09/04/11 — Petitions aren't in the hands of residents

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Petitions aren't in the hands of residents

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on September 4, 2011 1:50 AM

Officials at the Wayne County Board of Elections are still awaiting preclearance before they mail petitions gauging property owner opinion about the deannexation of Goldsboro's Phase 11 area.

The area, which includes Fallingbrook and other residential neighborhoods on and around Buck Swamp and Salem Church roads, was annexed by the city in 2008, but a newly enacted law sponsored by Reps. Efton Sager (R-Wayne) and Stephen LaRoque (R-Lenoir) aims to make the annexation invalid pending the receipt of petitions scheduled to be mailed out to property owners in the area. A 60 percent return of petitions against Phase 11 remaining in the city limits would deannex the area and the city would not be allowed to reconsider the area for annexation again for three years.

The law went into effect June 18 and mandated that the Wayne County Tax Office provide a list of real property owners in the area to the Board of Elections within 30 days of the bill's ratification. After that, the board would then have five business days in which to mail out petitions to those owners. Those property owners then would have 130 days to respond to the petitions before a 10-day period during which the board would communicate the results of the petition to the city.

That timeframe meant the petitions were due to go out no later than July 26, but Wayne County Attorney Borden Parker received instructions from the state attorney general's office to submit the petitions to the U.S. Department of Justice for preclearance before mailing them out, meaning a delay of up to 60 days as the Department of Justice officials determine whether the plan is in accordance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

City Attorney Jim Womble said the petitions and plans for deannexation were sent to the DOJ on Aug. 12, meaning the 60-day review window will end Oct. 11, although Womble pointed out that the DOJ could extend its deadline if needed.

Womble said he has no indication of any sort of timeframe, and that the city was still awaiting word from the capital as of Thursday.

Wayne County Board of Elections Assistant Director Michael Berry said the board is ready to act whenever word is received indicating the plan meets the DOJ's standards.

"As soon as everything's approved, we'll proceed as scheduled," he said.

But LaRoque says the delay in sending out the petitions violates the state law, even suggesting in July that a lawsuit should be filed against Wayne County over the matter.

He said Thursday that the state attorney general's office had decided against a lawsuit, but said he and Sager would look into more legislation to specify to Wayne County that the petitions were to be mailed as scheduled, with preclearance filed for in the meantime as is the case in other counties where annexed areas are seeking to block annexation.

"I'm looking at doing a local bill to address Wayne County's situation and address the Wayne County Board of Elections," he said. "We're going to see if we can't force the hand. We'll see what we can do when we get back on (Sept.) 12th."