more than a partisan hack Summers. Would you feel better if your land was taken for a sewage pipeline?

  4. Jeff M. January 20, 2015

    If McGrady has a soft spot for mayor Hot Lips, that’s a good thing.
    If Ager and Turner are both talking regularly to the locals, that’s also a good thing.
    If the War on Cities is seen as a failing strategy, at least for the time being, that’s a real good thing.
    If Moffitt’s Minons are still wandering about the city in a daze…

  5. Tim Peck January 20, 2015

    “It’s purely political. The odd year elections draw out these Democrats that live in cities”

    And holding elections in odd years is NOT purely political? The election cycle for municipalities was changed to odd years specifically to suppress the Republican vote. You would think a Democrat would favor more democratic elections.

    “And like that, a huge political battle ended; it was doubtful any of Moffitt’s colleagues, for example, had his particular animus against city government.”

    Wow. This is straight from the local progressive echo chamber (chamber, chamber, chamber). The legislature’s animus toward Asheville is legendary. If anything, Moffitt stepped in to save Asheville from their wrath. They should be thankful that they even exist at this point.

    “The city fought the takeover of the water system in court (so far successfully)”

    The City of Asheville knows it is going to lose the self-imposed and costly battle it started — whether in the courts or elsewhere, if need be.

    “But last November, everything changed.”

    Actually, very little has changed. What has changed is that Asheville now has a completely ineffectual local delegation sitting on their thumbs on the back bench. Persona non grata.

    1. luther blissett January 20, 2015

      “If anything, Moffitt stepped in to save Asheville from their wrath. They should be thankful that they even exist at this point.”

      Mouthpiece still talks like the enabler of a domestic abuser. Very little has changed there, but it’s not like we were expecting Mouthpiece to become a real boy. Pinocchio only managed that by being brave and kind and true.

    2. Barry Summers January 20, 2015

      “The election cycle for municipalities was changed to odd years specifically to suppress the Republican vote.”

      Source for this assertion? Timing of local elections are determined by State law, G.S.§ 163-279.

      “If anything, Moffitt stepped in to save Asheville from their wrath.”

      It is to laugh.

      “Actually, very little has changed.”

      Certain propagandists are looking for a new gig. That’s one change.

      “What has changed is that Asheville now has a completely ineffectual local delegation”

      If the ‘effect’ you’re looking for is deliberately doing damage to the economic engine that supports the whole County, for petty personal vindictiveness… yes, let’s celebrate the fact that the new local delegation is unlikely to take that up.

      Let’s also remember that Tim Moffitt lost his seat thanks to Republican voters. GOP County Commission candidate Miranda DeBruhl got 1300 more votes than Tim, in the same district. That cost Tim the race. Not everybody supported him beating up on Asheville.

  6. Barry Summers January 19, 2015

    Speaking of Charles McGrady and the water lawsuit…

    The Assistant Solicitor General handling the appeal for the State of North Carolina, Gary R. Govert, is also immersed (as it were) in another important case, this one already at the NC Supreme Court:

    “STATE of North Carolina v. Charles Anthony McGRADY” (drag & drop)

    What are the chances?

  7. AVL LVR January 19, 2015

    Wasn’t Manheimer topless at the rally last year?? I’m sure I saw her there.

    1. Barry Summers January 19, 2015

      Easy… careful… put the keyboard down and back away.

      1. AVL LVR January 20, 2015

        Seriously, as mayor toplessness would have been banned by now if you wanted it to.

  8. Barry Summers January 19, 2015

    a bit of a thaw

    Until winter sets back in: ie., if the City dares to disagree with Chuck, on oh… anything.

    “A very unsubtle threat”: (drag & drop)


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