Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Vote "NO" on Davidson 4-Year Terms

Tuesday night, July 17th, the Davidson Town Board took the first step towards what could be an historic change to our town charter.  The Board voted 4-1 on a resolution starting the process to put a charter amendment on the November ballot.  If passed as-is, this amendment will create 4-year terms for our Board and Mayor and stagger the elections with only 3 positions on the ballot every two years. 

In response, the Vote "NO" Davidson 4-Year Terms Facebook page has been launched to provide the public with information on why this change would not be the right thing to do for our town.

This is a follow-on effort to the "Let Davidson Vote" initiative last year which encouraged the previous Board to not make this change unilaterally.  If it is to be done at all, it should be put it before the people for a vote.  Now, it looks like we will get that chance.

To be clear, this proposed change is not a partisan issue.  It's not a Progressive or Conservative issue.  It is not about whether you agree or disagree with certain Town policies or projects.  This issue is about keeping an accessible, responsive, and accountable local government.  If this goes to a vote, we as citizens should welcome the opportunity, but at the same time we should vote not to support this change.

Making this change reduces the impact voters have on our local government.  It reduces the importance of each election, and it takes away the opportunity for the people to vote on our leadership as a cohesive unit.  These are just some of the reasons why this is not a good idea.  Many more will be outlined in detail over the coming months. 

Before that however, here is a look at why this change is even being proposed.  Three main arguments were advanced when this came up last year.  They are:

  • ...that turnover on the Board is too high, leading to time and resources spent bringing new board members up to speed.
  • ...that 4-year terms would improve Board effectiveness on long-term projects.
  • ...that other towns in the State have made this change.

In reality, Davidson's history does not support any of these positions.

When it comes to the rate of turnover on the Board, this is simply not an issue.  More specifically, turnover caused by elections hardly even exists.  Since 1995, 11 Board spots have turned over.  Only one of those spots was an incumbent who lost a reelection attempt.  The rest were incumbents who chose on their own not to run for another term.  4-year terms will not lessen this type of turnover.  In fact, longer terms might increase turnover because the decision to run for a second 4-year term will be more weighty on those who serve.  More of them may simply not want to do it.

As for the supposed impact on long-term projects, Davidson's very recent history shows that long-term projects are not hindered by the current shorter terms.  The Oak Hill Apartments redevelopment, the attraction of the MSC headquarters, and the recently announced sale of Davidson Commons all show that Town planning and economic development efforts are successful under the current system.  Add to that the awards Davidson regularly receives and it is hard to see how anything the Town does being hindered by 2-year terms.

Finally, to the point that "other towns are doing it" one has to say "so what"?  This town prides itself on being different.  We should strive to remain that way.  Other towns may benefit from longer terms because they have little voter interest in their town affairs.  Fortunately, Davidson does not have that problem.  Not yet anyway.  We as citizens need to do what we can to prevent that from happening.

Please take a moment to "like" Vote 'NO' Davidson 4-Year Terms.  Also, help spread the word by forwarding this to anyone who may be interested.  Finally, you can contact the Town Board at townboard@townofdavidson.org to let them know your opinion on this change.

If you are interested in helping further...
Email: VoteNoDavidson4YearTerms@gmail.com
Follow on Twitter: @VotNoDav4YrTerms

Stay tuned.


  1. William E. Jackson, Jr.July 18, 2012 at 8:49 PM

    The staggered 4-year terms scheme would not be "neutral" in impact and consequence--either in terms of individual officeholders or policy issues.

    The Town Manager, when drawing up the "resolution of intent" for the prospective November referendum, switched 4-year terms from three to two commissioners to be elected in 2013--plus the mayor, of course--and two to three commisioners to be elected in 2015.

    This could be interpreted as designed to make sure that Woods, Jenest (mayor pro tem), and Venzon (former mayor pro-tem) are in the first wave. The last two have been the top vote-getters in recent Town elections. And their views on some issues are different from the other three Board members. These incumbents potentially will be the most "protected" by a YES vote on the referendum.

    Amidst the "fog" of national and state elections in November--when local offices are not on the ballot--Woods, Brice, et.al. want to hold a plebiscite on the amendment, subject to popular majority vote. Paradoxically, the charter amendment, in fact, would institute arrangements that undermine direct majority rule in consequence.

    That is, the voters will be asked to give up their existing power to elect the entire Board and mayor every two years, by majority vote, in return for being able to elect two members--and the mayor-- in one election (2013) and three others in the next election (2015).

    The power of the voting franchise will have been substantially diluted. The voters would never get a chance again to vote on the whole Board in the same election. And certain incumbents would have pulled off a power coup.

    Thus, the two board members (the mayor pro-tem and the previous mayor pro-tem?) first elected for 4-year terms would be able--with one other commissioner's vote OR the vote of the mayor in case of a 2-2 tie--to raise taxes, or approve a new comprehensive plan, or change the transportation arteries to accommodate a phantom "red line" (as examples)--and not have to face the voters until 2017 !

    It would be difficult for the three individual commissioners elected for four years in 2015 to reverse what the first 2+1 may have done.

    A "rolling majority"--not subject to recall at the next election--is what the Town Manager and the Mayor want to eventually accomplish. "Stability" is the goal, not democratic majority rule based on consent of the governed every two years.

    Powerful interest groups--the chamber of commerce, developers, bankers, and the realty industry--will line up to pick a slate of two commissioners and the mayor for 4-year terms in 2013.

    William E. Jackson, Jr.

    1. Hey Bill,

      Thanks for the comment.

      If it goes in that order you are probably right as to who would have the best likelihood of getting 4-year terms.

      Laurie Venzon asked a couple of questions last night which may clarify some of the intent. She asked about the switch in order where only two commissioners and the Mayor are elected first with three commissioners coming in the second wave. To me, she seemed surprised by that.

      She also asked about separating the ballot question into two separate questions - one for Mayor and one for the Commissioners. This could mean that one passes and one does not. She seemed pretty insistent that the possibilty of that be determined before any decisions are made.

      In general, I agree with you though. This is an idea that reduces the importance of elections, and that's never a good thing.

  2. William E. Jackson, Jr.July 20, 2012 at 12:07 PM


    Do you mean to suggest that Leamon Brice and the Town attorney are "loose canons"--not subject to guidance from the Board who should exercise power over them--or that four commissioners voted for the resolution without knowing how the first two anointed for 4-year terms will be selected in 2013 ?! Or that Mayor Woods is the "hidden hand" in a council-manager form of government?

    IF the referendum passes, of course. The whole scheme is a Rube Goldberg contraption meant to protect incumbents, and the tenure of a Town Manager too long in office.

    William E. Jackson, Jr.

    1. Hey Bill,

      No, I don't mean to suggest any of that.

      I just wanted to point out that questions were in fact asked about the switching of the order, and that it was noticed by the commissioners. If I remember correctly, Leamon was going to come back with answers to those questions and the Board could change the order and/or divide it into two ballot questions later when they vote to actually move forward.

      I believe they all understood what they were voting on last Tuesday. That vote was just to start the process and schedule the public hearing. The vote to watch really will be on Aug-28 whcih is when they will vote to go forward or drop the issue and then vote to put it on the ballot.

      Just to be sure I understand how this could work as well, I've submitted a few questions to the UNC-School of Government on the subject. I'll post what I find out.