State Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Jr. spent better than two hours in a Raleigh courtroom this morning listening attentively and asking numerous questions as lawyers for the City of Asheville and the Attorney General’s office debated the constitutionality of legislation passed this spring by the General Assembly to seize the City of Asheville’s municipally-owned and managed water system and turn it over to a newly-formed regional entity.
Though the hearing featured a great deal of give and take between the judge and the lawyers, the argument was clearly dominated by Asheville’s lawyer, Mecklenburg County Senator Dan Clodfelter. Clodfelter, an attorney at the firm of Moore and Van Allen (which is, ironically enough, Governor McCrory’s old employer) offered a lengthy and detailed presentation in which he explained the history of the Asheville system and the almost comically ham-fisted efforts of conservative legislators to remove the system from city control as part of a longstanding partisan battle.
Manning, one of the state’s most experienced and respected jurists, clearly grasped the legal (and political) realities of the case from the outset of the hearing.
At one point, after Clodfelter had explained in great detail how clear it was that the bill had been designed only to target Asheville (a fact that would likely make it unconstitutional given that the state constitution bars the legislature from passing local bills dealing with health and sanitation) Manning remarked that the only thing that would have made the legislature’s intent to target Asheville more obvious would have been a provision spelling out that the affected area would “have to have the Grove Park Inn.”
At another, Manning also brought up (and analogized to) the General Assembly’s equally controversial efforts to seize Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the city of Charlotte.
Manning did not indicate how or when he would rule on the state’s motion to dismiss the complaint or the city’s request to have the temporary restraining order previously issued in the case converted into a preliminary injunction while the matter proceeds to trial.
For more detailed information on the long saga of the Asheville water system, check out the stories of reporter Mark Barrett in the Asheville Citizen-Times (his most recent one can be found here), David Forbes’ stories at the Mountain Xpress and the website Save Our Water WNC.