Voters in Fayetteville sent the message Tuesday that they are happy with the way the City Council is structured.
In a referendum on the Vote Yes Fayetteville initiative, the plan was rejected by a vote of 26,209 to 20,361, according to unofficial returns.
“The citizens of this community have had enough of the elite controlling the political and economic decisions,” said Mayor Mitch Colvin, who opposed a potential change in the way the City Council is shaped. “And they spoke clearly to that tonight. Other council members and I worked hard to make our case. And the citizens responded to it. Hopefully, we’re finished with this conversation for a while.”
Had the initiative been approved, the City Charter would have been amended and the way City Council members were elected would have been restructured. Instead of all nine members being elected from individual districts, four members would have been elected at-large and five would have been elected by district. The mayor would have continued to be elected citywide.
“I’m not sad,” said Tisha Waddell, a former City Council member and supporter of the Vote Yes effort. “I’ve come to expect results like this out of the city of Fayetteville. I’m not sad; I’m not disappointed. I think that the people have spoken, and now we have to respect what they said and hope that the council will serve in a way that doesn’t make us regret this decision.”
Vote Yes advocates argued that at-large seats would give voters greater representation, increase turnout in municipal elections and create accountability in city government. They say council members elected at-large would be more likely to make decisions that benefit the city as a whole and not only their respective districts.
“I really think it was very confusing for a lot of voters. I’ve had so many people to explain this to at the polls,” Waddell said. “And if I had not been there to articulate to them – and not to tell them to vote or whether to not – but simply to explain what this meant to them. We may not have done a good job really articulating to the community what this initiative was.
“We very early on were accused of racism,” she said. “Early on we were accused of this narrative of Republicans trying to change the composition of the council. It became more about responding to those allegations, I think, than about really having an opportunity to educate the community.”
Supporters of the plan circulated a petition directing the City Council to put the measure before voters in a referendum.
After some council members raised questions about whether the petitioners had followed proper procedures, the Vote Yes organizers took the issue to court. Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons ordered the City Council to move forward with the referendum. The city appealed that decision, but it was upheld by the N.C. Court of Appeals.