The Fayetteville City Council on Monday night is expected to consider a resolution that would allow voters to decide whether to change the way council members are elected.
The Vote Yes initiative would restructure the way City Council members are elected. Instead of all nine members being elected by district, four members would be elected at large and five would be elected from districts. The mayor would still be elected citywide.
In other business Monday, Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins is scheduled to give a second-quarter report on her department.
With the Vote Yes initiative, the council is expected to consider a resolution that would put the issue before voters on Nov. 8.
If the issue is to go before voters this fall, the council needs to take action soon. In an email last week to CityView Today, Cumberland County Board of Elections member Linda Devore said “time is of the essence’’ because absentee ballots are expected to go out on Sept. 9 and the state has already started the ballot printing process for some counties.
The issue was removed from the council's agenda at a June 27 work session and its Aug. 8 regular meeting, when questions were raised about whether the advocacy group promoting the change, Vote Yes Fayetteville, had filed all the paperwork needed to get the referendum on the ballot.
The council directed City Attorney Karen McDonald to request a copy of the notice of circulation and the date of registration from the county Board of Elections. She made the request in a letter on Aug. 9.
Angie Amaro, the interim director of the county Board of Elections, responded to McDonald in a letter on Aug. 16.
Amaro said in her letter that the N.C. State Board of Elections maintains information and guidance on filing petitions on its website. She said the only petition form on the website is a North Carolina Petition Request.
“Neither the state board’s website nor the petition request form mentions a notice of circulation,’’ Amaro wrote in the letter. “I am not aware that any such form exists. Neither a document identified as a notice of circulation nor a North Carolina petition request was filed in my office for this petition.’’
On Saturday, Mayor Mitch Colvin said he didn't see where much has changed since the city first questioned the legal validity of the petition two weeks ago.
"I'm sure the conversation will come up on Monday," he said. " It boils down to the Article 19 of that particular statute and how if those criteria have been met are outlined. I've heard a lot of double-talk about how it didn't apply, but I haven't seen anything that talks about inclusion, also. Pretty much the position of the city attorney had was that 'It didn't appear to be valid.' "
Colvin said the city has requested copies of all the necessary documents, including the N.C. Petition Request, from the Board of Elections several times but it is his understanding that the document doesn't exist in the file.
"And they don't have anything they can provide," he added.
He said he doesn’t know what to anticipate Monday night.
"We'll see where the discussion goes when it comes up," he said when asked if he expects the council to take action on the proposed resolution.
"At the end of the day," the mayor said, "it's not like it's a never-ending thing. If it doesn't happen in November, to me — I'm just thinking we just need to follow the law in accordance with it. It's an important issue, so it will be challenged, probably either way, so we want to make sure that the city is not taking an additional risk, skipping a step or looking at the other way."
Bobby Hurst, one of the organizers of the Vote Yes Fayetteville initiative, said Saturday that the group has done everything it is supposed to do. Amaro verified the signatures on the petition submitted by the Vote Yes group.
“Everything is in order," Hurst said when asked about having all of the appropriate documentation available for the city to address.
He said changing the way the council is elected is something for residents to decide.
“What do the citizens prefer?’’ Hurst said. “It's really up to them, not council. Do you want more representation — six instead of two votes — and you'd have four people instead of (the) mayor looking at the big picture or what's been for Fayetteville as a whole rather than small districts? Those district representatives — their size of City Council would increase from about 23,(000) or 24(,000) to about 41,000 people. So if they're doing a good job, they would love to have a bigger territory.’’
Hurst said he thinks the council should take action on the issue Monday.
"Because as Linda Devore had mentioned, the time is short," he said.
Hurst has previously said that Fayetteville lawyer Neil Yarborough told the committee that the "notice of circulation" procedure does not apply to the Vote Yes petition.
In a memo to the City Council in the agenda materials, McDonald says that upon receipt of a valid petition, the council is obligated by state law to call for a special election.
The memo says the council has three options: adopt the resolution to call for a special election, don’t adopt the resolution or provide additional direction to staff.
The staff recommends that the council vote on whether to adopt the resolution for a special election.
The Cumberland County Board of Elections needs roughly 90 days from the Nov. 8 Election Day to establish proper working and printing for the general-election ballots, including this referendum and the three bond issues from the city of Fayetteville, according to Hurst.
Supporters of the Vote Yes initiative say the plan would strengthen the council, provide better representation for all voters and result in the election of more “big-picture” council members. CityView Today publisher Tony Chavonne is among those who organized the Vote Yes petition drive.
But some opponents say the change would dilute minority voting strength and make it more expensive for candidates who would have to run citywide campaigns rather than district campaigns.
Second quarter crime report
The council also is expected to receive the second-quarter crime statistics from Hawkins on Monday night.
In May, when she delivered first-quarter statistics to the council, Hawkins reported that assault, domestic violence and vehicle theft cases had risen while homicides and rapes decreased. Though crime has been trending downward over the last six years, Hawkins said in May, crime was going up in some areas compared to the first quarter of 2021.
The City Council meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.