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League Bulletin

March 6, 2020

​WHAT HAPPENED: Among other things, Super Tuesday. 

WHAT IT MEANS: Voters across North Carolina (and many other states simultaneously, hence the "Super") selected 2020 General Election nominees for offices local to presidential. The statewide 31 percent voter turnout (which includes early voting), was a few percentage points down from the turnout of the 2016 presidential primaries, but that was when both major political parties had loaded ballots. While several states still have presidential primaries ahead, the last of them in June, North Carolina is mostly settled on the primaries specific to its own borders, such as for U.S. Senate, the Council of State and the General Assembly. 

ON TAP: Repeat, mostly settled. Tight results for some offices appeared to perk runoff elections. Other primaries, however, were decisive, including the gubernatorial -- Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican, will face off for the top state seat in November, having won nominations by massive margins. 

THE SKINNY: Read on for the details, and remember that Tuesday's results are considered "unofficial" until the March 13 canvass, in which elections officials are to ensure all valid votes are properly recorded. Also in this bulletin: billboards, broadband, COVID-19 info, local ordinances and more, with a reminder as well about the upcoming CityVision 2020 conference just ahead in Wilmington.

With the way this year is speeding by, it'll be May before we know it. Don't wait to register for the biggest and best annual conference available to North Carolina's municipal staff and elected officials -- CityVision, May 6-7 in beautiful downtown Wilmington. Mark your calendars for the Wilmington Convention Center overlooking the Cape Fear River. Register early to avoid late registration fees. Pre-registration ends Friday, April 10.

Brought to you by the League of Municipalities, CityVision always brings future-readying educational opportunities and classic camaraderie among municipal officials from the staff and elected levels across North Carolina.  

Expect two days of engaging speakers, educational sessions and one-on-one time that will give you the tools you need to face challenges in your town or city. This year, CityVision will include ethics training for elected officials. This training meets the criteria for ethics training as state law requires. Other educational sessions will focus on employment law, water & wastewater, cyber security, economic development and so much more. 

CityVision's newest addition will be a Speed Networking session inside the Riverside Expo exhibit hall. We invite you to take advantage of this one-on-one time with sponsors and exhibitors on May 6. The League’s Shield Services risk control staff will host Law Enforcement Firearm Training preview sessions. These 30-minute sessions will use state-of-the-art technology that trains police officers how to appropriately respond and de-escalate when confronted with an active shooter, combative member of the community, or other, similar scenarios.

Don't wait. Head to our event page for all the info you need to prepare for CityVision 2020 in Wilmington. 

Clicking on results from Tuesday's primaries for N.C. Senate seats, the first name that appears is that of the League's immediate past president -- Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lazzara. The Republican, seeking to succeed the retiring Sen. Harry Brown (too a Republican) in the General Assembly, handily won his primary with 63 percent of the vote. Lazzara will be on the November ballot against Democrat Ike Johnson. On the other side of the state, Asheville City Council Member Julie Mayfield won the Democratic nomination for her state Senate district, again with a big majority vote. She'll be up against Candler Republican Bob Penland in November. (That seat is currently held by Sen. Terry Van Duyn, but she opted to run for lieutenant governor this year instead.) They're just a couple examples of local government officials vying to bring their experience into higher office. Charlotte City Council Member Dimple Ajmera ran for state treasurer as a Democrat and as of this writing trailed closely behind fellow Democrat Ronnie Chatterji for the nomination. Chatterji, a professor from Durham, would face incumbent Republican Dale Folwell for the seat. Complete results from this week's primaries, from presidential picks to Congress to statewide seats to the General Assembly to judicial slots and to county commissioners and in between, are viewable at The state elections board also developed a state map with clickable counties​ for a look at how localities voted, including on local referenda. 

