UNCG and Guilford County team up to tackle opiod crisis (copy)

Former N.C. Sen. Trudy Wade

Former state Sen. Trudy Wade may be gone from public life (at least for now).

But she is far from forgotten.

Nor is her legacy as chief bottle-washer for state Senate leader Phil Berger, as a reliable foe of clean air and water, and as a relentless meddler in local affairs who used her power in Raleigh to settle old scores in Greensboro and Guilford County.

Eventually, Wade, a Republican from Greensboro, paid for all that by losing her bid for re-election. But we’re still paying, too. Literally. A federal judge has ruled that Guilford County must foot the legal bills for eight plaintiffs who joined the city of Greensboro in a 2017 suit that successfully challenged an attempt by Wade to drastically change the Greensboro City Council.

Wade’s bill reduced the council from nine to seven members, eliminated at-large seats and stripped the mayor of a vote, except to break ties. Wade, a former county commissioner and Greensboro council member, said she was pushing this at the request of local citizens whom she never named. Nor had she consulted the council or asked for any public input about the proposal. No matter. By hook and crook, she rammed the bill into law in 2015.

Voters’ revenge

Wade finally got her comeuppance at the polls, losing to Democrat Michael Garrett in 2018. But here we are again, left holding the bag. Those legal fees that have been charged to the county total an estimated $600,000. Or more.

Consider, for a moment, where the county could better spend $600,000. To fight opioid addiction? To address ongoing school building and maintenance needs? To better staff the county Animal Shelter?

You could argue whether this stinging invoice is fair, since the county had nothing to do with the case and didn’t fight it in court. But, as the News & Record’s Danielle Battaglia and Taft Wireback reported last week, the plaintiffs sued the county as an extension of the state because the county conducts local elections and enforces election laws. When U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles overturned the council overhaul law as unconstitutional, she also ruled that the county was not liable for the plaintiffs’ legal fees. But a federal appeals court reversed that ruling in April. So here we are.

County commissioners Chairman Alan Branson vows to fight that ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, if need be.

Regrets. We’ve had a few.

In an ironic aside to all this, one of the current commissioners, Melvin “Skip” Alston, has suggested that the local lawmakers seek help from the state in paying the bill. Then again, Alston had a hand in Wade’s law, too.

He was part of a group of “intervenors” in the case, who argued that the Wade’s law should be allowed to stand. That group eventually requested that the judge drop them from the case. Alston has since said he regrets his support for Wade’s law.

There’s plenty of regret to go around:

The distraction it created for the City Council, which was forced to spend time and energy fighting it.

The costs to city taxpayers to fight Wade’s law.

Wade and other Republican state lawmakers’ insistence on involving themselves into local affairs, here and in other parts of the state.

Of course, the fact is, none of this should have happened in the first place.

Send the bill to Raleigh

Wade should have stayed out of the Greensboro council’s business. And the legislators who aided and abetted her should not have allowed her to bully her way to the council law’s passage.

If justice truly were to be served in this case, this bill ought to be mailed to one person only: Trudy Wade. And she should own it. So should her enabler in Raleigh in Berger, the most powerful politician in the state. And so should any of the lawmakers who supported it.

Raleigh lawmakers foisted this ill-considered and wholly unnecessary law on Greensboro.

And they ought to pay for it.

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