(WGHP) — Parents generally stay out of their adult kids’ business, but there are times when that might not be the case.
That’s kind of the way the North Carolina General Assembly sees what it has to do every once in a while.
“North Carolina is one of those states where all local governments are creatures of state government, so there’s a responsibility on the state level to conduct some oversight as to what happens at the local level,” said State Senate President Phil Berger, who represents Rockingham County. “In fact, we have something called the Local Government Commission that actually has responsibility for making sure that local governments finances are in order and we don’t have local governments that get into financial trouble.”
Recently, the cases of the state government getting involved in what are usually perceived as local issues go far beyond that.
“It’s one of the reasons I ran for office the very first time,” said Democratic State Senator Michael Garrett, who represents much of Guilford County. “My predecessor had a couple of different initiatives. Some were successful. Some weren’t. Redistricting our local Board of Education, shrinking the size of it and gerrymandering the districts and making our school board partisan, which is something I post because I don’t think politics belong in the classroom … Now, we just see politics creeping more and more into the classroom, and I think that’s unfortunate.”
The most visible recent issues had to do with the request of developer David Couch to build on the nearly 1,000 acres he owns in the town of Summerfield.
Couch tried to negotiate with the town for years on what he could put on his land. In the end, he felt the town council refused to work with anything he proposed.
“I can see arguments on both sides of that one, and I actually had said this to Senator Berger … I’m sympathetic to the developer’s position … He is the property owner. He wants to develop property,” Garrett said.
He believes Summerfield was, “Weaponizing their zoning ordinances to keep the character of their town.”
“And when you talk about character of your town, you’ve got to wonder what that really means … We can’t be picking and choosing winners based on who has the political connections. We need to look at the law … throughout the entire state and what we allow municipalities to use to deny zoning requests and what they’re allowed to regulate when it comes to planning because this is really a statewide issue, and it’s beyond a statewide issue. It’s a national issue that you hear even in the Chamber of Commerce talking about. It’s one of the biggest obstacles to affordable housing in this country, and we’re facing a housing crisis in North Carolina, and we are facing a significant housing crisis here in Guilford County because we’ve had such great successes in economic development,” Garrett said.
The other big recent issue was when Republicans nominated Michael Logan to fill an open Republican seat on the Guilford County School Board, but Democrats refused to seat him because of political statements he’s made in public and on social media. Instead, Democrats put Republican Bill Goebbels on the board, so Republicans went to the General Assembly to have Logan reinstated through a new law.
“I’m not faulting the local Republican Party for being upset,” Garrett said. “I understand why they’re upset. From the General Assembly’s perspective, I don’t think we should be stepping in to look back once the decision has already been made. I’m not sure who wrote the statute in the very beginning … Whoever wrote that didn’t dot their Is and crossed their Ts and left loopholes for the board to have some flexibility. If we don’t want the board to have flexibility then that’s what the statute should reflect … going forward. I think it was unfair to take someone who was serving in public office out because of a partisan political dispute between the local parties and the Board of Education.”
See more on how the general assembly has looked to work within what is often considered local politics in this edition of The Buckley Report.