Sen. Tom Apodaca (R) has filed State Bill 897 to establish district elections for Asheville City Council. The bill creates six electoral districts and specifies that each district will elect one representative who lives in that area. The city’s mayor would continue to be elected by a city-wide vote.
If enacted, the legislation would transition Asheville’s city-wide elections to staggered district elections. Council members elected in 2017 would serve a two-year term (rather than a four-year term, as would be the case under the election law now in effect). The terms of Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler and Council members Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith end in 2017.
Council members Brian Haynes, Julie Mayfield and Keith Young were elected in 2015 to four-year terms ending in 2019.
In 2019, all districts would elect new Council members. The three highest vote-getting districts’ members would serve four-year terms, while the other three districts’ representatives would serve two-year terms. From 2021 on, City Council representatives would serve alternating four-year terms.
The seven-term senator, whose district includes Henderson and Transylvania counties as well as a small part of Buncombe County, will not seek reelection this year.
The full text of the legislation is available here.
On the evening of Wednesday, June 22, Manheimer provided a comment on the legislation by email:
There is a full meeting of council on Tuesday so the council will have the opportunity to talk about it at that time. The delegation is also working to address the legislation — opposing it first and foremost and amending it if possible. Again, this bill does not provide the opportunity for Asheville’s citizens to weigh in until after the 2020 census. I believe the majority of Asheville citizens would like the opportunity to vote on this by referendum, at the very least, before it is implemented.
In a followup email, Manheimer clarified the relevance of her reference to the 2020 census. The bill specifically states, Manheimer explains, that Asheville can’t use a current statewide law that allows cities to choose whether to implement district elections by referendum. The bill says the city may avail itself of the current law only after the 2020 census. “It’s just a point in time when the state statute can be used by Asheville to effect local choice,” Manheimer continued.
A 2015 state law that created district elections in Greensboro entirely removed that city’s ability to hold a referendum to consider the matter, Manheimer said. A federal court’s initial ruling said the Greensboro bill could not be implemented since it violates the equal protection clause of the United States constitution.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Thursday, May 23 at 10:24 a.m. to reflect Manheimer’s comments.