$97,000,000 and a New City Council

I just voted. If you do the same and you live in Fayetteville, you’ll be asked to vote “yes” or “no” to four different questions.

The back of the ballot looks like this:

Bonds = Debt

Our city leaders want to borrow $97,000,000 for various projects in Fayetteville:

  • $60,000,000 for Public Safety
  • $25,000,000 for Streets and Sidewalks
  • $12,000,000 for Housing Benefits

Most people are in favor of public safety, good roads and sidewalks, and affordable housing. However, is it a good idea to borrow close to $100,000,000 as we head into a potential recession? Moreover, can we trust our current leaders to spend the money in an effective and efficient way? A recent example is the parking deck across from City Hall. We borrowed close to $20,000,000 to help construct the deck and have little to show for it in the form of economic development. It just sits there, rarely used, as we continue to pay to park each time we go downtown.

Bonds have to be paid back over time, with interest. If these bonds pass, a tax increase is likely to follow. Vote accordingly.

Charter Amendment = More Representation

At-Large seats on our city council would be a tremendous benefit to our political system. The proposed change gives voters more choice and will increase interest and turnout in our local elections. It would also force candidates to build consensus and appeal to the entire city to get elected. Encourage everyone you know to vote “YES” to the last item on your ballot. This graphic illustrates the proposed change:

Early voting started today. Get out and do your part.

Appeals to Reason

A few years ago, I represented a bail agent in a case before the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The facts were simple: A man was locked up in a Virginia jail and missed court in Fayetteville. His bond was forfeited for failing to appear. The bail agent filed a form to “set aside” the bond forfeiture, but she checked the box for incarcerations in North Carolina, not incarcerations in other states.

In North Carolina, forfeited bond money goes to the local school system, so a lawyer representing the school board objected. The matter went before Judge Jim Ammons.

At the hearing, the school board attorney argued that the form controlled and the defendant should forfeit $25,000 for missing court. Judge Ammons ruled that he would not forfeit the man’s bond because the wrong box was checked. The school board lawyer appealed Judge Ammon’s decision.

I made a late appearance in the case and stayed up all night writing a last-minute brief on behalf of the bail agent. We won in the end. The defendant didn’t lose his bond money because the wrong box was checked.

It was a classic case of substance over form. Most would call it justice.

Ammons Rules in Favor of “Vote For Six”

A few weeks ago, Judge Ammons ruled in favor of several “Vote For Six” petitioners in his courtroom.

The Fayetteville City Council had voted (6-4) to stop a ballot initiative to put four “At-Large” seats on the council because a particular form wasn’t filled out at the start of the petition process. The Petitioners asked for emergency relief from the court. Judge Ammons ruled in their favor.

“Quite frankly, at the end of the day, a group of concerned citizens circulated a petition that the City Council fully knew about,” Ammons said. “They needed 5,000 signatures. They got those 5,000 signatures. Apparently, six out of 10 of the City Council arbitrarily decided that they weren’t going to allow the ballot to be printed.”

“I want to point everybody to the North Carolina Constitution, Article I, Section 2:  Sovereignty of the people,” Ammons said as he announced his decision in favor of Vote Yes Committee members Bobby Hurst, Karl Merritt and Suzanne Pennink. “All political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.”

As it stands today, if you’re a citizen of Fayetteville, you will get to vote to alter the makeup of the city council in November’s election.

Colvin Appeals Ammons Ruling

After losing, Mayor Colvin called an emergency council meeting. Three members didn’t show up. The council voted (4-3) to appeal the decision.

The Court of Appeals recently ruled that the matter would remain on the ballot. However, the court has yet to decide the legal validity of the petition.

The result of all this is flat-out worrisome. We’re going to have an election in November where the citizens of Fayetteville will decide whether to change the makeup of our city council. Mayor Colvin and the council could then try to overturn the results by challenging the legal validity of the Petition in the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

All because of a form…

Battle Continues on the Air

Mayor Colvin went on 640am a few days ago and continued to fight the petition. To discredit it, he stated that there would be “six at-large seats” in the new arrangement and that these six would be a “controlling majority.”

https://omny.fm/shows/the-podcast-pepper/september-15-2022-mayor-mitch-colvin

Colvin was wrong, and the host tried to point it out, but Colvin continued to misrepresent the petition, which is strange because he’s one of the “six”:

The number “six” from “Vote For Six” includes:

  • 4 At-Large Seats
  • 1 District Seat
  • The Mayor’s Seat

You’ll get to vote to fill these “six” seats if the new arrangement passes.

