Buncombe County Board Chair David Gantt and Statehouse Rep. Tim Moffitt exchanged sharp words over Moffitt’s recent proposal to expand the Board of Commissioners from five to seven members and mandate district representation in place of the current at-large elections. The two elected officials spoke at this morning’s April 1 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners at the Biltmore Square Mall.
The bill, HB 47, would establish three commissioner districts, with the same boundaries as the county’s three Statehouse districts. Each district would choose two commissioners, who would have to reside within the district; the board chair would still be elected by all the county’s voters.
In his pitch for the proposal, Moffitt – a Republican – emphasized that it would “give people a clear point of contact” to express their concerns on issues that are important to their part of the county. He also noted the bill’s possible political impact to the board, which is currently made up five Democrats. Because candidates would have less ground to cover, “it would would give candidates of moderate means a fair chance of winning,” he said.
However, he denied that it was a partisan move designed to give Republicans a better chance of earning a seat.
Meanwhile, Gantt asserted that “the commissioners and everyone I’ve talked to is completely against this bill.”
He argued that the change would limit democracy and contribute to provincialism.
“You’re losing your right to vote for the majority of commissioners,” he declared. “You’re not going to be able to vote for people who spend your money.”
Conscious of the recent controversies over commissioners’ pay and of the fiscally conservative nature of the attendees, Gantt was also careful to point out the bill’s additional costs: Taxpayers would have to pay for the salaries and benefits of two additional representatives, he said.
“It will increase the cost of county government,” he maintained, adding that he “didn’t see any benefit to it.”
To further make his case, he pointed to stats that seem to show Buncombe’s system is in line with other counties in the state.
He explained that 60 counties out of the state’s 100 have five member boards, including Durham, and Union, which have comparable population numbers to Buncombe. He also noted that both of those counties employ similar election systems as Buncombe. Only 12 of the state’s counties have a system similar to the one Moffitt is proposing, he said.
Pictured Left: David Gantt; Right: Tim Moffitt
Photo by Margaret Williams