At a special meeting tonight, May 7, Asheville City Council members voted unanimously to sue the state of North Carolina over House Bill 488, a bill forcibly transferring the city’s water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District.
After a brief closed session, Council members emerged and City Attorney Bob Oast presented a resolution authorizing staff to proceed with a lawsuit to halt the legislation, which mandates a May 15 transfer. Oast cited “a number of legal, constitutional, and practical issues” with HB 488 as the reason for the lawsuit. The bill has passed both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly and is currently awaiting Gov. Pat McCrory’s review and possible signature.
“That leaves us very little time to address the issues it raises,” Oast said.
“I don’t believe we should have to sue the state over this, because we’ve been improving our system,” Mayor Terry Bellamy said, noting her conviction that the legislature’s actions leave the city little choice.
After the vote, Bellamy told reporters, “Since I’ve been mayor, what have we done wrong with the system? … There is no way we can transfer an almost $1 billion asset by May 15 to a new authority. Who’s the director? Who do we sign it over to?”
She added, “We feel pretty strong,” about the city’s case. … Municipalities from across the state will file amicus briefs. We will not be standing alone.”
Council’s resolution cited issues with transferring the city’s bonds to a new authority under MSD and Asheville voters “overwhelmingly” opposing such a transfer in a non-binding referendum last year.
“This course of action is the only rational response to an irresponsible effort,” Council member Gordon Smith told Xpress after the vote. “Just the debt and bond issues will take months and months to sort out, not to mention that the authority that we’re supposed to give the water system to doesn’t exist yet. They’ve crafted a bill that’s impossible to execute.”
He added his thoughts on why legislators filed the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Tim Moffitt and supported by Reps. Nathan Ramsey and Chuck McGrady: “It’s just a case of vendetta politics.”