The proposed merger of the Asheville Water System into a Metropolitan Sewer District continues to create controversy, with new revelations that two western legislators might be using veiled intimidation to force the city to abandon a lawsuit and drop opposition to the merger.
Mountain Xpress, an independent newspaper located in Asheville and a blogsite called Scrutinyhooligans.us are reporting Asheville City Council members have received emails from Representatives Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey that tell them to “settle the lawsuit or else” face even more unwanted legislation. Sounding a lot like blackmail the pair intimate a threat of changing the election districts for Asheville municipal elections, delaying this year’s elections until new district elections could take place in 2015, and threatening approval of the merger of city and county parks and recreation services.
Email correspondence, obtained by Mountain Xpress, from Asheville Mayor Terry Ballamy to Moffitt says, “As stated in our complaint, and in arguments to the court, there are some very real legal, logistical and financial issues associated with implementing the Water Act. We initiated the legal action because we had no choice, and will continue with it as long as needed to protect the water system and its users. However, a resolution is always possible if the terms are reasonable. If the State wishes to propose a settlement that is both reasonable and binding, we are willing to listen. Please provide a written copy for me to provide to council next our the entire board’s consideration.”
Regarding the proposed changes in election districts Bellamy said, “I have checked with our City Attorney and Vice Mayor, and no one has seen a proposed bill. Can you please forward me a copy?” Moffitt then sends the legislation, noting that it’s a “confidential draft.” So far it hasn’t been filed as a bill but city leaders fear it could be included in an amendment to other legislation.
City Councilman Marc Hunt, in a reply to Moffitt about the change in election districts said, “Legislators that do not represent our citizens initiating dramatic changes to how Asheville elects its council members is patently unfair and conflicts with fundamental principles of self-governance. It is especially offensive when initiated with no advance publicity as an amendment to a larger bill in quick-turnaround fashion near the end of a legislative session.”
Changing a city’s election districts is rare and generally is done at the request of municipal leaders or by a vote in a referendum. Such has not been the case, but in 2011, the General Assembly, again prompted by legislation from Moffitt and again with no request from local officials, changed the election districts of Buncombe County’s Board of Commissioners and added two commissioners. The result was a in a shift of party power, with Democrats going from control of the Board to a narrow 4-3 majority.
The orchestration of the Metropolitan Sewer District and threats to change election districts is yet another example of legislative interference in municipal affairs and calls to question whether the role of the legislature is governing oversight, interference or intimidation.