A Possible Way Forward on Districts
I’ve been listening to many of you about the positives and negatives of city council districts as well as how they came about and, based on these discussions, I want to offer a possible way forward.
As someone who admittedly has been on both sides of the issue and has tried to keep an open mind about it, I see the merits of each side. Those who support districts believe that they better represent the needs of neighborhoods by making council members more accountable to average residents. Those who support an at-large system prefer the ability to vote for every member of Council and worry that a district system will pit parts of the city against each other. Then there are many who could live with a district system, but oppose the 2020 district system because they want to send a message to Raleigh.
I’ve thought hard about this and, thanks to a suggestion from a constituent, I am proposing that we allow the 2020 districts to be implemented, BUT ALSO ADD two at-large council members who would be elected in 2020 taking the total of at-large members elected in 2020 to three plus the two district seats. This would create a truly mixed district/at-large system by increasing the total number of council members from seven to nine – five elected in districts and four elected at-large (three at-large members plus the mayor). By doing so, every City voter could elect a majority (five) of Council – their district representative plus the four at-large seats. Furthermore, we would get the benefit of neighborhood and geographical representation through districts, but minimize the possibility that the City will become “balkanized.” Finally, adding an additional two council members provides an opportunity for more voices to be at the Council dais.
Across North Carolina, city councils vary in their size and combination of district/at-large representation. For example, Greensboro has a nine-member council with five district and four at-large members. Of larger North Carolina cities, only Asheville and Wilmington do not have any districts. The City Attorney has told me that we have the authority to set the total number of council members as long as the total is between three and twelve. Given that the annual Council member salary is $21,300 (including stipend), adding two members would not significantly impact the budget.
I am going to raise this concept of adding two at-large council members at our Council workshop tonight at 5pm at the Civic Center and will also suggest that we reinstate the primary process for elections. I want to hear your feedback and thoughts on this proposal. Let’s have an in-depth, public discussion on this issue. Please email me at my Council email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach all of us on Council by using the following email address: AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov.
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