Is Colvin intentionally misrepresenting the issue? Ask him. But you have to wonder if he read the petition before he decided to spend thousands of tax dollars in legal fees to appeal it.

Adding fuel to the fire, newly-elected councilman Mario Benavente made headlines last week when he accused Judge Ammons of judicial misconduct for even hearing the case:

https://www.fayobserver.com/story/news/2022/09/15/mario-benavente-fayetteville-nc-councilman-accuses-judge-jim-ammons-misconduct/10371017002/

Benavente also went on 640am to talk about his accusations. He didn’t back down.

https://omny.fm/shows/the-podcast-pepper/september-16-2022-mario-benavente

Ultimately, Benavente admitted he had no evidence to support his claims.

A Final Appeal

This isn’t going well, folks.

We’re spinning off the rails here, heading full-speed into a political nightmare, and there’s no good reason for it. Colvin recently stated that the purpose of the appeal is to seek “clarity.” I’m forced to ask what clarity exists in trying to overturn the results of an election. Recent attempts to do so only caused hate, division, violence, and distrust in our system of government. If you want “clarity,” let the people decide, and then honor their decision.

Justice doesn’t come from a form.

The People vs. Colvin and Co.

Politicians like to stay in power. As a result, they’re unlikely to change the method of their own election, if they can help it. Such is the case in Fayetteville at the present moment.

Background

North Carolina law provides a way for citizens to change the way they elect their municipal leaders:

In a Chapter entitled “MODIFICATION OF FORM OF GOVERNMENT” lives this statute:

§ 160A-104.  Initiative petitions for charter amendments.

The people may initiate a referendum on proposed charter amendments. An initiative petition shall bear the signatures and resident addresses of a number of qualified voters of the city equal to at least ten percent (10%) of the whole number of voters who are registered to vote in city elections according to the most recent figures certified by the State Board of Elections or 5,000, whichever is less…

Upon receipt of a valid initiative petition, the council shall call a special election on the question of adopting the charter amendments proposed therein, and shall give public notice thereof in accordance with G.S. 163-287. The date of the special election shall be fixed on a date permitted by G.S. 163-287. If a majority of the votes cast in the special election shall be in favor of the proposed changes, the council shall adopt an ordinance amending the charter to put them into effect….

The People

A group of people in Fayetteville wanted to change our city council from nine single-member districts to five single-member districts and four at-large seats.

They started a petition and got 5,007 signatures:

https://www.votefor6.com/2022/06/17/vote-yes-fayetteville-initiative-secures-5007-signatures/

Everything was on track to have the issue submitted to the voters of Fayetteville in the upcoming November election.

Colvin and Company

Mayor Colvin and five members of the City Council recently voted to table the issue. They won’t give voters the choice in November.

The reason they give: a form wasn’t filled out.

I’m not kidding.

Here’s the law they say wasn’t followed. It’s in a different chapter dealing with “Petitions for Elections and Referenda”:

§ 163-218.  Registration of notice of circulation of petition.

From and after July 1, 1957, notice of circulation of a petition calling for any election or referendum shall be registered with the county board of elections with which the petition is to be filed, and the date of registration of the notice shall be the date of issuance and commencement of circulation of the petition.  

History

Colvin’s been against at-large seats from the start, arguing that they will dilute minority voting power. This is incorrect, as I pointed out last year if you’re curious:

https://crosscreekdivide.com/2021/03/30/mayor-colvin-ignores-his-own-reality/

Regardless, Colvin and his voting block on council will do everything they can to stop this referendum, even denying the will of 5,007 petitioners because of one form.

Who will win? No one knows. That’s the point. If you keep the issue off the ballot, it can’t pass.

But if I’m a Judge, I’m erring on the side of “the people” to modify their own form of government.

Without that right, we’re no longer free.

