Recent Blog Posts

  • How a North Carolina Local Government Can Operate a Land Bank for Redevelopment

    Authored by: on Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

    If America’s cities and towns are to realize their greatest potential as attractive and welcoming places—and as drivers of the new American economy—they must be able to repurpose their vacant, abandoned and foreclosed properties. Those properties—whether the product of the current foreclosure crisis or the remnants of the old economy—diminish the sense of community among neighbors, erase the value of lifelong investment in a home, and make it nearly impossible for cities and towns to attract and keep the creative, innovative, entrepreneurial citizens who will build the next economy.

    Dan Kildee, founder of Genesee County Land Bank, in the foreword to Land Banks and Land Banking

    Dan Kildee’s sentiment is shared by local governments across North Carolina, but how can they “repurpose” their vacant and abandoned properties and revitalize distressed communities? The answer in Genesee County, Michigan, was a redevelopment tool called a land bank, which is a public authority created to acquire and redevelop vacant and abandoned properties. In the span of a decade, the Genesee County Land Bank acquired more than 10,000 parcels to hold or redevelop, and during the “great recession,” catalyzed more than $60 million in new private investment. Land banks continue to spring up across the nation and are playing an increasingly important role in revitalization efforts in places such as Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and Fulton County, Georgia. A complete explanation of land bank policies and approaches across the nation can be found in a downloadable text, Land Banks and Land Banking.

    In Michigan, forming a land bank is rather straightforward, because the Michigan state legislature enacted specific enabling authority for the establishment and operation of land banks. No such land bank legislation exists in North Carolina. Nonetheless, local governments in North Carolina can perform the basic functions of a land bank by cobbling together existing statutory authority. In this way, the local government itself serves as the land bank and performs the major activities of a land bank:

  • Acquire and hold troubled properties
  • Stabilize properties and eliminate encumbrances
  • Convey properties to a redeveloper
  • Each activity will be addressed in turn. Read more »

  • Quick-Reference Guide for Closed Sessions

    Authored by: on Thursday, March 13th, 2014

    The North Carolina open meetings law requires most official meetings of public bodies to be open to the public. The law also lists nine permitted purposes for meeting in closed session. It sets rules for announcing and conducting closed sessions, and cases have interpreted these provisions, providing additional guidance. This blog post outlines the general requirements for closed sessions, as well as special rules that apply to particular types of closed sessions. It also debunks three common misperceptions about closed sessions.

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  • Running for Office: The Hatch Act is Nearly Dead

    Authored by: on Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

    When an employee of a city or county wants to run for elective office, three legal considerations have traditionally leapt to mind—North Carolina’s criminal conflicts of interest statute, the state’s common law principle of incompatibility of office, and the federal Hatch Act.

    The first two are alive and well and kick up trouble for candidates every once in a while.  They apply in only one limited situation—when the employee wishes to run for office in the very city or county that is the employer.  An employee of Morganton can run for mayor of Hickory without concern about the conflicts of interest statute or the incompatibility doctrine.  But when an employee of Scotland County wishes to run for county commissioner in Scotland County itself, there may be a problem with one or both.  For a full discussion of these considerations, see Frayda Bluestein’s excellent post here.

    But the third consideration—the federal Hatch Act—is nearly dead.  Congress all but killed it effective January 2013. Read more »

  • Accessory Uses and Structures in the Zoning Ordinance: Eight Things to Remember

    Authored by: on Monday, March 10th, 2014

    In the world of fashion they say that accessories make the man. What kinds of accessories are we talking about? Accessories such as belts, socks, handkerchiefs, ties, and caps. They complement a man’s shirt, pants, shoes, and jacket. They enhance the style of the man.

    In the world of zoning we could say that accessories make a development project. What kinds of accessories are these? Accessories such as accessory uses and accessory structures. They include, parking lots, on-premises advertising signs, solar collectors, swimming pools, fuel tanks, storage sheds, basketball goals, work-place cafeterias, dish antennas, animal sheds, flower gardens and landscaping, mail boxes, helicopter pads, stormwater detention facilities, and playgrounds and recreational facilities. They complement the principal use and buildings that are a part of the premises. They are far more likely to be functional in nature than clothing accessories, but they too can enhance the style of a development project or the use of property. Read more »

  • Do Election Laws Affect Voter Turnout?

    Authored by: on Friday, March 7th, 2014

    For the last 30 years North Carolina, like most states, has been making it easier to register and vote. In the early 1980s the only way you could register was to go before an official of the local board of elections in person. Since then registration has been expanded to driver license offices and other government agencies, and now is available online. Once you register your name no longer is removed if you fail to vote in several consecutive elections, as used to be the case. Absentee voting previously was available only by mail and was reserved for voters who could not get to their precinct on election day; in recent years “early voting” polling places have been open for nearly three weeks before election day for anyone who wants to cast a ballot in advance. Other changes also have made registration and voting more convenient.

    In 2013 the General Assembly backtracked on some of those voting changes. The most significant actions were the shortening by one week of the time for early voting and the elimination of same-day registration and voting. Before the new rules take full effect with the 2014 election it may be a good time to ask what difference those election law changes of the last several decades made in whether people voted. Did any of the expanded opportunities to register and vote added since 1980 appreciably affect voter turnout or not? Read more »

  • New Construction Delivery Methods – Public-Private Partnerships (P3)

    Authored by: on Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

    In my last two posts, I described the new design-build and design-build bridging construction delivery methods authorized by the General Assembly during the 2013 legislative session.  This post completes our discussion of the new delivery methods by outlining the third method authorized in S.L. 2013-401/H857 – public-private partnerships (P3).

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  • Databases Under the Public Records Law

    Authored by: on Monday, March 3rd, 2014

    [Update: The case that is discussed in this post was reversed in LexisNexis Data Management, Inc, v. NC Administrative Office of the Courts (101PA14), on August 21, 2015. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeals erred in applying the Public Records Act (Chapter 132), and that the case is governed by G.S. 7A-109(d). I summarize and discuss the Supreme Court decision in a blog post here. Because the Court of Appeals analysis of databases under the Public Records Act may provide a useful framework for public agencies and litigants, this blog will remain published, even though the holding in this case was reversed on other grounds.

    In addition, the 2015 state budget act (S.L. 2015-141, Sec. 18A.24) amended G.S. 7A-109(d). It now applies to  electronic records, electronic data processing records, or any compilation of electronic court records or data of the clerks of superior court. It goes on to say that “[n]either the Director nor the Administrative Office of the Courts is the custodian of the records of the clerks of superior court or of the electronic data processing records or any compilation of electronic court records or data of the clerks of superior court.”]

    Public agencies increasingly use databases to organize, store, and access public information. A database sometimes includes information that comes from records of multiple separate agencies, and these agencies may have access only to their own information, or to the entire database. If a member of the public seeks access to all or some of the information in the database, which agency is responsible for providing access as the custodian of the record?  The Court of Appeals opinion in LexisNexis Risk Data Management, Inc. v NC Administrative Office of the Courts provides a partial answer to this question, and establishes some key principles regarding the status of databases under the North Carolina public records law. This blog post summarizes the holding, and discusses some of its implications for public entities that create and have access to databases containing public information. Read more »