Should we amend the Whispering Pines Charter?

Q: Should we amend the Charter so that voters elect the mayor rather than other council members?

A: Our current Village Charter states: “Sec. 2.3. Mayor; Term of Office; Duties. The Mayor shall be elected by the council from among its members in accordance with general law for a term of two years. The Mayor shall be the official head of the Village, preside at meetings of the Village Council, and exercise such powers and perform such duties as presently are or hereafter may be conferred upon the Mayor by the General Statutes of North Carolina, by this Charter, and by the ordinances of the Village. The Mayor shall have the same voting power as the other council members in regards to voting on measures coming before the Council; however, the Mayor shall not have veto power.”

A North Carolina city’s charter is an act of the North Carolina General Assembly, and normally only the General Assembly can amend one of its own acts. Nevertheless, by enactment of G.S. 160A-101 through 160A-111 (the “charter change statute”) the General Assembly has delegated this power to amend a city’s charter to that city’s council, or voters, or both.  The statute grant municipalities the authority to amend their charter by ordinance in order to implement certain types of changes to the charter, such as the selection of a mayor (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-101(8)).

“…provisions that may be amended by a city council or city voters are limited in scope and are restricted to the options set out in G.S. 160A-101:  the name of the municipality, the style of the corporation, the style of the governing body, the term of office of governing body members, the number of governing body members, the mode of election, the type of election, the selection of the mayor and the form of government.”

This can be initiated either by the governing body or by citizen petition and the steps are outlined in this Summary. If a city uses the charter change statute to amend its charter, that action is final; there is no need for any sort of action by the General Assembly to ratify what the city has done. What this means is that there is no need to involve the General Assembly, it’s something we can change locally.

Where do I stand on amending our charter so that voters elect the mayor rather than the other council members choosing the mayor?

Electing a mayor from among council members and electing a mayor directly by voters both have their advantages and disadvantages. It would be my preference to keep it the way it is for these two reasons:

  1. In-depth knowledge: Council members who are elected as mayor usually have been serving in the role for a while and have a good understanding of municipal operations, policies, and issues since they are already serving in a council member role.
  2. Stability and continuity: Electing someone already serving promotes stability and continuity in leadership.

Having the dynamics, traditions, and priorities of Whispering Pines in mind, I prefer the stability and experience that come with council-elected mayors and I believe it aligns with our community’s values and goals for effective local governance.

Q: Should we amend the Charter to allow for recalls, initiatives, and referendums?

A: Any Charter amendment not authorized by G.S. 160A-101 must be accomplished by a local act (only affects one or more specific local governments) of the General Assembly; this includes the ability to do initiatives, referendums, and / or recalls.

This would follow the normal process of drafting an amendment, consulting legal counsel, passing a resolution proposing the amendment, public hearing, and approval,  it would then be submitted to a local delegation as amendments to municipal charters are enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly upon submission by a member of the General Assembly.

I have reached out to Representative Moss and Senator McInnis on this issue and they did not respond. In talking with other municipalities in North Carolina who did amend their charter, I came away with the understanding that the philosophy of our local representatives is that they are committed to a republican form of government (little “R”) and believe voters elect representatives to the state legislature, the county commissions, the city councils, and the school boards and empower them to make laws on our behalf.  If we are unhappy with the laws that they make, the remedy is to vote them out at the next election and put in representatives who will do things differently.

We’ve never taken this up in the past, so I don’t know why they would NOT take it up and sponsor the legislation, but it remains to be seen.

Where do I stand on amending our charter to allow initiatives, referendums, and/or recalls?

I am in favor of amending the charter for the following reasons:

  1. Direct Democracy: Initiatives and referendums empower citizens to directly participate in the decision-making process.
  2. Accountability: Recall provisions hold elected officials accountable for their actions.
  3. Responsive Government: Initiatives and referendums allow citizens to propose and vote on policies, ensuring that government actions are more reflective of the community’s preferences and needs.
  4. Checks and Balances: Referendums provide a way for the community to serve as a check on the actions of local government. It can prevent the government from making hasty or unpopular decisions.
  5. Engagement and Participation: These mechanisms encourage citizens to become more informed about local issues and engage in discussions. This can lead to a more educated and active citizenry.
  6. Inclusivity: Initiatives and referendums can provide a voice to minority groups who might otherwise have difficulty getting their concerns addressed through traditional political channels.
  7. Community-Building: Participating in these processes can foster a sense of community and shared responsibility among residents. It encourages people to come together to solve problems and make decisions.
  8. Trust in Government: Allowing citizens to have a direct say in certain matters can help build trust in government institutions, as people feel their voices are being heard and respected.
  9. Local Control: Village charters often reflect the specific needs and values of a community. Initiatives, referendums, and recalls can help ensure that local governance remains responsive to these unique characteristics.
  10. Conflict Resolution: When disputes arise within a community, initiatives and referendums can provide a peaceful and democratic means of resolving them rather than resorting to more divisive methods.