The Coming Test

As America emerges from the grey clouds of the pandemic, our differences seem sharp and clear. Some credit goes to the Supreme Court, which expanded gun rights in the face of continued mass killings and ended a constitutional right to abortion that existed for almost 50 years. On the economic front, we face record inflation and energy prices. A recession seems imminent and each party wants to blame the other. But who has a solution?

President Biden is too old to govern effectively and his poll numbers reflect this. Former President Trump’s popularity is dwindling in Republican circles. I hope both Trump and Biden will either get out of the way or be forced out. Their moment is past. If neither runs, it opens the door for each party to put forward their best and brightest and have a legitimate debate about the future of America.

This is an important moment. We desperately need this battle, because we’re living in two different countries. One is red, white and rural and the other is blue, brown, and urban, and we are long past due for a legitimate debate about how to reconcile the two.

We can’t both be right. We learned that in 1865. Have we forgotten? Ultimate questions will not go away because we’re busy watching Netflix, and they can’t hide behind cloth masks.

Who are we? Who are we going to be? Do we even care?

Whether we like it or not, we will be tested. Our Constitution will be tested. Is it still in us as Americans to rise to the occasion? Can it still work?

We’re going to find out.

Physicians Group Opposes Fair Medical Billing

There’s a bill in the North Carolina Legislature that seeks to eliminate some surprise medical billing, among other things. Here’s a real-world example from Cumberland County:

Yours truly found himself with an exceptionally bad intestinal bug a few years ago. I then found myself in the Cape Fear Valley Hoke Emergency Room. I figured Hoke would have a shorter line. After I was admitted, a staff member rolled a fancy computer with a credit card scanner beside my bed. She took my insurance info and showed me what me what it would cost out-of-pocket. I paid before anyone would see me. It wasn’t cheap. They gave me IV fluids and ran some labs.

A few weeks later, I got a bill from the lab technician for several hundred dollars. I called Cape Fear and told them I already paid for everything. Cape Fear’s response was that their lab was “in-network” but the person who actually worked in the lab was not. He was special, apparently.

I was pretty upset, but I paid it anyways.

I think a lot of people do.

Most of you have probably faced the maze of medical billing at some point in your life. It’s insane. I deal with it every day in my legal practice, and I’m often frustrated by the amount of waste and deception that is involved. This provision is a step in the right direction:

All contracts or agreements for participation as an in-network health service facility between an insurer offering health benefit plans in this State and a health service facility at which there are out-of-network providers who may be part of the provision of services to an insured while receiving care at the health service facility shall require that the in-network health service facility give at least 72 hours’ advanced written notification to an insured that has scheduled an appointment at that health service facility of the provision of any services by an out-of-network provider to the insured while at that health service facility. If there are not at least 72 hours between the scheduling of the appointment and the appointment, then the in-network health service facility is required to give written notice to the insured on the day the appointment is scheduled. In the case of emergency services, the health service facility is required to give written notice to the insured as soon as reasonably possible. The written notice required by this subsection shall include all of the following:

(1) All of the health care providers that will be rendering services to the insured that are not participating as in-network health care providers in the applicable insurer’s network.
(2) The estimated cost to the insured of the services being rendered by the out-of-network providers identified in subdivision (1) of this subsection.

Click to access H149v3.pdf

Doctors Oppose Patient Protections

The North Carolina Medical Society, a special interest group representing physicians, opposes this reform. Per Paul Woolverton at the Fayetteville Observer:

The Medical Society has concerns about this provision, Baggett said.

“We’d like to see an end to surprise billing also,” he said, but doctors worry that when they see the cost, some patients may forgo care that they need. The Society wants to work with the legislature to find another solution to surprise billing, he said.

https://www.fayobserver.com/story/news/2022/06/01/medicaid-expansion-healthcare-north-carolina-medicaid-con-certificate-of-need/9914529002/

The arrogance of physicians (and their lobbyists) in this case is baffling.

When people can’t afford the cost of a service, they don’t usually ask for it. You don’t get to trick them into accepting your service by hiding the cost up front. In any other instance in our society, we would simply call this “fraud.”

Apparently, the physicians and their lobbyists prefer the current way we do things: don’t tell people what it’s going to cost and send them a bill later. If they don’t pay it, send them to collections and wreck their credit score.

It’s awful, and it ruins people’s faith in our health care system.

Fix it.