Hopkins city council run builds on momentum of anti-annexation movement

by Keith Barber

John Hopkins, a candidate for the Republican nomination to represent Winston-Salem’s North Ward, frequently cites a 2006 NC Court of Appeals ruling in favor of a group of citizens who fought annexation as proof that his fight is a just one. Hopkins, president of Forsyth Citizens Against Forced Annexation, said the court’s ruling in the case of Nolan vs. Village of Marvin was based on state statutes that require municipalities to provide “meaningful services” to annexed residents before involuntary annexation can occur. In that case, the village of Marvin only extended administrative services to its annexed residents, which did not meet the state standard.

Three years ago, when the city of Winston- Salem forcibly annexed the Wedgewood subdivision where Hopkins and his family have resided since 1994, he said his tax bill doubled and all he got from the city was the installation of a single streetlight. Hopkins decided to toss his hat into the political ring as a result of his dissatisfaction with being annexed. “We want three things: a voice, a vote, some sort of input in the process,” Hopkins said. “We want meaningful services. Right now, my taxes are doubled and what did I get? Streetlights. I have less money in my pocket now and I have less freedoms.” Thirdly, Hopkins said he and his fellow annexed residents in the city want to have some recourse to voice their opposition to involuntary annexation. “We want to have some recourse — a check and a balance,” Hopkins said. “If the city annexes you, who do you go to? It would take a hundred thousand-dollar lawsuit and citizens of meager means are having to fight a Goliath

in court where only the attorneys win.” Hopkins and Forsyth Citizens Against Forced Annexation took their case all the way to the NC Supreme Court in 2006, but their appeal was denied. If elected, Hopkins said he would propose an annexation process that would grant oversight to the Forsyth County Commissioners, and allow for residents to vote on whether or not they want to be annexed. In a March 2006 press release posted on the website, Hopkins stated, “We do not oppose annexation, but we do oppose forcing people against their will and without their consent. It is just un-American! The city of Winston-Salem has been acting like the schoolyard bully in this annexation. Well, we are not going to give up our lunch money without a fight!” Despite the legal setback, Hopkins pointed out that the forced annexation debate rages on throughout the state. On July 8, the NC House delayed a vote on a bill that would significantly amend state statutes on involuntary property annexation. By a vote of 60-59, the House voted to send the bill back to the Appropriations Committee to get an estimate on how much it would cost to have the Local Government Commission oversee all voluntary annexations. NC Rep. Larry Brown, a Forsyth County Republican who has sponsored or cosponsored five pieces of legislation related to forced annexation in the current legislative session, said he believes the bill will come up for a vote this week. “It will be close but I think it will pass,” Brown said. “It’s not a good bill in my opinion. It doesn’t go far enough to hold the cities and the [NC] League of Municipalities feet to the fire, but it’s progress.” The current legislation isn’t as far-reaching as House Bill 498, a bill Brown sponsored that stipulates “no annexation ordinance may take effect until a vote of the people affected by the proposed annexation has been conducted by the appropriate board of elections, and the results certified indicate that more than 50 percent of the voters approve the annexation.” Brown said North Carolina is one of only a handful of states that allows forced annexation and Hopkins represents a growing number of citizens who are outraged by the trampling of their liberties. Currently, there are 35 different municipalities in the state grappling with forced annexation issues. “To deny people a vote in the state of North Carolina is ridiculous; that’s what democracy is all about,” Brown said. “Satellite annexations, extra-territorial jurisdiction — all these things are infuriating the citizens of North Carolina. [The legislature] needs to do something or it’s going to cause a revolution in North Carolina. Citizens are that upset about this issue.” Hopkins acknowledges that the North Ward encompasses a number of diverse neighborhoods and including some near the downtown area that have no experience with involuntary annexation. But Hopkins sees the issue of forced annexation as one that transcends race and geography. “People who were annexed were both black and white,” Hopkins said. “People forget how conservative the black community is. I’m very much from the Margaret Thatcher school of thought. I’m a small-government conservative running as a Republican. The things I’m talking about are common-sense issues. No one wants their tax money spent imprudently and they don’t want city government to treat them rudely.”