Council to puzzle over district election survey results

The roof of Asheville City Hall.

Asheville City Council will try to make sense of its latest citizen poll at its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 11. But reading tea leaves or interpreting astrological omens might give equally clear answers on whether Asheville voters prefer to stay with the current at-large arrangement for picking representatives on City Council or to move to some form of district-based elections.

A bill to impose districts on the city introduced into the North Carolina General Assembly in 2016 by retiring Senator Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville came close to succeeding. Apodaca’s successor, Chuck Edwards of Hendersonville, took up the cause and notified Mayor Esther Manheimer of his plans to file a new bill creating districts for Council elections this year. Edwards’ 48th district includes a small area of the city of Asheville.

Saying their constituents had voiced little to no interest in making a change to the way representatives are elected, Council decided on Feb. 28 to move forward with a $10,000 telephone survey to gauge public support for different options.

Edwards made good on his promise by filing Senate Bill 285 on March 15. The bill requires, “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. Electoral districts established pursuant to this section shall be for use in the 2019 municipal elections.” If the city fails to create its own districting scheme, the bill continues, Council members would be elected from six districts. Candidates would have to run in and represent the district in which they live, and each district would get one seat. The mayor would continue to be elected at large.

The poll queried 403 registered Asheville voters over three evenings, March 20-22. According to Campaign Research + Strategy of Columbia, S.C., which conducted the survey, both landline and cellphone numbers were included. Voters were randomly selected to be representative of voter turnout during recent elections, the pollster’s summary reports, and the poll has a 4.9 percent margin of error.

But figuring out what Asheville voters think based on the survey results is a real head-scratcher.

When asked whether Asheville should keep its current at-large voting arrangements for all members of City Council and the mayor, 54 percent of voters said yes, while 34 percent said no and 12 percent weren’t sure.

But when asked if they would vote yes in favor of single-member districts for every member of Council if such a question appeared on a ballot, 54 percent of voters said they would — the same percentage that said they favored retaining the current system. To that question, 35 percent said no and 11 percent were unsure.

Later in the survey, 58 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “I don’t want to change the way we elect members of City Council. I like being able to cast a vote for every seat on City Council.” The same percentage said they favored holding a referendum on the issue.

No doubt different factions will offer different spins on what this all means, but if Council had hoped the poll would reveal a clearcut majority opinion, it must be disappointed. The full report from the polling consultant is available here.

Consent agenda

Aside from weighing the poll results, the only other matter on Council’s plate for the April 11 meeting is approving its consent agenda.

Council will vote on whether to approve its 2017-18 Strategic Project Fund grants. For more information on Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee’s review of those grant requests from city nonprofits, see City Council subcommittee reviews nonprofit funding requests.

A $339,950 contract with Patton Construction Company would update the elevators in the Civic Center Parking Garage.

Two resolutions involve city efforts to seek reimbursement to offset increased firefighting costs during last year’s active wildfire season.

Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

Budget work session

Prior to Council’s regular meeting, it will hold the third of three work sessions dedicated to formulating the city’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget. The work session will take place at 3 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall.

According to a memo from city Chief Financial Officer Barbara Whitehorn, the meeting will cover three main topics:

Property Tax Rate and GO Bonds Review – Staff will provide a brief review of the revenue neutral rate and the implementation of the GO Bonds.

Operating Budget Review – Staff will present a review of the operating budget direction from Council received at the March 14 and 28 meetings. This discussion will include Council operating budget priorities, inclusions in the base budget, and recurring and non-recurring expenditures.

Capital Program and Budget Discussion – Following the review of the operating budget, staff will provide a details on the 2017-18 capital budget priorities and the major building blocks of the capital program. The existing 5-year capital plan will be reviewed with a discussion of projects that have changed in scope, cost or timing.

The city’s current fiscal year will end on June 30. In its new budget, the city must fix on a property tax rate that takes Buncombe County’s recent property revaluation into account, as well as the costs associated with the $74 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2016.


For more of the latest city and county news check out Xpress’ Buncombe Beat.



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21 thoughts on “Council to puzzle over district election survey results

  1. bsummers


    The district elections issue just got more complicated, or maybe it’s been simplified – you decide. The 2015 attempt to force a new elections regime on the City of Greensboro has been thoroughly tossed out by a federal judge. It’s unclear if Edwards bill can go forward now under this new precedent.

    “Other cities should take heart. A bill filed last month proposes changes to Asheville’s city election system that its council opposes. It if passes, the city should make the same case in court that prevailed for Greensboro. But the bill shouldn’t go that far, because legislators should know by now that cities will stand up to their bullying — especially when it comes to decisions about purely local matters.”

    • luther blissett

      The ruling creates a strange scenario for both Mini-daca Edwards and City Council. It found that the imposition of districts in Greensboro was brazenly partisan, with large population disparities and no recourse to change them.

      The Edwards bill isn’t as dumb as Trudy Wade’s S36: it places the onus on the city to come up with districts that have at most a 5% population disparity, falling back to the district map stipulated in the text if the city doesn’t produce one by November 1. If the bill became law, could the city cite the lack of a popular mandate for districts and file suit on the fallback map? Judge Eagles ruled that the “truncated” legislative process contributed to her summary judgment, but everything about the Greensboro law was grubby.

