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City of Fayetteville files appeal on referendum to change council elections

Supporters of adding at-large districts say delay wastes taxpayers’ money


The city of Fayetteville has appealed a judge’s order that it schedule a referendum on a plan that would add at-large seats to the City Council.

The ruling by Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons last week mandated that the council approve a November referendum on the proposal by the Vote Yes Fayetteville advocacy group to reshape the way City Council members are elected.

The decision was appealed to the N.C. Court of Appeals, according to City Attorney Karen McDonald.

She declined further comment on Wednesday.

Mayor Mitch Colvin also declined to comment.

Lonnie Player, the Fayetteville attorney who is representing the Vote Yes group, said the city has asked for a stay that, “in the midst of back-and-forth with the city,” would delay implementation of Ammons’ ruling until the Court of Appeals has more thoroughly reviewed the case.

Ammons ruled on Sept. 1, in a suit brought by members of the Vote Yes group, that the referendum be placed on the November ballot to allow voters to decide if they want to change the way the City Council is structured.

Attorney Edwin Speas, who represented the city and the Cumberland County Board of Elections in the civil lawsuit, had told Ammons that the city would work with the county Board of Elections to begin the process to put the referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Bobby Hurst, one of the organizers of the Vote Yes Fayetteville initiative, said the delay is a waste of money.

"Only seven council members were present on a specially called meeting to vote on whether to appeal the ruling by Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons," Hurst said. "The action of a very slim majority is continued misuse of taxpayer money in an effort to take the people's voting rights away. It is easy to sue and spend mounting legal fees when you are spending someone else's money."

The Vote Yes Fayetteville initiative calls for electing four City Council members at large and five from districts. The mayor would still be elected citywide. Currently, all nine council members are elected by district.

The city’s appeal reiterated arguments that the Vote Yes group did not follow all procedures when it circulated a petition calling for the referendum.

“A local board of elections should not be forced to print ballots that are invalid,” the city’s appeal reads. “Yet that is precisely what the trial court’s decision mandates, and in the absence of a temporary stay and writ of supersedeas, that is precisely what will occur. …

“This change would significantly alter how Fayetteville’s citizens have been represented at the local-government level for over two decades,” the appeal reads. “The underlying dispute arose when the Cumberland County Board of Elections confirmed to the Fayetteville City Council that one of the statutory requirements for the ‘Vote Yes Fayetteville’ petition was not met. A valid initiative petition must meet certain statutory requirements.”

Proponents of the plan — including the Vote Yes Fayetteville group — say it would give voters more representation on the City Council because each voter would help choose the mayor, four at-large council members, and a district representative.

CityView TODAY publisher Tony Chavonne, a former mayor, is among the supporters of the initiative.

Opponents — including the mayor and five other members of the current council — say it would dilute representation by increasing the size of the districts and creating hardships for minority candidates who would have to run their campaigns citywide at a higher cost to them.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, Vote Yes, City Council, elections