Recent Blog Posts

  • 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 »

  • Anonymous Tips: Can They Really Be Anonymous? [Revised]

    Authored by: on Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

    Note: This is a revised version of my earlier post on this topic. Thanks to my colleague Jeff Welty for his help in providing a more complete explanation of the criminal investigation exceptions.

    Local governments want to hear from their citizens. As one city’s website says, it wants citizens to be its “eyes and ears.” Digital government makes it easy for citizens to communicate with their local officials. Government websites promote telephone hotlines, web formsdigital suggestion boxes, and social media to get information on customer service, budget priorities, potholes and traffic jams, violations of city codes, and fraud, abuse, or other unethical acts by government employees or officials. To encourage candid comments, these forums often promise that information can be submitted “anonymously.” Is this a promise local governments can keep?

    The only truly anonymous system may be one that neither requests nor captures identifying information. If a local government actually receives identifying information, however, or has a contractual right to obtain it from an outside service, that information is a public record and must be provided upon request, unless an exception in the public records law applies. Read more »

  • Disposing of Small Surplus Items: One Man’s Junk is Another Man’s Treasure

    Authored by: on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

    Warm weather is finally here and it’s time for some spring cleaning.  There’s your worn out office chair, that dented file cabinet whose drawers are stuck shut, those obsolete computers, and goodness-knows-what that is gathering dust in the public works warehouse.  You hate to throw the stuff away.  If someone will buy it (some people will buy anything!), you might generate a little much needed cash for your unit.  Or, perhaps a local non-profit would be grateful to have some of these items (after all, your office chair isn’t that old). Maybe some of your co-workers would be interested in buying some of the items (again, some people will buy anything!). Can you post the items on GovDeals and hope for the best?  Can you call a local charity and ask them to haul the stuff away?  Can you conduct an “in-house” sale open only to employees of your unit? What are your options? Read more »

  • Can a Property Owner Be Cited for a Zoning Violation by a Tenant?

    Authored by: on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

    Betty Draper owns a single-family residence.  She rents the property to four tenants.  The zoning ordinance does not allow parking in the front yard and limits the number of cars that can be parked on the property to four vehicles.  The residents regularly park in the front yard and often have eight cars parked on the lot.  The neighbors complain.  A city investigation establishes a clear-cut zoning violation.  The staff has prepared a notice of violation, which provides that civil penalties will be assessed if the violation is not immediately remedied.

    Can the city send this citation and notice of violation directly to Betty or is it limited to citing the tenants who have too many cars parked at the house? Read more »

  • Court of Appeals Attempts to Clarify “Immaterial Irregularity” Provision

    Authored by: on Friday, March 28th, 2014

    I often describe GS 105-394 as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card for local tax officials because the provision excuses mistakes in the administration of property taxes. In other words, taxes are not waived just because the tax office messed up.  I wrote about this statute extensively here.

    While the provision can be extremely useful, its scope is murky at best. A recent opinion from the N.C. Court of Appeals attempts to provide some clarity but does so in a manner that raises more questions than it answers. Read more »

  • You’ve Consolidated. Do You Know Who Your Local Health Director Is?

    Authored by: on Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

    In the summer of 2012, the General Assembly enacted a law that authorized boards of county commissioners in North Carolina to consolidate county human services departments and boards. In the months since, twenty counties have taken actions under G.S. 153A-77. The exact actions have varied from place to place, but the most common action has been to create a consolidated human services agency (CHSA) combining the former county departments of health and social services, and sometimes other human services departments or functions as well. There are presently 17 CHSAs in North Carolina that include both public health and social services, as this map shows.

    North Carolina law requires counties to assure that public health services are available to their residents, a duty that is satisfied by the creation of a CHSA that includes public health. State law also creates the position of local health director, requires the person in that position to meet minimum education and experience requirements, and assigns quite a few powers and duties to that person. Traditional county health departments and multi-county district health departments are headed by a local health director who meets the statutory qualifications for the position and carries out the statutory powers and duties. However, a CHSA is led by a consolidated human services director–a position that is also created by statute but has its own powers and duties and is not subject to the education and experience requirements for a local health director.

    When a county creates a CHSA that includes public health, what becomes of the local health director? That is actually a multi-part question that is not entirely answered by law. What happens to the position of local health director is one thing, but what happens to the powers and duties of a local health director is another.  Read more »

  • Solar Farms and Solar Rooftops

    Authored by: on Monday, March 24th, 2014

    Across North Carolina solar energy systems are filling pastures and cladding rooftops.  According to solar industry reports, North Carolina ranked second in the country, behind only California, for solar photovoltaic capacity added in 2013.  The rapid rise of the solar industry in North Carolina has many communities considering how to handle this new land use.

    Two new resources from the UNC School of Government—a free online report and a free upcoming webinar—seek to assist communities as they plan for and zone for solar development.

    Read more »