A County Attorney Counts Her Blessings

By Aimee Scotton

When I am worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep. And I fall asleep counting my blessings.

Since we’ve reached the start of a new year, I thought this might be a good time to look back and list the things, as a county attorney, that I am thankful for in 2017.  So, in no particular order, here goes:

  • Angels Among Us One of the most wonderful things about being a county attorney in North Carolina is that you’re never alone. We have an incredibly supportive network of county attorneys to consult and with whom to commiserate. If you have a particularly unusual situation, you can bet that someone, somewhere in this great state of ours, has faced it before and can at least point you in the right direction. Even if it’s a brand new evil, you can count on others to weigh in with their thoughts and ideas.  It’s an amazing resource, and one for which I am extremely grateful. An even greater blessing is that this network sometimes allows me the opportunity to be an angel to someone else.
  • Public Servants I’ve frequently heard the phrase “good enough for government work” used to describe something that is just barely acceptable. I even used it occasionally myself before coming to work for Randolph County. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that “government work” is more often “very good indeed” if not “exceptional.”
  • A Higher Calling Which brings me to my next blessing. Public work sometimes feels thankless, but it never feels unimportant. When I defend our property tax values, I am ensuring that the county has the money needed to serve our citizens.  When drafting economic development contracts, I am helping to bring jobs and investment, and protecting the county’s investment in doing so.  When drafting documents for our business continuity planning, I am ensuring that our county can rely on government operations to continue, even in a catastrophic event.  Whatever I’m working on, it is for the good of the public that I serve.  Remembering that can make even a bad day seem good.
  • Gifts from the Legislature It doesn’t happen every day, not even every year, but every now and then, the General Assembly enacts something that makes my life a lot easier. In 2017, it was a change to North Carolina General Statute §153A-372. This statute deals with the equitable enforcement of a building inspection order of condemnation and subsequent order to take corrective action.  When a building inspector condemns a building and subsequently holds a hearing, he may issue an order to the owner of the building ordering him to take corrective action within a certain time period, not less than 60 days.  If the owner fails to appeal the order, it becomes final.  If the owner then fails to take the prescribed corrective action, within the designated timeframe, he is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.  Under the previous version of this law, once the violation had been denominated a misdemeanor, the county had but one avenue of equitable enforcement:  to initiate any appropriate action or proceeding to prevent, restrain, correct, or abate the violation or to prevent the occupancy of the building involved.  This seemed like overkill.  After all, there had already been a hearing, and the failure of the owner to appeal had rendered that order final.  Why is an additional “appropriate action” required? Under the newly-enacted version of §153A-372, it isn’t.  Now, in lieu of initiating any appropriate action, the county may, in the case of a building or structure declared unsafe, cause the building or structure to be removed or demolished.  The statute further provides that the costs incurred by the county in connection with said removal or demolition shall be a lien against the real property upon which the cost was incurred and upon any other real property owned by the owner within the county’s jurisdictional limits, except for the owner’s primary residence.  The cities have had this power for years.  Now, the county statute mirrors the city statute.  This came at a particularly beneficial time for me, since Randolph County has recently begun addressing the removal of these types of dangerous structures.  The new version of §153A-372 became effective July 1, 2017.  Christmas in July!

As 2018 dawns, I hope that each and every one of you can count your blessings and have a safe and happy new year!