Thursday, September 3, 2009

Asheville Citizens Being Cheated of Water Assets

Asheville Citizen-Times Guest Commentary Reprint
Published March 6, 2009

I would like to thank the AC-T for turning the meticulous talents of columnist John Boyle loose last week. As much as I enjoyed all that warm and fuzzy attention, I do wish the column, "Boyle: Council needs to confront Mumpower," (AC-T, Feb. 28), had focused more on the real issue - the purloining of Asheville's water system by our local legislators.

Yes, I know the word "purloining" is mushy, but I do not want to upset anyone by using the word "stealing." It's OK to define what shoplifters do as stealing, but when you are a Raleigh power broker and push through laws that capture control of a one billion dollar asset - that is somehow different. So I have settled on the word purloining so as not to offend my fellow council members, the purloiners, and the citizens of Asheville who have been conned into believing that stealing a water system is not really stealing.

For two years I have mostly cooperated with my Council colleagues as we have legally challenged the right of our legislators to purloin the city's water system. We lost all the way up to the State Supreme Court - each and every layer said our legislators had the legal right to take control of our water system if they wanted to. The courts said they had the right - they did not, at any point, say it was right.

The central issue of this water war is not some soggy old law from the 1930s. This fight is about Sullivan Acts II and III that were championed and passed in Raleigh by local legislators just two years ago. These laws insured that Asheville citizens would be cheated of the benefits of their water assets; treated differently than every other city in the state; and forced to continue carrying their extra heavy tax burden. The fact that our forefathers had the wisdom to purchase the two reservoirs at the heart of the system did not matter. That the titles to most of the water lines and infrastructure are owned by Asheville citizens also did not matter. What mattered was whoever had legislated control realistically had ownership.

When the Asheville council majority decided last week that they were going to surrender to this mischief and pander to our legislators, my conscience told me it was time to turn up the volume. I am already in two political battles, so why not three? Besides, I see no difference between drug dealers, those who employ illegal aliens and elected officials who use their office to indulge special interests.
When you are a super-minority of one, playing nice will get you absolutely nowhere. And so it was necessary that I reach into my political bag of tricks and pull out a big gun. In this case it was a weapon seldom used by politicians - candor.

Speaking of which, Mr. Boyle and the AC-T inappropriately criticized my council colleagues for not making a stronger effort to muzzle me. In their defense, they try to do it all the time, but the inconvenient hurdles of freedom of speech and diversity of thought trip them up most of the time. Nonetheless, I want to assure those fans of political correctness that the art form of criticizing the Mumpower guy to avoid looking at the real issues is alive and well.

Then there are the lofty concerns about damaging our relationships with political party cronies and the often-cited "crucial need to work together." Swallowing the truth and embracing these co-conspirators so as to secure more butterfly exhibits for Asheville would be more like joining a gang than a team.

In further contradiction to the spin-meisters, the water issue is not complicated. All we have to do is start treating Asheville like other cities who also own their water system - including Weaverville to our north and Hendersonville to our south. The point of compromise is found in taking five, 10, or more years implementing that simple plan and thus making sure that people in the city and county are treated fairly. If our legislators have a change of heart or the voters seek a change of representation, Sullivan Acts II and III can easily be reformulated from poison to medicine.

I do owe the citizens of Asheville, and for that matter professional criminals and street walkers, a personal apology for calling our state and city officials "thieves" and "prostitutes." In view of their efforts to purloin and sell out the city's $1 billion dollar water system, my language should have been much less restrained.

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