Asheville voters could choose: Council districts or status quo?

The roof of Asheville City Hall.

Asheville voters may face an up or down vote on the city district elections plan making its way through the N.C. General Assembly. City Attorney Robin Currin advised Council to ask voters to choose between the bill establishing districts championed by Sen. Chuck Edwards of Hendersonville versus the city’s current at-large election system in a November referendum.

Edwards’ plan cleared a hurdle on the evening of Tuesday, April 24 after City Council’s meeting had adjourned around 7 p.m. The bill passed the Senate Select Committee on Elections on a voice vote, meaning it can now advance to the N.C. House of Representatives for consideration. Asheville Sen. Terry Van Duyn sits on the Senate committee and expressed objections to the bill.

At its previous meeting on April 12, Asheville City Council heard the results of a telephone poll that measured city voters’ attitudes toward district elections. While those polled expressed a wide range of opinions, some of which seemed inconsistent and confusing, a majority said they favored holding a referendum on the issue.

Opponents of creating districts say dividing the city into six separate areas which would each elect a resident of that district as its representative — as Edwards’ plan would do — would pit the interests of different areas against each other and hamper unified collective action. Proponents claim that some areas of the city have been historically underrepresented, and districts would provide city residents with a dedicated representative to address their concerns.

While the telephone poll examined voter reactions to a variety of possible district election formats, Currin advised Council to put Edwards’ plan to voters directly: “My thought is that legally, the best way to make that choice available would be to allow — if you were so inclined — the voters to pick between the bill and the current system. And the way to do that would be to follow the act, divide it into six districts and put that on the ballot for the voters to vote it either up or down.”

Advancing any other alternative, Currin continued, would most likely not default to the current system but to the districts proposed by retired Sen. Tom Apodaca when he first introduced a plan to impose districts on the city last year. Apodaca’s bill was defeated in the General Assembly, but the bill advanced by Edwards (Apodaca’s successor in the 48th district) contains very similar provisions.

To meet state timing requirements for placing a measure on November’s ballot, Currin said, Council must review a description of the proposed amendment to the city’s charter at its meeting on June 13 and hold a public hearing on June 27. On July 25, the city would request state permission to place the question on the ballot.

Although there may be “other concepts that are better suited to Asheville,” Mayor Esther Manheimer said, “we’re running out of time.”

If voters say yes to six districts, Manheimer explained, “we’ll have time to appoint an independent commission to draw the six-district configuration.” If the measure doesn’t pass, she said, “then we can decide as a Council whether or not to take legal action or what we need to do to deal with the bill.”

During public comment at the end of Council’s meeting, current City Council candidate Rich Lee spoke against Currin’s proposed course of action. “We shouldn’t be putting what we all acknowledge to be a bad idea up against the status quo and giving people that choice,” Lee said. Dividing the city into six districts would create “a lot more factionalism and a lot more focus on these separate fiefdoms,” he said.

Lee advocated putting “our best choice” in front of voters, despite the challenges posed by the legislative calendar, “Even if it takes some kind of Manhattan Project-type effort to try to get something ready in the next month or two.”

But Council directed Currin to proceed with developing an ordinance to amend the city’s charter to elect City Council members from six electoral districts, with the mayor continuing to be elected at-large. Currin and Manheimer agreed that the language of the ordinance could be reviewed by Council’s Governance Committee prior to the June 13 meeting of Council.

Sen. Edwards was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday morning.



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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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19 thoughts on “Asheville voters could choose: Council districts or status quo?

  1. “Currin advised Council to ask voters to choose … in a November referendum”

    Senate Bill 285: Equal Representation for Asheville

    Secction 1. Creation of Electoral Districts. – By November 1, 2017, the City of Asheville shall amend its charter to create electoral districts governing the nomination and election of City Council members.

    Section 2. If the City of Asheville fails to create electoral districts as required by Section 1 of this act [November 1, 2017], the North Carolina General Assembly … shall establish electoral districts for the City of Asheville.

  2. bsummers

    How inconvenient that this committee met in one of the few legislative rooms in Raleigh without streaming audio (even though several with streaming audio sat empty…)

    Fortunately, NC Policy Watch’s Melissa Boughton was live tweeting it. She quoted Sen. Edwards as saying: “there is not currently a referendum plan”. When informed by Sen. Van Duyn that there is a referendum plan, he said that he “finds it very difficult to imagine how a referendum would be put on a ballot”. Then, “it’s time for government to govern”.

