Aldermen pass resolution to change Black Mountain election cycle

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

The Town of Black Mountain took a step toward changing its election cycle on Nov. 19, when alderman passed a resolution requesting representatives draft and introduce a bill to the state’s General Assembly moving local elections from even to odd years.

The move, which would allow sitting elected officials to remain in office for an extra year, passed 3-1, but not without opposition.

Board members began considering the change earlier this year after the passage of a bill divided the Asheville City Council into five districts and two at-large seats. The new law also switched the city’s municipal elections to even-numbered years.

In Black Mountain, the matter was first discussed by aldermen during the September regular meeting. During that meeting Larry Harris cited a savings for the town of around $12,000 each odd-numbered year as one of a handful of reasons for making the change.

Larry Harris was one of three aldermen to vote for a resolution that asks state legislators to change the election cycle in Black Mountain from odd years to even years.

“Frankly it’s a cost we could permanently defer,” he said in September. “That’s the thought behind it and we want to see what the other municipalities in the area are doing.”

In an October guest column in The Black Mountain News, Harris said that moving the elections to even years would not eliminate the expense for the town, but wrote “the bulk of the cost is not the responsibility of the local municipality as is the case with the odd years.”

Alderman Ryan Stone, who stated in September that he'd like more public input regarding the change, was the sole alderman to oppose the resolution. 

"I'm not going to vote in favor of this resolution and my reasons have been the same since the beginning," he said after Harris made a motion for the board to consider approving Resolution R-18-24. "I don't see the cost saving being an issue and I have great concerns over what is termed as 'ballot fatigue.'"

Citing concern over ballot fatigue, Ryan Stone voted against a resolution asking the state to change the election cycle in Black Mountain.

Stone expressed worry about voters being overwhelmed with choices on even years, when national and state elections are also held.

"Procedurally, as we just had an election, just look at the layout of the ballot. There's the federal offices, then the state offices, the judiciary, constitutional amendments and local elections would be at the bottom of all of that," he continued. "We could be looking at ballots that could be two or more pages long and that's something people should consider.

"I have a real concern that people won't be able to get as much information as they'd like, particularly in a presidential election year," Stone added. 

Harris, however, believes that holding local elections on even years could increase interest. 

"I think we don't give as much attention to our odd year elections, because you're not voting with anybody," he said. "Of course with even year elections you're either doing house votes on the state or federal level and some even year elections you have president, senators, etcetera." 

Black Mountain resident Marilyn Sobanski, who has attended aldermen meetings regularly for years and recently graduated from the town's Citizen Academy, spoke out against the change during the public comment period. 

"Elections are important matters; they're integral to our form of government," Sobanski said. "Voters, not the board — our board currently isn't truly representative because two of you are appointed — should make the decision if they vote at the same time as other positions are on the ballot, or focus solely on choosing quality leader for town candidates in the odd years."

Sobanski, as Stone had in September, suggested the matter be placed on a referendum in 2019 for voters to decide. 

However, town attorney Ron Sneed said that while changes to the charter can be made through ordinance or referendum, the election cycle is mandated by N.C. General Statute 163A, which designates elections occur every other year beginning in 1973. 

"You're stuck on odd year elections without a charter amendment in the legislation," Sneed said.  

The resolution asks state representatives to get the process started, Sneed said, but the opportunity for public input at that point is limited. 

"They have folks who write the bill and then it goes to the committee and works its way through," he said. 

Stone said that the process for changing the cycle "runs contradictory to what we've established in our organizational chart, in which everything flows from the top with the citizens."

"I think the only way to truly express that is not by five or six people on a board, it's for you to make up your minds after doing your research and decide at the ballot box," he said. "For that reason I'm voting no on this because I don't think it's my place to dictate to you when we should have elections."

If the lawmakers draft and pass a bill this year, it would result in the election originally set for 2019 being moved back a year. Seats currently held by Harris, Maggie Tuttle, Carlos Showers and Tim Raines would be decided in 2020.   

Stone received more votes than any candidate in 2017 when he was elected to his seat for the second time. His term would be extended to 2022 if the change were implemented.

Raines was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Jeremie Konegni, who resigned after pleading to guilty to charges related to a domestic disturbance at his home in May. 

Showers, who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Don Collins when he was elected mayor in 2017, was vocal in his support for the resolution. 

"I think the people put people back here for reasons," he said. "That's because they trust and believe they'll make the right decisions."

Collins also spoke out in support of the change. 

"One of the negatives is that the attention on local elections is not as concentrated as it is when you do them on odd years, but a plus is you won't have signs in the yards two or three months every year," he said. "This will bring more voters out because the even year numbers are always higher."

Collins said the decision was not an easy one for the board. 

"Making tough decisions is what this board was elected to do," he said. "I think this makes sense."

Tuttle was absent from the meeting and did not participate in the vote.