Asheville Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer made a presentation in 2012 to legislators studying the city's water system. Lissa Gotwals/Carolina Public Press file photo

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Apodaca: As cities grow, ‘they take over everything’

RALEIGH — Efforts spreading through the state legislature in recent weeks raised a theme that local officials in Buncombe and Watauga counties may know all too well: a legislature-mandated change to the structure of local government.

Last year, the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill that removed the town of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. The year before saw the fight over Asheville’s control over its water system. Both were met with legal challenges, which are still working their way through the court system.

During the past two weeks, legislative actions aimed at local governments include a new twist — redistricting — with proposals surfacing that would redraw district lines and change the number of seats and composition of the governing bodies of Greensboro and Wake County. There is also talk of potential changes coming for Mecklenburg County, but a bill has not yet emerged.

So far Asheville, has not been in the mix, perhaps a result of an election that saw former Rep. Tim Moffitt, a Republican and the primary author of the bills aimed at Asheville, ousted. The election result was in no small part a backlash to Moffitt’s feud with the city.

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Although he’s not around this session, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer is still keeping a close eye on Raleigh.

In an interview with Carolina Public Press on Monday, Manheimer said she found the redistricting bills worrisome, but her biggest concern is the legislature’s sustained attack on cities in general. The redistricting bills, she said, are a symptom of a strategy that has pitted rural and urban regions against each other.

Last week, for instance, Senate Rules committee chair Tom Apodca, R-Henderson, swatted down attempts by opponents in the state Senate to amend the redistricting legislation by requiring voter approval through a referendum. Apodaca cited the need to keep cities in check.

“We’re talking about rural versus city,” Apodaca said during Senate debate over the bills. As cities grow, he said “they take over everything.”

Manheimer, who will join other municipal officials for Town Hall Day at the legislature on Wednesday, said legislators pushing the “rural versus urban” theme are missing the important connections and interdependence of the two.

“My biggest concern with all this legislation is this assumption that you can somehow separate the state into parts,” she said. It ignores, she said, the economic and social interconnections between rural and urban areas and the role of cities as employment centers. “It’s a regional system.”

Manheimer said a new bill aimed at increasing the share of sales taxes for rural counties is another example of the legislature misunderstanding the connections. The bill could have a huge impact throughout Buncombe County, not just in Asheville, she said. It will hurt the state’s urban areas’ ability to pay for transit and other services necessary for large employment centers, she added.

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Meanwhile, the Buncombe delegation has not been quiet on the issue of reordering local election districts.

Moffitt’s replacement, Rep. Brian Turner, D-Buncombe, introduced legislation last week requiring that all changes to local governance, such as the ones proposed in Greensboro and Wake County, be subject to a local referendum.

Manheimer said she supports Turner’s effort because it would at least give those living in those areas a chance to decide rather than leaving it up to the state legislature. That the bill came from the person that replaced Moffitt is a reminder that the legislature can change, she said.

“We certainly saw a pendulum swing here,” she said.

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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