    Move the goalposts much? This isn’t about right or wrong, or fixing a situation that needs fixing – they just want to stand on Asheville’s neck, that’s all. If this passes, I encourage Asheville City Council to fight this in court. Greensboro just won on a similar attempt to mess with their elections. (This is a serious part of this story, Virginia. Perhaps look into it.)

    • Virginia Daffron

      City Attorney Currin referenced the Greensboro decision in last night’s discussion. As I understand it, the Greensboro ruling relates to the racial and party registration composition of specific districts (as imposed by the NCGA). So the actual composition of districts could be an important issue, but it seems to me that it’s not the central one at this moment (since the bill contains the possibility of Asheville drawing the district lines itself — subject to certain conditions).

  3. chad

    I do not want a district system in Asheville because currently I can vote for or against every member of the city Council. If you impose a district system, I will only have one seat on the council and if a member from a different area of the city supports or fails to support an issue that’s important to me, I have no recourse with that member. How silly is it that someone who lives a three minute drive from me can vote against my interest and I can’t even vote against them in the next election? currently, I can vote for all the members of the council and the mayor, if this passes my number of votes on the council will be greatly reduced. I live in West Asheville and own a business in South Asheville, what if the council person from South Asheville is a champion for an issue that hurts my business? I can’t vote against them and my only recourse is to lean on the West Asheville representative to rectify the situation. That doesn’t work for me.

    it’s silly that chuck Edwards would reconfigure our entire city council election system in order to (perhaps) move the Asheville city council from 6 – 0 liberal-conservative representation to 5-1 liberal-conservative.

  4. Vrede

    I like district representation and hope that the people of Asheville and my Hendersonville eventually adopt it. With it, candidates do lots more door knocking and neighborhood meetings while relying less on slates, branding, fundraising and mass advertising. Then, the elected pols do a better job of representing the particular needs of their neighbor-constituents, rather than just the city-wide power structure.

    However, nothing in Sen. Chuck Edwards’ (or Apodaca’s before him) mindlessly partisan, gerrymandering, voter suppressing, democracy hating history suggest that he gives a hoot about the principle of representation. Rather, this is a sleazy and shameful attempt to use the Leg. to exclusively benefit the GOP. This is why his bill isn’t statewide and doesn’t even include my Hendersonville, which he also represents. It’s about party before public interest.

    Edwards’ bill should die unless it’s imposed upon all cities in the state, thus advantaging and disadvantaging the GOP equally. If not and I lived in Asheville I’d have a tough choice on a referendum – vote for the system I prefer or against Edwards’ bullying. Good luck y’all.

  5. Lulz

    Asheville voters don’t choose squat. Not one person running represents anything except how to fleece others out of their money. Funny how there’s never enough money for them yet property owners are expected to find more money for increases. From where?

    • Alan Ditmore

      Renters get fleeced even more by councils gentrification zoning, and with NO capital gain at the back end. DOWN WITH THE LIBERAL ELITE NIMBYIST COUNCIL! CHEERS FOR HOMEBUILDERS LIKE JOE THE PLUMBER!

  6. What is Asheville smoking?

    “The bill gives City Council until –> Nov. 1 to draw district boundaries and says the General Assembly would take on the job if council does not meet the deadline.

    Council, however, has been moving toward holding a –> Nov. 7 referendum on the question of district elections, and senators on Wednesday debated the validity of that effort.”

    • luther blissett

      Given his intimate and yet ambiguous relationship to the NC GOP, perhaps Peck can explain why the Greensboro redistricting bill was dumb and got thrown out by the courts, but Mini-daca’s bill is not dumb?

      In the meantime, City Council doesn’t have to do squat.

  7. Alan Ditmore

    Districting Asheville won’t cause a conservative takeover, but it will allow working class homebuilders to expose the liberal elite ZONING that is the cause of gentrification and homelessness by breaking consensus and allowing real consideration over consent agenda rubberstamps.

  8. Deplorable Infidel

    City district elections will prompt more people to seek elected office and provides more equal representation, which I know is a problem for the ‘progressives’ … despite what the in our face candidate Rich Lee claims…

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