Discussion of a plan to restructure the way Fayetteville City Council members are elected has been removed from the agenda for Monday’s council meeting.
The proposal, which supporters hope will be put to voters in a November referendum, calls for five single-district seats on the council, four members elected at large, and the mayor elected at large.
Currently, the mayor is elected citywide and all nine council members are elected by district.
Proponents of the new plan say it will 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.
Mayor Mitch Colvin and others who oppose the plan say it would dilute representation by increasing the size of the districts.
“I have served as both a district representative and mayor, and I believe the district representative model provides focus on the specific issues of the district’s residents,” Colvin told CityView TODAY earlier this month. “It’s impractical to believe we obtain higher-quality education by increasing the size of the classroom. This is the same concept of the Vote Yes (plan).”
Vote Yes Fayetteville is an organization that supports the new plan. Tony Chavonne, publisher of CityView TODAY, is one of several former council members who started the Vote Yes initiative.
No matter when the issue is discussed by the council, Colvin said it will end up before voters in a referendum.
“So, at the end of the day, the voters are going to decide whether to approve this or not. That’s not a political matter,” Colvin said Thursday. “The statute is pretty clear, and it says the council will do it. We’re in compliance as far as I know.”
Originally, the matter was on the City Council’s agenda for Monday, the last regular meeting until August, said City Clerk Pamela Megill.
Megill said City Attorney Karen McDonald emailed her on Wednesday and asked her to pull it from Monday’s agenda and switch it to the Aug. 8 meeting.
On Friday afternoon, McDonald said she didn't think it would be accurate to say the issue was on Monday’s agenda. She said the city manager, city clerk and city attorney evaluate what will go on the meeting agenda and determine what should be taken up at a later date.
“There are a number of items on the agenda,” McDonald said. “The decision was made to not put it on the agenda and put it on a later agenda. It’s just a matter (that the agenda) was packed, and there were a couple of things that had to go on this agenda. We’re trying to balance the agenda to priorities — what had to go versus what goes another time."
Freddie Delacruz, Colvin’s challenger for reelection as mayor, said he heard it was the mayor's decision to remove the issue from Monday’s agenda
McDonald said Colvin was not involved in that decision and dismissed the notion that it is related to the upcoming election.
The municipal election and runoff primary are set for July 26.
“I don't necessarily characterize it like that," McDonald said. "As we look at the agenda, it's really what I would call a group decision — the clerk, the manager and I."
Megill said pulling items from the City Council agenda “happens all the time.”
Colvin said he does not think the closeness of the election had anything to do with changing Monday’s agenda.
A petition calling for a referendum on the new voting plan received the necessary 5,000 signatures of registered city voters, meaning the referendum could be on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Angie Amaro, interim director of the Cumberland County Board of Elections, notified the city that the petition has enough signatures.
Amaro said Thursday that the last she heard was that the matter would be on Monday’s council agenda.
Should a decision not be made until August, Amaro said, there would still by ample time to put a referendum on the November ballot.
“Because the filing for Board of Education doesn’t end until August,” she noted. “You can’t do ballots until all the filing is completed.”
But the City Council must pass a resolution to put the question on the November ballot if one is to be held.
Vote Yes Fayetteville says on its website that the new structure would give voters six council members who would be directly responsible to them versus the current two.
“Most cities in North Carolina have some number of at-large members of their council structure, including nine of the state’s 12 largest cities,” the Vote Yes website says.
Other elected boards, including the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education and the town boards of Hope Mills and Spring Lake, all have at-large representatives, the website notes. That provides more accountability, it adds.
The mayor’s challenger, Delacruz, said he helped push the Vote Yes Fayetteville initiative, convincing 50 people to sign the petition.
“It all boils down to: Do you want six people representing you on City Council or do you want two? It's a no-brainer,” he said. “People read into it like it's some kind of conspiracy going on. It's equal on both sides.
"It actually streamlines the districts better," he said. "That's really the bottom line."