Should Asheville City Council members be elected by districts?
It’s a question that may be put to voters this November. After years of debate, and forced by the prospect of state lawmakers forcing their decision, City Council on Tuesday took the first toward putting a district election referendum on the ballot.
City Council first adopted a resolution of intent to amend city charter to allow for district elections, and put that issue on the ballot in November. The new district election system would go into effect in 2019, according to the resolution.
City Council also set a June 27 public hearing to take local comment on the issue. Council members decided to approve putting the referendum on the ballot during its July 25 meeting.
Mayor Esther Manheimer said City Council was pushed into action by an Asheville district elections bill making its way through the N.C. General Assembly. That bill has been approved in the N.C. Senate and awaits action by the N.C. House, she said. So far, that bill hasn’t moved, and Manheimer said reports out of Raleigh are that state lawmakers want to wrap up their $23 million budget by the end of the month or the first of July.
“The bottom line is we don’t know if this bill will pass or not. But if we want a referendum, we need to adopt this resolution tonight,” Manheimer said.
Council may know the fate of the bill by its July meeting, and “we can pull the plug if the bill doesn’t move at all,” she said.
Councilman Cecil Bothwell said council may still want to discuss whether to put the issue to voters if the Raleigh bill fails. Earlier this year, City Council spent $10,000 of taxpayers’ money to commission a telephone poll of city voters.
They got mixed results. Some 54 percent of respondents said “yes” when asked whether Asheville should keep its current at-large voting arrangements for all members of City Council and the mayor; 34 percent said no and 12 percent weren’t sure.
But when asked if they would vote in favor of single-member districts for council members if such a question appeared on a ballot, 54 percent of respondents said they would, with 35 percent answering “no” and 11 percent unsure.
“Council may know the fate of the bill by its July meeting, and ‘we can pull the plug if the bill doesn’t move at all,’ Manheimer said.”
So much for listening to the will of the people.