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Mayor's Office

Posted on: December 5, 2019

Local Governance Study Commission Briefed by Former Mayors, Plans Public Input Sessions

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NEWS RELEASE
Office of the Mayor
Dec. 5, 2019

During their meeting Dec. 4 the members of Winston-Salem Local Governance Study Commission were briefed by the former mayors of Durham and Greensboro on how their councils were elected and their experiences with them, particularly on the merits of two-year vs. four-year terms and of partisan vs. non-partisan elections.

Commission members also agreed to hold three public-input sessions in late January to collect feedback from city residents on the various options for reorganizing the Winston-Salem City Council. Specific dates and locations have not been determined.

William V. "Bill" Bell served as Durham's mayor from 2001 to 2017. Durham has a voting mayor and six council members, all non-partisan. The mayor is elected to two-year terms, and Bell said that this keeps the mayor accountable to voters. However, the six council members are elected to four-year terms, with half of them elected every two years. Three council members are elected at large. The other three represent districts. They must live in the district they represent; however, all city voters vote on the district representatives.

Robbie Perkins, the mayor of Greensboro from 2011 to 2013, said that Greensboro has a voting mayor and eight city council members: five elected by districts and three elected at large. All offices are non-partisan. In 2015 city residents voted to have all council members serve four-year terms. Previously, they served two-year terms. 

"I was a big proponent of four-year terms," Perkins said. "But after we got it, and looking back, I’ve done a 180." Before becoming mayor, Perkins had served eight terms on the Greensboro City Council and he said did not like two-year terms. "Every 18 months we had to stop (doing city business) so we could raise money and start politicking – and nothing got done." But, he said, his sense of city voters now is that they would go back to two years if given the chance.

Commission member Jeannie Metcalf, a former member of the school board, said that when she was in office she dreaded election season and that four-year terms gave her more time in office to concentrate on school business. She said she feared that that two-year terms, with the more frequent need to raise money and campaign, could deter citizens who might otherwise run for office.

Perkins said that it does not cost a great deal of money to run for a district seat and agreed with Bell that two-year terms make elected officials accountable to city residents. The diminishment of local newspapers has resulted in lackluster reporting on day-to-day council business, he said, ”but they cover elections.” Hence, two-year terms provide the reporting that tells citizens what their council is doing.

The commission members asked Bell and Perkins if their elections were truly non-partisan. Both noted that in recent times, political parties have played more of a role in promoting candidates, even though they are not identified by political parties on the ballot. Both said that given the recent partisanship in the General Assembly, it can be helpful to have a non-partisan city council lest a legislature controlled by one party refuses to work with a city council controlled by the other.

The commission is accepting input from city residents on the method for electing the mayor and City Council members. Residents can submit their thoughts online using a form posted at CityofWS.org/LGSC.

The 11-member, non-partisan commission, jointly appointed by Mayor Allen Joines and N.C. Reps. Donny Lambeth and Debra Conrad, is evaluating the city’s election process. If it determines that a change in the process is needed, the commission will recommend a structure that ensures appropriate representation of all segments of the population. Given the time needed for the commission to complete its work, no changes will occur in the 2020 election process for the Winston-Salem mayor and City Council.

The commission meets the first Tuesday of each month. A webpage for the commission has been created at CityofWS.org/LGSC. Agendas and minutes of meetings are posted on the page.