Editorial: How to fight City Hall

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 20, 2011

As involuntary-annexation foes from Rowan County and across the state have rightfully proclaimed, you can fight City Hall and the N.C. League of Municipalities.
But waging a successful fight takes more than mere combativeness. It takes a well-coordinated lobbying effort, unflagging commitment, grassroots passion and a legislative majority sympathetic to your cause.
All of those elements came together this year for those advocating the first significant change in North Carolinaís annexation laws in more than half a century. Under bills approved by the General Assembly ó and now on Gov. Beverly Perdueís desk ó homeowners in areas targeted for annexation will have a say in whether a municipality can bring their neighborhood into its jurisdiction. If 60 percent of property owners within the annexation area sign a petition of opposition, it would block annexation. (The legislature also approved separate local bills that would apply the same right to petition to annexations currently pending in several N.C. municipalities).
Salisbury and other municipalities argued that restricting involuntary annexation would crimp their ability to manage municipal growth while expanding economically, as well as geographically. From the perspective of annexation foes, however, creeping city limits represent a revenue grab in the form of higher taxes, without a commensurate increase in services. The cityís attempt to annexation portions of N.C. 150 became the flash point for that battle here. What began as a legal action evolved into a much broader effort to rewrite the stateís annexation law, with the Good Neighbors of Rowan County group leading the movement here as well as taking a role in the Raleigh arena.
But as much effort as GNORC put into the fight, lobbying county and state officials and organizing bus trips to Raleigh, it wasnít carrying the standard alone. Similar groups sprang up across North Carolina, and they coordinated their efforts through a coalition ó Stop NC Annexation ó that eventually included representatives from dozens of counties. The coalition also found a strong ally in the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, led by former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr. While a lot of grassroots efforts bring enthusiasm to the table, this one proved to have staying power, as well as political and organizational savvy.
Although Perdue hasnít signaled what she intends to do on this bill, annexation foes have won a major battle and shown themselves to be a network with clout at the ballot box. It may be, as Rowan County activist Carl Eagle said, that the legislation doesnít achieve everything they wanted, but itís a major victory ó and a lesson in how to successfully fight for legislative change.