For the past 20 years the Fayetteville City Council has used an antiquated structure of nine single members elected by districts and one mayor elected at large. The nine districts include about 25,000 residents, but the representatives are often elected by an average of 1,300 voters in a city of 211,000 people.
District representatives figure out very quickly that keeping those 1,300 people happy is all that matters to help them get reelected in the future. This resulting narrow focus by nine members of City Council does not lend itself to address the often complicated and costly city-wide issues. Too often these issues remain unresolved while the council debates more territorial issues.
Even worse, an individual Fayetteville citizen has only two elected people representing them — the mayor and their district representative. Meanwhile the other eight council members are not accountable to the needs of citizens’ who do not live in their district.
Other governmental bodies in Cumberland County, including the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, the Board of Education, and the towns of Hope Mills and Spring Lake, all have at-large members as a part their structure. In addition, nine of the 12 largest cities in North Carolina have at-large members included. They have found the structure to work for decades, and there have been no efforts to convert to all single-member districts.
The Vote Yes Fayetteville initiative is seeking to collect 5,000 signatures that would give every citizen in Fayetteville the opportunity to vote for the type of local government structure that they want. The proposal calls for changing four of the current nine seats to at-large, leaving a council comprised of five district representatives, four at-large representatives and a mayor.
Under this structure, every citizen would have more voting rights by being able to vote for and be represented by six members of City Council — the mayor, their district representative and four at-large representatives.Get the News Alerts newsletter in your inbox.
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Most local governments have found this combination provides an effective balance of both district and city-wide focus. In the case of Fayetteville, it would provide more focus on the big issues facing the entire city — issues like $100 million in stormwater needs, the failure to annex Shaw Heights and provide its residents access to basic city services like sewer, for example — that are larger than any one district.
It would also provide more big-picture perspective before deciding to spend $3 million to replace 64,000 recycling cans so a logo can be removed, instead of reducing our traffic violations enforcement or filling over 50 vacancies in the police department.
The current structure of City Council has never been voted for by any Fayetteville voter. In fact, the only time that Fayetteville voters have been given the opportunity to vote for a combination of at-large and single member districts, they supported it with almost 60% of the votes cast.
Fayetteville has grown significantly over the years and now comprises almost 150 square miles and over 210,000 people. With that growth comes big-city issues that require big-city perspectives. It is time to change the structure of our City Council to help ensure that more people represent the big picture and are more accountable to all the citizens of our diverse city.
Joining the thousands of other Fayetteville voters in signing the petition alone does not change the structure of our City Council. It merely allows the referendum to be put on the next citywide election ballot and gives every citizen the right to vote and make this important decision for our community. This important decision should be made by all the voters of Fayetteville.
We encourage you to review the information on this important subject at our web site at www.VoteYesFayetteville.com and to support the petition and let our citizens decide if they want to have 6 elected people representing them versus the current 2.
Bobby Hurst is a former member of Fayetteville City Council.