Every local governing body in North Carolina derives its existence and authority from the General Assembly and state constitution, a document established “for the better government of this State.”

If there were a test for “better government,” H2GO and the Town of Belville would flunk.

In all the years we’ve written about government bodies, this is the first time we recall being unsure who’s legally in charge of one. And this is an entity that provides vital water and/or sewer service to 10,000 customers.

After an election did not go their way, three of the five H2GO commissioners voted on Nov. 28 to convey the assets and operations of the utility to the Town of Belville. On Dec 1., at the request of the Town of Leland, a judge issued a temporary restraining order halting the transfer. With one of its new members changing its balance of power, the new H2G0 board voted Monday to stop the turnover. On Tuesday, Belville asked a court to declare Monday’s action in contempt of the Dec. 1 restraining order.

Was there a legal transfer to begin with? Was there a partial transfer? Who’s running H2GO? Confused? We are, too.

On Tuesday, we asked the state treasurer’s office -- which has certain oversight over H2GO through the Local Government Commission -- who has control of the utility:

“We are unsure what entity currently has legal control of the assets of H2GO Brunswick County Water and Sewer. It is the subject of a legal action that we are not involved in,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.

The Local Government Commission had pleaded with H2G0 to seek advice from counsel concerning the transfer of debt. The LGC made it clear that it would have to approve any such transaction. The LCG also urged Belville to take more time to consider the ramifications of taking over the utility. The advice apparently was ignored.

In addition to the Local Government Commission’s requirements, other state rules create accountability and transparency among local entities. In effect, they ensure better government. This system has helped give North Carolina the nation’s highest percentage of government units with AAA bond ratings. That saves taxpayers and ratepayers millions in interest when borrowing is necessary.

H2GO and Belville have shown contempt for that system of legally mandated oversight. By rushing into an agreement with no public input and skirting proper procedures, both acted recklessly.

As a result, it’s a big-old mess; one that could have -- and should have -- been avoided.

The good people of North Brunswick deserve better government.