Citizen rally to oppose forced annexation

Citizens who want to reform North Carolina’s annexations laws not only have to contend with state law that favors forced annexation by municipalities, they also have to counter the influence of legislative lobbyists funded by taxpayer money.

StopNCAnnexation and other reform groups hold an annual rally in Raleigh to coincide with the North Carolina League of Municipalities “Town Hall” event. This year, they rally will be June 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Halifax Mall.

“This is a critical year for the future of achieving real reform of the annexation laws and to put an end to forced annexation,” said Cathy Heath, StopNCAnnexation chair.

The focus of this year’s rally is to support Senate Bill 494. This bill includes several reforms that meet the group’s goals for a meaning voice in the annexation decision, meaningful services provided by the municipality and for meaningful oversight by county commissioners

“A true compromise to restoring a direct vote of the people being annexed would be to give county commissioners a role in whether a city-initiated annexation is what is best for all concerned,” said Heath.

StopNCAnnexation’s legislative efforts and activities, including their website, are completely funded by small financial contributions of individual donors.

The NCLM, on the other hand, is a taxpayer-funded lobbying group that represents municipal government officials. More than 500 municipalities are members of the organization. The board of directors is composed almost entirely of elected municipal officials. State law allows the organization to keep its actual budget and operating expenses secret.

“The citizens who have come together over the last eight years to raise their voices to the state legislature about ending forced annexation have the city lobbyists, the NCLM on the run,” she said. The grassroots effort has been so successful that the NCLM has tried to copy it with a group called Legislative Information Network of Communities, or LINC.

“They have recruited city residents to go along with city officials to tell legislators that being annexed was the greatest thing to ever happen to them,” Health said. Health said that anyone who pays attention to city politics knows there are always people who would do anything to gain favor with elected officials, people she characterized as “city council groupies.”

“I’m sure the NCLM has been able to find some of these types who would fall all over themselves to do this,” Health said. “I doubt they can find very many people who have been forcibly annexed and are happy about it who would go.”

“StopNCAnnexation began holding a citizens rally in Raleigh on the NCLM’s Town Hall Day starting in 2005, and the NCLM has been trying to avoid the citizens on that day ever since,” Health said. This year their latest tactic was to change the date to June 16, after months of advertising it for June 2.

In a move reminiscent of the state’s abortive attempt to ban flag poles at Tea Party rallies, the NCLM also reserved the Bicentennial Mall in front of the N.C. museums of history and natural sciences between Edenton and Jones streets. This is where where annexation opponents held their rallies in previous years.

“I’ll be curious to see if the League uses it for anything this year,” Heath said. Last year she said she was told the museums had the permit for the area, but there was no activity on the site the day of the StopNCAnnexation rally.

StopNCAnnexation is a 501(C)4 nonprofit incorporated in 2004 to help victims of forced annexation learn about the annexation process and connect with others across North Carolina fighting forced annexation. The goal is to inform each group about the others, about what the laws say about forced annexation, how to fight it, and how to work together to lobby state lawmakers to change this law.