NCMatters

A bill introduced March 24 by Rep. Tim Moffitt would expand the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners from five to seven members while mandating district representation in place of the current at-large elections.

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.

"I had no clue," David Gantt, chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, said about the bill's introduction. "I never had any contact … any discussion — I was blind-sided. It would have been nice to have been at least discussed.

"It's going to take away people's rights to vote for all of [the commissioners]," predicted Gantt, a Democrat. "It automatically limits the geographic talent pool to a specific area, and you lose your right to vote for a majority of the board." Asked if he saw any advantage to the proposed change, Gantt replied succintly, "I don't."

Xpress caught up with Moffitt just before he left Raleigh at week’s end to return to Buncombe County. The Republican cited several advantages in shifting to district elections. "I'm constantly looking for fair and balanced representation," he said, pointing out that the Asheville City Council, which serves less than half as many people, has seven members. "So I thought it would make sense to increase the number [of commissioners] to seven."

District elections would also mean people "wouldn't have to put on an expensive campaign," allowing for "true grass-roots" representation, Moffitt added. "I looked at our county commissioners now, and I wanted to make sure they're unaffected," he said, explaining that all the current commissioners would match up with the proposed district boundaries — none would have to forfeit their seat. "I was very sensitive to that," he stressed.

"I don't see this as controversial," continued Moffitt. "I think people in Black Mountain, people in Leicester … need to have a voice. When people have a problem with a state issue, they know who to call." He'd like to see the same kind of local identification at the county level, for "ease of communication or redress on the part of the voter." Asked about Gantt's complaint about the lack of communication concerning the proposed changes, Moffitt said: "That's correct. This information was leaked from within the delegation to the county commissioners before I had a chance to talk with them. … I was disappointed."

Although redistricting is on this year’s legislative agenda, Moffitt said he doesn’t foresee the county's districts changing dramatically. His proposed legislation gives the Board of Commissioners the option of modifying the election districts "to the extent necessary" to account for potential irregularities.

Peggy Bennett of Citizens for Change — a local, nonpartisan activist group — believes district representation is "long overdue." Her group has been pushing for the change for more than 10 years. "I'm just delighted," she observes. "I think the county will thrive with seven commissioners. Right now, it only takes three votes to pass any agenda item. We need a larger voting body."

Statistics from the N.C. Association of County Commissioners indicate that more than half the county boards in the state use some form of district representation.

— Nelda Holder can be reached at nholder@gmail.com. Follow our state news at mountainx.com/special/ncmatters.

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7 thoughts on “NCMatters

  1. The Dogwood Caucus

    David Gantt and Gordon Smith make the same failing argument – they should have been involved in the state legislative process because of their inflated sense of self. The hypocrisy of their arguments is exposed here: http://www.thedogwoodcaucus.com. (sorry anti-spammers, we don’t do it often).

    David Gantt’s assertion that the new divisions would limit your talent pool is quite frankly elitist, and directly suggests that certain areas of the county are better than others. For shame.

  2. Gordon Smith

    Citizens will get to vote for only 3 of 7 Commissioners under the dictum. Where do the Commissioners come from now? Bill Stanley, Carol Peterson, and Ray Bailey don’t live in the City Limits. I’m not sure where David Gantt lives, and Holly Jones lives in the city where she works. A majority of Commissioners live outside the city.

    All citizens get to vote for all Commissioners. The Republican Party will have plenty of latitude to manipulate the next elections through redistricting without taking votes away from citizens too. An alternative would be to organize and win elections by campaigning. Rep. Moffitt won his district fair and square. So, too, did the sitting Commissioners. This plan to diminish the voting power of Buncombe County citizens is unfair on its face.

    As to Dogwood’s new blog – It’s good to see the local Republican Party have an internet presence outside of the Carolina Stompers.

  3. Gordon Smith

    Correction – Bill Stanley lives in the city limits, and David Gantt does not. It’d be hard to imagine anyone arguing that Bill Stanley is a big city liberal though!

  4. The Dogwood Caucus

    Rep. Moffitt’s bill serves to bring representation closer to the people of the county. Or as David Gantt says: to those limited geographic talent pools.

    Each citizen’s voice will be magnified under Rep. Moffitt’s proposal as opposed to being drowned out in a shouting match.

    Who was the last county commissioner west of the French Broad? Don’t they deserve representation too?

  5. Gordon Smith

    We are all County residents. Those in the city and outside the city.

    Anyone from any part of the County can run and win a campaign in Buncombe County.

    Limiting voter choice in favor of a geographic quota system doesn’t make sense to me. Unilaterally issuing sweeping changes in the way we select our representation is poor governance.

    I want to be able to vote for all of my representatives rather than being limited to voting for only a minority. I’m also rather weary of the antipathy directed towards Asheville, the economic and cultural hub of western North Carolina, that’s consistently rated as the best place to do most anything.

    http://scrutinyhooligans.us/2011/03/31/moffitt-says-three-is-enough/

  6. Aaron Penland

    I think that the new legislation is a great idea. Mr Gantt made that very clear with his comment” It automatically limits the geographic talent pool to a specific area and you lose your right to vote for a majority of the board. Seems to me that that is exactly what Buncombe County needs. It’s time to get rid of the “Good Ole Boy” Stigmatization. IN the last 3 years I have attended many Commissioners meetings and was disgusted as to the way this county has been run. Maybe this will be a way to putting a stop to the “Behind Closed door votes”.Yes I think this is a great step in the right direction. Now Maybe there will actually be some debate over an issue before Commissioners DO as they want instead of acting on what the Constituents want. This Bill in my opinion is way over due!!!

  7. R.Bernier

    Im glad to see district representation however one should note that each person will have to win their district no matter what party they belong too.

    The people in their district now will have a voice at the table – people are very tired of angenda items done before the meeting ever starts.

    Gordon remarks should be heard & now other people will be heard under district representation, this will only be better.

    R.Bernier

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