Emphasize the role of local control over billboard sign regulations, said comments submitted by the League this week. The comments, offered to the N.C. Department of Transportation in response to proposed changes to the agency’s outdoor advertising rules​, focused on ensuring that state rules encompassed local regulatory authority as well. The agency initiated this rulemaking in response to a requirement to review and revise its rules at least once a decade. While most of the proposed changes were ministerial updates, the League asked the agency to reference local billboard ordinances in the rule definitions. The League argued that this change would reiterate local control over outdoor advertising in cities and towns.

Meeting to discuss ways to improve the state’s level of economic activity, several legislators this week called out broadband access as a top need. The legislators, all leaders of the Joint Legislative Commission on Economic Development and Global Engagement, began the commission’s meeting by listing limited broadband access as a critical weakness in our state’s infrastructure. Co-chair Rep. Steve Ross recounted how a business owner in his district -- a largely urbanized are -- just recently received adequate broadband to serve his business’ needs. He expressed his desire to study ways to build on recent policies the legislature had enacted to expand broadband access. Commission vice chairs Sen. Harry Brown and Rep. Jason Saine picked up on Representative Ross’ thread, stating that while they were proud of a new broadband grant program funded by the legislature over the past two years, they knew that more state investment in broadband was needed.

The commission may look at the status of broadband access in the state at a future meeting. Meanwhile, the League will continue to make the case for local involvement in building the necessary broadband infrastructure to support local business owners and residents. Legislators could take a large step forward in expanding internet availability across the state by passing HB 431 FIBER NC Act​, a bill that would allow cities and counties to build broadband infrastructure when leasing it to a private internet service provider. That bill may be considered in the upcoming legislative short session.

Local government officials told members of the state General Statutes Commission​ on Friday that differences in communities across the state require different approaches to local ordinances and whether or not they carry misdemeanor criminal penalties. The commission was authorized by the General Assembly to study duplication of criminal penalties, including local ordinances that can carry a misdemeanor penalty. The study comes as some advocates have pushed to curb or eliminate criminal penalties as enforcement mechanisms in local ordinances.

Burlington Police Chief Jeff Smythe told commission members that criminal enforcement – though rarely used – is needed to force compliance when civil penalties fail to gain violators’ attention. Raleigh Deputy City Attorney Dottie Kibler said the use of a criminal misdemeanor will often force compliance much quicker than attempting to pursue an injunction in court. “Our goal is to get compliance,” she said. 

The message from local officials appeared to be heard, as commission members noted how different local noise and dangerous animal ordinances are from each other, and how a local approach appeared best to address differences in communities and their standards. The commission, facing a deadline of May 1 to issue a report, indicated that they were likely to issue an interim that looked at the issue broadly and did not dive into the merits of individual local ordinances. The commission is expected to hear from advocates favoring streamlining of criminal penalties at their April meeting.

League staff helped to arrange the testimony on Friday and will continue to monitor this important issue involving local authority. 

If your municipality has outdoor lighting, then this is an important event. Make sure your town is represented. Join the League and Duke Energy for a discussion on street lighting strategies and rate updates at the NC APWA state conference in April. The session on outdoor lighting will be at 4 p.m. on April 23 and is an opportunity for League members and Duke Energy Outdoor Lighting to discuss outdoor lighting rate updates, process and overview for converting lights to LED, any upcoming projects (including small attachment capabilities), and any questions municipal customers may have.

This session continues discussions that began after the League intervened in the utility’s rate cases before the N.C. Utilities Commission in 2013 and 2017. The League of Municipalities has again intervened on Duke’s current rate cases,​ and the Utility Commission’s hearings start this month. Read news from this week​ about the rate cases.

Already at everyone's attention, COVID-19, the illness associated with the coronavirus going around, has led to a second documented case in North Carolina as of this writing. WRAL News has the story with details from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS has set up an information page on COVID-19 specific to the North Carolina context, with basic information, ways to stay healthy and a rundown on how officials are preparing and responding. "DHHS is working with federal and local health officials, health care providers and emergency management officials to protect the health and wellbeing of North Carolinians," the agency stated. The governor launched a task force​ in the effort in February.