All swing together: city, Democratic legislators defend suing state over water bill

Friday morning, Asheville city officials past and present were joined by some of the local legislative delegation to voice their opposition to a state bill that would forcibly transfer the water system to a new regional authority and the Metropolitan Sewerage District. At the press conference they supported City Council’s decision to sue the state in an attempt to halt the new law.

“It’s because of the leadership you see behind me that the city’s seen unprecedented growth and been able to weather the recession,” Mayor Terry Bellamy said. Part of that leadership, she added, included the management of the water system, something that makes the state’s legislation a particularly bad idea. “We are proud of the legal team we’ve put together to defend out water system.”

The city will file suit in Wake County Superior Court early this week, though City Attorney Bob Oast wouldn’t specify exactly when. Council authorized staff to proceed with a lawsuit in a special meeting May 7.

“This water system is critical to the future of our people: to move it from the control of an elected officials to an appointed board … is a taking of our assets,” state Sen. Martin Nesbitt, the minority leader, said. “We must fight, we must win.”

Rep. Susan Fisher claimed the issue is part of a larger attack on the independence of the state’s cities.

“We have seen nothing but a taking of cities’ power over and over again,” she said. “You’re not alone, there are other cities across the state that could face the same issue.”

Former city officials, including four former mayors, also criticized the state’s actions. Charles Worley, Bellamy’s predecessor, said witnessing the state’s actions was “like a nightmare.”

Former Council member Joe Dunn did note that he felt the city had made some mistakes during its separation from the regional authority in 2005. While he supported removing the system from the regional water authority, he opposed charing non-city residents a higher rate, “and I think there’s some pushback from the legislature and I think that’s one of the underlying issues.”

But he added, “I do believe the legislature is wrong … I think my friends in Raleigh are wrong about this, and as a Republican, I’m going to stand up here and support the city of Asheville in this lawsuit.”

Dunn was the sole Republican to speak at the conference, though former Council member Carl Mumpower has also sharply criticized the legislation.

The legislation mandates a May 15 transfer, though city water system staff say that’s logistically impossible.

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