We’ve seen the Charlotte City Council throw its regional weight around by pushing the project forward in the face of overwhelming opposition from the residents most impacted by it. We’ve seen the mayor of Cornelius reprimanded by a unanimous vote of his board for supporting the project in ways that misrepresent the Board’s official opposition to it. We’ve seen the governor pass the buck and stand by watching as a political and economic disaster unfolds.
In the face of all that voters are left asking “what can we do?”
In response, we've heard the common refrain of “throw the bums out” at the next election. We've heard people ask about recall votes to remove certain elected officials from office. We’ve even heard the suggestion of creating a new Lake Norman County.
Unfortunately, none of those things are easy to do.
Regular municipal elections are only held every two years - leaving plenty of time to make mischief between election cycles. Recall elections are not allowed by law in North Carolina. Forming a new county would require approval from the state – something not likely to come.
And in the end, these solutions might not address what has been one the biggest problems locally – the unresponsiveness of our mayors.
The office of the mayor serves as the face of each town. They have a lot of power and authority both inside and outside of town hall. The mayor’ offices also often serve as the initial stops where bad ideas get support. The HOT lanes project has been a prime example of this.
On many occasions over the last few years, particularly as public opposition to the project has ramped up, our towns’ mayors have rushed to its rescue. The mayors have served as something of a “HOT lanes bucket brigade” for NCDOT working to put out fires during the entire process
To date, only former Huntersville mayor Jill Swain has paid any sort of political price. Mayors Travis, Woods, and Atkins are all still securely in place even though they have supported the project in various ways with the most recent example being Mooresville Mayor Atkins casting a tie breaking vote in its favor just this past week.
Fortunately, solving the problem with our mayors is something within the control of the town boards and/or the citizens.
Many people do not know this, but the town's have the authority to change various aspects of their municipal government charters. They can not conduct a recall election for elected officials, but they can change how officials are elected – including how the mayor is chosen.
One option the town's have is to not choose the mayor by direct election, but to instead have the office of mayor selected from the group of commissioners with the “mayor” serving at the pleasure of the board.
Basically, after each election the town commissioners would select which one of them would serve as mayor. The mayor would “serve at the pleasure of the board”. If the new mayor got out of line with the Board (like what has recently happened in Cornelius), the commissioners could simply demote the person back to a commissioner and replace the mayor with a different member of the board.
This new process is initiated through what is called a charter amendment. The type of amendment mentioned here could be initiated by any of our town boards. It can also be initiated by a citizen petition.
This may sound like an extreme example, but these type of charter amendments aren't unheard of even here locally. In 2010/2011, Davidson considered a charter amendment to go to 4 year elected terms. In 2012 Cornelius considered moving their elections from even odd years to even years. Neither change occurred, but they were considered.
People are upset and looking for practical ways to impact change in our local government.
Considering a change that puts our mayors on a short leash is one way to do that.
This post first appeared in this week's Herald Weekly at huntersvilleherald.com