- City cuts event co-sponsorship costs
- Mumpower again raises immigration issue
A proposed statewide moratorium on forced annexation could postpone a decision on four Asheville annexations that are currently tied up in court, City Attorney Bob Oast reported during City Council's May 20 work session.
Proposed by the House Select Committee on Municipal Annexation, the moratorium would stall involuntary annexations across North Carolina until June 2009. The proposal is now before the Judiciary Committee.
Four attempted Asheville annexations stretching back as far as 2002 -- Huntington Chase, Ridgefield, Airport Road and Biltmore Lake -- are in various stages of litigation. Oast also noted that the considerable staff time and resources spent in those cases could be rendered moot by the moratorium.
But that would be unfair to Asheville, said Mayor Terry Bellamy. "We've done everything we're supposed to do," she said, adding that she'd relayed that message to state Rep. Bruce Goforth. Bellamy also suggested sending a resolution to Raleigh spelling out the city's plea. "We thought that improper to be taken from us: Don't stop the work that we already have in place," she said.
Her colleagues were quick to agree. "We played by the rules, and they are changing the rules midgame," said Council member Robin Cape. Even Council member Carl Mumpower, who cited his record of opposing involuntary annexation, called the move unfair.
Council member Holly Jones, however, emphasized that her problem isn't just with the impact on the four pending annexations, but with the moratorium as a whole.
"This moratorium is not in the best interest for our community," proclaimed Jones, who's running for a seat on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.
Aggravating Asheville's annexation woes are Sullivan Acts II and III, passed in 2005 in the midst of the city/county water dispute. One of those laws prohibits Asheville from charging customers outside the city limits more for water; the other prohibits the city from using water-system access as leverage for voluntary annexation. Most North Carolina cities can cut deals with developers offering water service in exchange for voluntary annexation.
Asheville sued to overturn the laws; the city lost the first round, and its appeal is still pending. With that legislation still in place, the moratorium would leave Asheville with almost no annexation options.
Trimming the fat
To cut the cost of co-sponsoring public events, City Council voted 4-2 to stop providing equipment and trash pickup. Bellamy and Mumpower opposed the idea. Votes aren't usually taken during work sessions, but this issue had been carried over from a previous meeting, and Council's intention to take action was announced in the agenda. The move will affect 23 of the 25 events the city has agreed to co-sponsor between now and the end of the calendar year. (Because Council only recently voted to support the Holiday Parade and Pritchard Park cultural programming, those two events were not included in the list.) Co-sposorships are approved year to year.
Since April, Council and city staff have been exploring ways to trim the city's costs for such events as Goombay and Shindig on the Green, and at Council's request, the Parks and Recreation Department recently ranked the various festivals, concerts and races based on their respective draw and economic impact.
But Diane Ruggiero, the city's superintendent of cultural arts, suggested an across-the-board cut in providing trash cleanup and materials such as tents and stages. Many festivals, she noted, already cover those needs themselves, and it would save the city an estimated $65,831 a year. Asheville will continue to provide police support and staff to set up barricades.
After a short presentation by Ruggiero, Council approved the idea. Bellamy, however, said that rather than cutting services for everyone, she preferred to concentrate city support on higher-ranked events. "It was an across-the-board cut, and that's not what I wanted," said the mayor.
Ruggiero defended the plan, saying the events are too varied to apply a single set of criteria. "If there is an event you would like to see funded differently, we ask that you vote on that separately," she said.
Bellamy also objected to excluding the Holiday Parade from the cuts, calling the special treatment "inequitable."
But Vice Mayor Jan Davis noted that the city had only recently (Jan. 8, 2008) voted to support the parade and that organizers were counting on those services.
"I think we would be remiss to step back from that today," he said.
Mumpower's periodic presentations on illegal immigration over the past couple of years have fueled speculation that he might be setting his sights on higher office. And his current bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler does not appear to have cooled his ardor for the issue. Six months since his last presentation to Council, Mumpower was once again pushing for local enforcement of federal immigration laws.
"I know this is an irritant to some folks," he said, calling illegal immigration "the greatest lawbreaking scheme in America's history."
The rampant influx of illegals, said Mumpower, is a leading cause of local drug crime. He also cited it as a factor in local schools' high dropout rates. Mumpower blamed the situation on a complicit society -- including employers, hospital emergency rooms, schools and even churches.
"I don't care if people believe it or not," he said. "It's coming from the heart." And calling the federal enforcement system "paralyzed," he urged the city to adopt a computerized system to confirm the citizenship of employees and suspects arrested by police.
Cape, however, slammed Mumpower's allegations, noting that federal law requires Mission Hospital to treat anyone who shows up at the emergency room, and a contractor hired by the county to build a parking garage behind the Health Department -- frequently accused by Mumpower of using illegal labor -- has appropriate forms for all of its workers.
Nonetheless, Cape did say she'd like to see employers forced to adhere to legal hiring practices, rather than paying rock-bottom wages to illegal immigrants.
"I, too, would like to see that businesses play on a level playing field and not [use it] as an opportunity to take advantage of people who live by fear," she said. But that's an issue for the federal government to handle, she added.
Asheville Police Chief Bill Hogan, meanwhile, emphasized that local law enforcement can address immigration law only under the supervision of a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, noting that the agency is "woefully understaffed."