Recent Blog Posts

  • Moving a County Courthouse – Moving a County Seat – One In The Same?

    Authored by: on Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

    Every county in our state has a county seat, in which sits the county courthouse and oftentimes other county offices.  For many towns, especially in rural areas, being the county seat is a point of pride, marking the identity of the town.  Historically, county seats were located near the geographic center of the county to accommodate those traveling to attend court and transact business with government officials.  While such geographic considerations are now largely antiquated, the county is still obligated to provide courtrooms and other judicial facilities for the operation of courts (G.S. 7A-302).  Can the county build a new courthouse at a location other than within the county seat?  Can the county move the county seat itself to another location?  What exactly is a county seat? Read more »

  • What If a Proposed Rezoning Is Inconsistent With Our Plan?

    Authored by: on Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

    A proposal to rezone a 15-acre tract is pending before the town council. The tract is near the edge of town. It fronts one of the town’s major roads and is occupied by three vacant residences. It is zoned for medium density residential use. The owner seeks to have it rezoned to a more intensive mixed used district. The owner has submitted a site plan showing a hotel, office building, and retail building to be located along the main road, three condominium buildings in the center of the property, and a row of townhouses along the rear of the property, which adjoins an existing single-family neighborhood.

    Several of the immediate neighbors appear at the public hearing and object to the rezoning. They express concerns about noise, traffic, and changing the quiet, residential character of their neighborhood. The council also has before it a written recommendation from the town planning board. The planning board recommended approval, noting the project would create a vibrant development with a needed commercial presence along the main road. The planning board noted the townhouses would buffer the more intensive development from the adjacent neighborhood. They also noted the project would bring jobs and tax revenues to the town.

    At the conclusion of the public hearing on the rezoning, town council member Ed Haskell raises a question. “I need some clarification on something in our information packet. The staff has prepared a draft statement for us to adopt that says this is a great thing for the town. But the small print says this rezoning would be inconsistent with our adopted land use plan. I was on the planning board five years ago when that plan was adopted. We spent a lot of time and effort on it. The plan said this land was to be a residential neighborhood, just like most of the land out there. Should we be going against our own plan? Is that even legal?”

    Can the council enact a rezoning that is inconsistent with the plan? Read more »

  • Local Taxation of Private Property on Federal Land

    Authored by: on Thursday, September 8th, 2011

    There’s no dispute that property owned by the federal government is exempt from local property taxes. Cumberland County cannot levy property taxes on the Army tanks, helicopters, and munitions at Fort Bragg.  Nor can Swain County tax the many acres of Great Smoky Mountains National Park that lie within the county borders.

    But what about privately owned property located on federal land? There are big dollars riding on this question, considering the mini-cities that have developed at Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, and other large military bases in the state.  Can a county tax the personal property owned by McDonald’s or Boeing or one of the hundreds of other private companies that operate on those bases? What about registered motor vehicles belonging to the thousands of people who reside on those bases? Read more »

  • 911 Calls and Protecting the Natural Voice – Mandatory or Optional?

    Authored by: on Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

    Under Section G.S. 132-1.4(c) of the North Carolina Public Records law, the contents of 911 calls are public information, except for certain information specified in the statute. This provision was modified in An Act To Provide That a Transcript or Altered Voice Reproduction May Be Made Available for A 911 Call So As Not To identify the Caller by the Natural Voice. (S.L. 2011-321). The motivation for the change was apparently to encourage witnesses to report crimes without fear of retribution. The wording of the new provision has raised a question about whether law enforcement agencies are now prohibited from releasing natural voice recordings, or whether the altered voice/transcript is optional. I think that it’s optional. Here’s why.  Read more »

  • Employers, GINA, and Family Medical History

    Authored by: on Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

    A supervisor overhears one employee tell another that her mother has developed breast cancer.  In that inadvertent way, the supervisor—and therefore the employer—has acquired genetic information about the employee.  Under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), the acquisition of genetic information is unlawful.  Has the employer violated GINA? Read more »

  • Public Records Law and the Tax Office

    Authored by: on Thursday, August 25th, 2011

    The basic concept behind North Carolina public records law is simple:  all government records are “property of the people.”  As such, they must be made available upon request for free or minimal cost unless a statute specifically exempts a particular type of record from disclosure.  But many local tax offices are learning that putting this simple concept into practice can be complicated.

    Consider this request submitted to a number of counties in recent months: “Please produce a list of all foreclosure actions in which the foreclosure sale produced surplus funds that were then submitted to the clerk of court for distribution.” Clearly, somebody out there thinks there is money to be made alerting taxpayers of possible unclaimed surplus funds being held by the courts.  Are tax offices required to assist with this somewhat questionable entrepreneurial effort? Read more »

  • “Mandatory” Evacuations – Are They Really Enforceable?

    Authored by: on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

    NOAA NWS NHC Irene Track 8/24/11, 11:00 AM EDT

    As Hurricane Irene barreled toward the eastern seaboard and North Carolina’s coast, local communities and state and local officials braced for a potentially significant hit.  Hyde County declared a local state of emergency. Under its declaration it ordered a mandatory evacuation for visitors and a voluntary evacuation for county residents beginning early Wednesday morning.  The evacuation order becomes mandatory for everyone in the county early the following morning.  Hyde’s declaration also authorized local and state law enforcement to restrict access to Ocracoke Island.  Other local governments follow suit in the coming hours and days (depending on the track and intensity of the storm), ordering voluntary and mandatory evacuations, and restricting access to high-risk areas.

    Local officials are authorized to order mandatory and voluntary evacuations, but can they enforce them? Read more »