      Has anyone run the population numbers on Mini-daca’s proposed map?

      • NFB

        Wasn’t Mini-daca’s map the exact same one as Papa-daca’s, the only difference being that it was a default map to go into effect if the city didn’t come up with one?

      • bsummers

        One specific thing that Eagles ruled on was the absence of any justification for ramming this through without the possibility of a referendum of the citizens affected. I think a city lawsuit would probably rely on the fact that Edwards bill doesn’t allow for a referendum either. They did what they promised to do last year – do a poll of Asheville residents to gauge public opinion. The results look like that at the very least, a majority want the chance to vote on district elections. That sort of thing does not escape the notice of judges – the 86% “No” referendum result was noted by Judge Howard Manning in the Superior Court decision on transferring Asheville’s water system.

        • NFB

          If I recall correctly in order for there to be a referendum of city residents the referendum must be for a specific map and plan, not just a general yes or no to the concept of electing by district.

          That would then mean the referendum could not be on which type of district system — such as voters who live in a district vote for their council member, an at large district system in which candidates must live in the district they run in but are voted on by the entire city, or a mix of at large and district seats — but just yea or nay to a district system in general.

          • “If I recall correctly in order for there to be a referendum of city residents the referendum must be for a specific map and plan”

            Yes. Section One of Senate Bill 285 states that by “November 1, 2017, the City of Asheville shall amend its charter to create electoral districts…”

        • luther blissett

          You’ll be happy to share the full Maptitude data files, I’m sure, in the spirit of democracy, transparency and better representation.

  2. bsummers

    Missing from this so far is how the district elections issue may be related to Rep. Chuck McGrady’s Holy Grail – gain some measure of control over Asheville’s water system. He’s not given up on that, BTW, despite the Supreme Court drubbing in December.

    • NFB

      I’m sure there is some connection. While the court case was pending Rep. McGrady was up front that should the state lose he would find another way for it to steal the city’s water system.

      • “I’m sure there is some connection. ”

        There is no connection. Asheville’s grip on our regional water system is growing more tenuous by the hour with or without district elections. Drip, drip, drip.

        • bsummers

          If you could ignore a ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court, sure.

  3. Grant Millin

    I challenge any reporter to look into the 20-year turnout trend (yes on a trend line chart) on Asheville city council elections. I think Joel Burgess mentioned the low turnout a couple of years ago. There’s low municipal turnout across the nation.

    The Asheville Chamber of Commerce wants this other little Edwards chestnut, SB 206. SB 206 buries the slate of council candidates (hopefully there aren’t more sightless ‘Bothwellism Greenspace’ slates down the road… or CIBO / Chamber / ADA slates for that matter.

    Also staggering the council turnover helps avoid big slate ‘mini-revolutions’ of the slate nature. Easier to accomplish down ballot from congress and POTUS races. I would like to see N.C. League of Municipalities’ white paper on the SB 206 “recipe for unintended consequences”.

    Also good for reporters to look into: SB 206!

    • luther blissett

      Doesn’t SB 206 interlock with the lame duck power grab that changed the balance of power on county election boards and gave Republicans the chair of the SBOE in even years? It’s on hold now after a court challenge, but I’m sure the state GOP would love to set things up so Dems only chair the election boards in years when there are no elections.

      Mini-daca does love telling cities what to do.

  4. Lulz

    Democrats aren’t exactly straightforward here. They rely on misinformation, low information, and no information. Low voter turnout is due to an area of renters, hipsters, and druggies not caring about the impact on their wallets of left wing moronic polices. And yet they pay the highest rents of almost any city in the state and don’t equate that the more taxes the city steals from property owners directly affects that lulz. Somehow many here assume things are free but in all reality they are INDIRECTLY paying for it.

    If I were a landlord, there would be a clause that anytime property taxes go up so do the rents. Only then will more people become involved after the yearly rent increases force them to look at local politics and the buffoonery of spending other people’s money just because we “progressive” Maybe then they might see the idiocy of tree canopy studies for 25,000 and the myriad of waste and fraud brought on by council.

    • luther blissett

      ” Somehow many here assume things are free but in all reality they are INDIRECTLY paying for it.”

      That’s a strawman. Especially weird that it comes from someone who complains about a property tax bill that reflects a doubling of its assessed value over the past five years.

      Once more: it’s $75 to file for the city council election. If you think there’s a message that would improve turnout and change the direction of city council, then nothing’s stopping you from making it. If you truly believe that you’re surrounded by idiots and crooks and “renters” and nothing will make a difference, then nothing is stopping you from cashing out your substantial gains from the property boom and moving to somewhere more in keeping with your views. Life’s too short to live in a perpetual rolling boil.

  5. Deplorable Infidel

    time for all landlords in the city to raise rents significantly to cover the upcoming uber taxation and THEFT by the elected city council criminals and county commissioners to GIVE the AUTONOMOUS Housing Authority $8.4 MILLION of your tax dollars! Hopefully a major lawsuit will prohibit this from occurring without a citizen vote.

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