Republicans champion small, decentralized government as a core principle. Local control, they proclaim in campaigns, trumps mandates from Washington and Raleigh. Yet, this Republican-led General Assembly is developing a penchant for telling governments closest to the people that their elected uncles in Raleigh know best.
I understand cities, towns and counties are the creation of the General Assembly. Under the state constitution, municipalities can’t wipe their noses without legislative permission. Still, the degree of local meddling that’s emerging is beginning to resemble political score-settling, not prudent governmental self-restraint the GOP says its supports.
Wake County provides the perfect distinction between issues the legislature should be involved in and situations where it should butt out. Lawmakers are correct to consider a request from Wake County commissioners to transfer ownership of school facilities from the school board to the county. While the political acrimony between the two local bodies is palpable, it is irrelevant. Legislators can’t ignore the fundamental issue raised by commissioners: The governmental body that pays for facilities should own them.
What’s out of bounds is for legislators to redraw the school board’s voting districts, a move school board members fiercely oppose. The General Assembly should note that an important group of people is not asking for the change: Wake County residents.
I follow school board and commission meetings closely, and I haven’t seen the public clamor for at-large or redrawn school board districts. If Wake County voters persist in electing school board members intent on sacrificing academic quality for back-to-the-’90s social policy, that’s their business, not the General Assembly’s.
Also out of bounds for legislators is reneging on previously approved deals. Like it or not, the City of Raleigh stole the state-owned Dorothea Dix property fair and square. When lame-duck Gov. Bev Perdue signed the Dix lease, she gave Raleigh the State of North Carolina’s word. That word should be honored.
There is no doubt the Dix deal is awful, and this state needs a “destination park” like I need an extra 15 pounds. But rotten agreements are undone in court, not rewritten by legislative fiat.
Legislative leaders haven’t limited their meddling to the Triangle. The most serious example is the attempted hijacking of Charlotte-Douglas International airport. This represents the exact opposite of what Wake County is asking of the legislature.
In this case, a state-created authority would seize airport facilities built, operated and managed by the City of Charlotte since 1935. In fact, the “Douglas” in the airport’s name honors former Charlotte mayor Ben Elbert Douglas Sr., who raised funds for the airport in the 1930s.
Such a transfer would be highly complicated and would draw in the federal government because of FAA grants used to build the airfield. Complications aside, the sponsors have failed to answer one basic question: Just what problem are they trying to solve? Again, there is no public demand for a state-created authority to govern Charlotte’s airport.
There’s also little public outcry for a law to prohibit local zoning boards from regulating the appearance of residences. I don’t like those regulations, either. That why I’ve never lived in a jurisdiction that imposes them. However, some people believe living in a visually homogenized community protects their investments. That’s a choice best determined by localities and homebuyers, not legislators.
The most ridiculous example of legislative overreach is the nipple-ban bill. To be fair, the City of Asheville (North Carolina’s version of San Francisco) asked for the ban in order to stop an annual topless protest, but they should have been told that defining “private parts” as a matter of state obscenity law is akin to using a sledge hammer to kill an ant. The appropriate solution is exactly what the council did: Urge citizens to avoid the display of bad taste.
I expect state legislators to focus on state issues. We already have enough city councilmen and county commissioners.
Martinez, is the news director WPTF, a News and Observer columnist and NC SPIN panelist.