Thursday, July 26, 2012

Is Davidson Using Correct Procedure for 4 Year Terms Charter Amendment?

Last year when the issue of 4 Year Staggered Terms was tabled, a big part of rationale for doing so was to get it right.  Unfortunately, with the "resolution of intent" passed at last week's July meeting, the process appears to have gotten off on the wrong foot.

As was reported in last week, questions are still outstanding on "whether the votes for the Mayor’s term and the Commissioners’ terms will be separate, and also how they will determine who gets the first 4-year terms."  Those questions were raised by Commissioners Venzon and Graham about other options on the table other than the one in the resolution of intent presented at the meeting.  When the question was asked of town staff if changes could be made later to consider those other options, the answer was "yes".

The UNC School of Government seems to think otherwise and that may have the proposal in a bind.

The four options mentioned at the meeting were:
  1. 4 year staggered terms with the Mayor and 2 Commissioners elected to 4 year terms in 2013 and 3 Commissioners elected to 4 year terms in 2015. (This is the resolution passed at the meeting.)
  2. 4 year staggered terms with the 3 Commissioners elected to 4 year terms in 2013 with the Mayor and 2 Commissioners elected to 4 year terms in 2015.  (This is the reverse of option 1 and keeps the Mayor at 2 year terms through at least the next election.)
  3. 2 ballot questions, one question for the Mayor going to 4 year terms and a second question for the Board to go to 4 year staggered terms.  (The result could be 1 passes and one fails.  This possibility was raised by Mayor Woods at an earlier meeting when he said he would be open to the Mayor staying at 2 years, but he wanted to see the Board at 4 years.)
  4. 4 year staggered terms for the Board but the top vote getters could choose whether they wanted 2 or 4 year terms. (Per my emails with the UNC-SOG, they seem to think this is doable option but only as a means to start the staggering.  It could not be an ongoing situation.)
Per the linked page from the UNC-SOG as well as a couple of emails with professors there, if the Board wants to consider options 2-4 as stated above, they needed to pass a resolution of intent for each option, or a single resolution with multiple options.  However, going forward and passing an ordinance that is different from a passed resolution of intent is not an option - or at least not a good one.  (Under the "Procedures to amend a charter" section of the link, see questions 1a-d and 5b.)

This analysis appears to take the option of 2 ballot questions (one for the Mayor and one for the Board) off the table without a new resolution of intent.  It probably should take all the other proposed options off the table.  In an email I received from one of the UNC-SOG professors, it was stated that going forward with a different option without a new resolution of intent would leave it open to "invalidation of the process".

To be clear, I do not mean that last statement to be construed as a threat of any action on my part to seek invalidation of the process.  I have made my opposition to 4 year terms very clear, but I am not in the business of trying to play a trick on the Board to get my way.  If I wanted to do that, I would not be publishing this information at this point in time.  Instead I could have let this play out until there was no time to fix it.  However, I do want the process to be followed correctly. 

To do that, these steps need to happen for the Board to consider the other options.  This is also verifiable in the UNC-SOG documentation.
  1. The Board needs to call a special meeting to pass resolutions of intent for the other three options.
  2. The hearings can all be at the same meeting scheduled for the initial resolution as long as the special meeting occurs in time for the 10 day public notice of the hearings.
  3. The Board can decide which resolution (if any) they want to go forward for the referendum.
If the above steps are not taken, then only the option presented at the last meeting can be safely considered.  I would hope that any Board member not 100%, absolutely comfortable with that resolution vote against it.

Bonus Observation:  According to the MeckBOE, the final ballot referendum language needs to be into them by 8/23 at the latest.  That is the cutoff date for candidates to be on the ballot.  This is due to absentee ballots scheduled to be ready by 9/7.  Not sure how that can happen if the Board does not even vote on the final resolution until 8/28 at which time the required ballot language may change.  Again, if there is any chance that this would prevent a referendum for which a majority of the Board has expressed support, then Board members should vote against any ordinance on this change.

UPDATE 8/26 - After receiving the above information, the Town is looking into what can/needs to be done at this point.

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