Wade’s bad bills still affecting Guilford
There are all sorts of qualifications that candidates must meet to run for offices, such as minimum age and residency. It’s just too bad we can’t also require them to show proof of accountability. This past week, for example, it was reported that the budget stalemate between Gov. Cooper and the GOP-controlled legislature, is costing taxpayers $42,000 for every day the session goes over. As of last Friday, their overtime tab had exceeded $1 million. In other words, they’ve gone way over budget while arguing to save money on the budget. That’s what you call an ironic absence of accountability. Soon, however, a new budget will go into effect, and all of the money wasted in the process will be absorbed and forgotten. Sometimes, though, our elected representatives do things that can’t just be absorbed and forgotten.
In 2017, then-Sen. Trudy Wade introduced a bill that would allow municipalities to post legal notices on their own websites, rather than publish them in local newspapers, as is required by our State’s Constitution. She pitched it as a pilot program but, in fact, it mainly affected four Guilford County-based newspapers: the Greensboro News and Record, the Jamestown News, the High Point Enterprise, and the Carolina Peacemaker. Coincidentally, those papers had been critical of Wade and had refused to endorse her candidacy; thus, her legislation had the feel of a vendetta. Attorneys for the newspapers filed suit, claiming their clients “were specifically singled out for prior press coverage and editorials…involving certain acts by elected officials from Guilford County.” Attorneys Amanda Martin and Robert Orr also wrote that Wade’s intent “was to restrain the plaintiffs in their coverage of and editorializing about members of the General Assembly, through the diminution of plaintiff’s revenue from the sale of legal advertising.”
To date, the Guilford newspapers continue to spend money on legal fees as they await the appointment of a three-judge panel who could resolve the matter for good.
Sadly, that wasn’t the first time Sen.Wade’s actions had caused chaos and cost people money.
In 2015, she introduced a bill that would have re-aligned Greensboro City Council by reducing the number of councilpersons from nine to seven and stripping the Mayor of most of her powers. Some Council members indicated that Wade’s bill was no more than an attempt to put a majority of Republicans on the City’s governing body. And yet, then-Gov. Pat McCrory, himself a Republican, told me at the time that Wade’s interference in Greensboro government was “legislative overreach.” Realizing that a lawsuit against the State of North Carolina would be problematic, several Greensboro citizens and City Council sued the Guilford County Board of Elections, as a branch of the State, and thankfully they prevailed.
Then, earlier this month it was revealed that a Federal Appeals Court had ruled that Guilford County would have to reimburse plaintiffs’ legal fees, now totaling $600,000.
Many believe that Sen. Wade used her office to wage war on and intimidate the press and interfere with local government, so her failed re-election bid last fall was welcomed news to those she had wronged. But here’s the problem. Wade is no longer a legislator, yet we’re still dealing with the fallout from her vindictive “legislative overreach.”
By all rights, Trudy should be held accountable for the havoc she has wreaked on us. She should be made to pay the $600,000 in legal fees incurred by City Council, as well as fees incurred by the Guilford newspapers, but that’s not likely to happen for two reasons. First of all, Wade probably doesn’t have $600,000 in ready cash laying around, and second, as a state Senator at the time of the complaint, she is immune from civil claims, unless it can be proved that her actions were “malicious or corrupt.”
Of course, Guilford County could sue Wade, and try to prove malice, but that would be difficult, and we taxpayers would just end up stuck with an even bigger bill to pay.
I’ve heard a rumor that Trudy may try to run for office again. If so, let’s hope that the Board of Elections will have revised the candidate qualifications to include “proof of accountability.” That would keep her off the ballot for sure.
Jim Longworth is the host of Triad Today, airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).