Status of petition to change City Council elections remains unresolved

By Jason Brady | CityView Today | August 17, 2022

Whether a Fayetteville advocacy group’s petition to change the way City Council members are elected is valid is still up in the air after the Cumberland County Board of Elections on Tuesday took no action on the matter.

Whether a Fayetteville advocacy group’s petition to change the way City Council members are elected is valid is still up in the air after the Cumberland County Board of Elections on Tuesday took no action on the matter.

At issue is the council’s questioning whether the petition submitted by Vote Yes Fayetteville is valid since the group failed to file a “notice of circulation” or date of registration. The question arose during the City Council’s Aug. 8 meeting.

Angie Amaro, interim director of the Board of Elections, sent a letter to City Attorney Karen McDonald on Tuesday. The letter was in response to one sent Aug. 9 by McDonald on behalf of the City Council asking about the Vote Yes initiative.

In her letter to McDonald, Amaro says that she only verified the signatures on the petition submitted by the Vote Yes group. She said she notified Bobby Hurst, one of the organizers of Vote Yes Fayetteville, that 5,009 of the 5,721 signatures submitted were of residents qualified to sign it.

“This petition is to the Fayetteville City Council, not the Board of Elections,’’ Amaro wrote. “I am advised by the counsel to the State Board of Elections and the county attorney that whether the petition is valid is a question for the City Council.’’

McDonald did not respond to emails seeking comment Wednesday. Mayor Mitch Colvin also could not be reached for comment.

Hurst on Wednesday said the matter is in the hands of the City Council.

“The notification of circulation and date of registration didn’t affect our type of petition,’’ he said. “We’re not asking to change the charter, just the structure of the council.”

Amaro also said in her letter that the N.C. State Board of Elections maintains information and guidance on filing petitions on its website. The only petition form on the website is a North Carolina Petition Request, Amaro says in the letter.

“Neither the state board’s website nor the petition request form mentions a notice of circulation,’’ Amaro wrote in the letter. “I am not aware that any such form exists. Neither a document identified as a notice of circulation nor a North Carolina petition request was filed in my office for this petition.’’

In her Aug. 9 letter, McDonald asked for a copy of the filed notice of circulation and date of registration. McDonald cited General Statute 163-218, which requires a notice of circulation and date of registration be filed.

The requirement is not mentioned in General Statute 160A-104 governing petitions to change the way councils are elected.

The Vote Yes initiative would restructure the way City Council members are elected. Instead of all nine members being elected by district, four members would be elected at large, and five would be elected from districts. The mayor would still be elected citywide.

The City Council is facing an Aug. 22 deadline to decide whether to put the question on the ballot in a Nov. 8 referendum.

The issue has been removed from the City Council agenda twice, once for a June 27 work session and once for an Aug. 8 meeting.  The issue is on the council’s agenda for Monday night. 

Linda Devore, a member of the county Board of Elections, said in an email Wednesday that the county board took no action on the matter because it completed its work in the spring when the signatures were verified.

“Our county attorney and state board general counsel tell us is that NCGS 163-218/219, cited by the city attorney, applies only to petitions that are filed with the county BOE,’’ Devore said in her email. “A referendum petition for a city charter amendment is not filed with the BOE at all.’’

She said the elections board has done its part.

“And it appears the petitioners did their part getting over 5,000 verified voter signatures on the petition submitted to the city in early June,’’ she wrote.

She also referred to N.C. General Statute 160A-104, which states that “upon receipt of a valid initiative petition, the council shall act to place it on the ballot.’’

“Time is of the essence since absentee ballots must begin mailing on Sept. 9, and the state has already begun the ballot printing process for some counties,’’ Devore said in her email.

Supporters of the initiative say the plan would strengthen the council, provide better representation for all voters and result in the election of more “big-picture” council members. CityView TODAY publisher Tony Chavonne is among those who organized the Vote Yes petition drive.

But some opponents, including the mayor, say the change would dilute minority voting strength and make it more expensive for candidates who would have to run citywide campaigns rather than district campaigns

The original story can be viewed on CityView Today.

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