Recent Blog Posts

  • It’s Almost Time For The Short Session

    Authored by: on Monday, May 12th, 2014

    This post is co-authored with Christine Wunsche, the Director of the School of Government’s Legislative Reporting Service.

    The pace in Raleigh is about to pick up this week as the North Carolina General Assembly returns to town on Wednesday for the 2014 “short” session. Below is some information about the upcoming session to help you prepare for and get excited about the weeks and months to come. We’ve also highlighted some changes to our Legislative Reporting Service website for the coming year. Read more »

  • Prayer at Local Government Meetings: Town of Greece v. Galloway

    Authored by: on Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

    In 1983 the United States Supreme Court, in Marsh v. Chambers, upheld the Nebraska state legislature’s practice of opening sessions with a prayer. In the three decades since Marsh, courts have heard many challenges to prayers offered at local government meetings. These cases raised the issue of whether the practices approved in Marsh were also lawful when undertaken by local governments. Many litigants and judges assumed that the holding and reasoning in Marsh applied equally to meetings of local government boards. For example, in a case arising in Forsyth County, North Carolina, the federal court held that the county could legally open its meetings with prayer, but that the prayers must be nonsectarian, or must represent diverse religions so as to avoid the effect of affiliating the government with a particular belief. See Joyner v. Forsyth County, citing Turner v. City Council of the City of Fredericksburg, 534 F.3d 352, 356 (4th Cir. 2008), Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, 404 F.3d 276 (4th Cir. 2005), and Wynne v. Town of Great Falls, 376 F.3d 292 (4th Cir. 2004).  This week, the Supreme Court directly addressed the constitutionality of prayer at local government meetings, and clarified the scope and meaning of its earlier opinion in Marsh. This blog post summarizes the basic holding in Town of Greece v. Galloway  (go here for a more detailed summary of the majority and dissenting opinions in the case), and suggests answers to some questions that remain in the wake of the decision. Read more »

  • Can Outside Material be Incorporated by Reference into Local Development Regulations?

    Authored by: on Monday, May 5th, 2014

    Simplicity and clarity are laudable objectives when drafting a zoning ordinance or other development regulation.  One way this is accomplished is to cross-reference other material rather than repeating it in the ordinance.  This is often referred to as “incorporation by reference.”  For example, rather than having a detailed definition of “adult businesses” that are subject to zoning restrictions, the ordinance can just borrow and apply the same definition used in state statutes regulating these businesses.

    Is it permissible to do this?  If so, what types of material can be incorporated into a local development regulation by reference?  State laws and regulations?  What about federal laws?  Technical codes published by government agencies?  Standards adopted by national non-governmental agencies?  Maps published by others?  What happens when the material that is incorporated is updated after the local ordinance is adopted?  Read more »

  • Quorum Calculations: The Impact of Vacancies and Members Who Don’t Vote

    Authored by: on Friday, May 2nd, 2014

    The Town of Bomont has a problem:  for several weeks now large numbers of teenagers have been meeting on downtown sidewalks every Saturday morning to form “dance mobs.”  The youths make it almost impossible for pedestrians to access many of the stores located in the downtown area, and the merchants who own those establishments have seen a big drop in Saturday sales since the weekly dance mobs began.

    Councilmember Shaw Moore believes that the teenagers who take part in the dance mobs are “hooligans” in need of a comeuppance.  He and five other councilmembers make up the town council’s committee on public safety, of which Mr. Moore is the chairman.  With input from the town attorney, Mr. Moore drafts an ordinance that would prohibit dancing on downtown streets by groups of more than three people.  He wants the committee to endorse the proposed ordinance at its upcoming meeting so that the council will be in a position to adopt the ordinance next month.  On the night before the committee meeting, one of the six members unexpectedly resigns, effective immediately.  When Mr. Moore arrives for the meeting the following day, only two other members are in attendance.  One of them informs Mr. Moore that she needs to be excused from any action on the proposed ordinance because she owns an ice cream stand that – unlike other downtown businesses – profits handsomely from the weekly gatherings of teenage dancers.  Despite his eagerness to proceed with the meeting, Mr. Moore concludes that the committee lacks a quorum.  Is he correct? Read more »

  • Keep Your Distance: Requirements to Keep Certain Land Uses Apart

    Authored by: on Thursday, May 1st, 2014

    Keep your distance! Robert Frost said that good fences make for good neighbors. Maybe keeping potential neighbors physically apart is an even better way of making for good neighbors. Zoning is based on the idea of separating incompatible uses by including them in different zoning districts, thus indirectly keeping the pig out of the parlor. Use-separation requirements, however, typically ignore zoning district boundaries and try to distance certain potentially detrimental uses from certain protected uses more directly. This blog is about how such use-separation requirements may be used. Read more »

  • Occupancy Taxes, Continued

    Authored by: on Monday, April 28th, 2014

    Over 200 officials from 60 N.C. local governments joined us for our occupancy tax webinar originally broadcast on April 2.  We received tons of questions before, during, and after the webinar, which meant we couldn’t get to all of them on air.  Today’s blog addresses some of those questions we missed during the webinar plus a few of the more interesting discussion points we did cover.

    If you missed the webinar, you can purchase it for on-demand viewing here.  For an overview of occupancy tax basics, check out this earlier post.

    On to the questions . . . Read more »

  • Is a Quorum Necessary for a Public Hearing?

    Authored by: on Friday, April 25th, 2014

    In accordance with G.S. 160A-364, a city has scheduled a public hearing on a proposed amendment to its zoning ordinance. Notice of the hearing has been provided in accordance with the statute, but it now appears that there will not be a quorum present on the day of the hearing. The council does not expect to take action on the ordinance at the meeting. May the city go forward with public hearing without a quorum? The answer is “no.” To fulfill the statutory requirement, a public hearing must take place at a properly noticed meeting with a quorum present, and any specific notice requirements for the hearing must also be met. Read more »