Recent Blog Posts

  • The Screwy City Election Schedule

    Authored by: on Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

    In even-numbered years, it’s pretty easy to tell when elections will happen.  In May of 2012, for instance, there will be primary elections for congressional seats and North Carolina legislative seats and governor and attorney general and judges and county commissioners and just about every office other than mayors and city councils.  Then in November there will be a general election to elect candidates to those offices.  Lots of offices and lots of candidates, but a pretty straightforward schedule.

    In odd-numbered years, however, the election schedule seems to fracture.  Within a single county, one town may hold an election in September and all the other towns hold theirs in November.  The roads may sprout candidates’ signs in Charlotte in late August while in Chapel Hill nobody puts up a sign until October.  Newspapers seem to be reporting election results over a period of many weeks.  What gives? Read more »

  • What is the Statute of Limitations for Special Assessments?

    Authored by: on Friday, October 28th, 2011

    Assume that in 2000 Blue Devil City levies a special assessment on the 100 residents of Coach K Way to pay for an extension of city sewer and water service along that road.  The city provides documentation of the assessment to Carolina County, which by contract collects the city’s taxes and assessments.  Unfortunately this documentation disappears and the assessments are never entered into the county’s tax records.  As a result, for the next decade neither the city nor the county makes any effort to collect the assessments. 

    In 2011 the city’s new finance office stumbles across records of the assessments and calls the county tax office to ask why they remain unpaid. The county tax collector sheepishly explains that a mistake was made back in 2000 and then concludes that the assessments are now uncollectible because more than 10 years have passed since the assessments were levied.

    Is the collector correct? I think so, but the issue is not entirely clear.  Read more »

  • Reporting Patient Injuries to Law Enforcement: It’s Not Just Gunshot Wounds

    Authored by: on Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

    Here at the School of Government, we get a lot of questions about disclosing medical records or information to law enforcement officials. Often the question arises when a law enforcement official appears at a health care facility and presents a search warrant or court order for the information, a situation my colleague Jeff Welty has written about on the SOG’s North Carolina Criminal Law blog. But disclosure of medical information is not always initiated by law enforcement. Sometimes a health care provider treats a patient for an injury or illness, such as a gunshot or stab wound, that suggests a violent crime has occurred. Law enforcement may not be aware of these situations unless someone tells them. Therefore, North Carolina has a statute (G.S. 90-21.20) that requires health care providers to notify local law enforcement officials when they treat patients with particular injuries or illnesses.

    The statute has two subsections that address the types of injuries and illnesses that must be reported—one that applies to all patients, and one that applies only to patients who are minor children. Subsection (b) identifies the injuries and illnesses that must be reported regardless of the patient’s age. Subsection (c1) describes the additional circumstances in which a report is required if the patient is a minor child. This post summarizes the provisions of each section and then addresses some frequently asked questions.

    Read more »

  • Signs of the Times: The Regulation of Political Signs

    Authored by: on Thursday, October 20th, 2011

    Earlier this year it was reported in an Arizona newspaper that a prominent community activist (Ms. Smith) might face misdemeanor charges after witnesses saw her stealing campaign signs that Ms. Smith said were illegal and “negative” in their message. It seems that the signs made reference to the husband (Mr. Abbott) of an incumbent town council member whom Ms. Smith supported. Mr. Abbott had himself been accused of stealing the campaign signs of his wife’s opponent. The signs that Ms. Smith was accused of stealing declared: “If you’re reading this sign, it’s because Tom Abbott hasn’t taken it down yet.” According to those who came to her defense, the signs that Ms. Smith had confiscated were indeed slanderous. Ah, yes, election campaigns in full swing. Read more »

  • Court Does Not Have Authority to Grant Public Access to Personnel Records

    Authored by: on Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

    State law prohibits general public access to most public employee records. The parallel statutes that govern city and county employee records, as well as several of the separate statutes that govern other types of public agencies, contain provisions that allow access to these records by court order. A recent Court of Appeals opinion, In Re Release of the Silk Plant Forest Citizen Review Committee’s Report and Appendices, holds that these provisions do not confer jurisdiction on a court to grant general public access to personnel records. This blog summarizes the case and discusses the implications of its holding. Read more »

  • The Two Key Questions for Property Tax Exemptions

    Authored by: on Thursday, October 13th, 2011

    Which of these properties is likely to be exempt from local property taxes?

    A.   Vacant, unused land owned by Dook University, a private educational institution.   Dook plans to build a new science lab on the land once it raises the necessary funds.

    B.   A bookstore owned by the Church of the Good Shepherd.  The bookstore is located immediately next to the church’s sanctuary and sells religious books primarily to its congregation, although it is open to the general public.

    C.   An office building owned by the town of TarHeelville, which leases it to a private law firm.

    I think the answer is: not A, maybe B, definitely C.  Here’s why.  Read more »

  • Amending an Approved Project

    Authored by: on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

    A developer proposes a multi-phased residential development. The developer secures a rezoning from low-density residential to a higher-density residential zoning district in order to build the project. A site plan for the development is approved. The project is very successful, with sales exceeding the developer’s expectations. Since the original plan of development had more open space set aside in the project than the town required, the developer decides to add an additional phase of the project to use some of the excess open space for additional housing. The developer submits a modified site plan to the town to add this additional housing. The modified site plan has less open space than the originally approved plan, but includes an amount that still meets the town’s minimum open space requirements. Some of the purchasers of property in the developed portion of the project and some neighbors object, contending they have a right to rely on the original plan approval. The developer contends that since the new plan meets all of the town’s current standards, the town must approve it. Must the town approve the modification request? Read more »