The staggered four-year terms scheme re-introduced by the Davidson town board would not be “neutral” or apolitical in regard to its implications for individual
officeholders or policy issues.
When drawing up the “resolution of intent” for the prospective Nov. 6 referendum, the town manager switched four-year terms from three to two commissioners to be elected in 2013 (plus the mayor, of course) and two to three commissioners to be elected in 2015.
Assuming that Town Manager Leamon Brice knew what he was doing, the staggering of terms may be interpreted as a design to make certain Mayor John Woods, mayor pro-tem Brian Jenest and commissioner Laurie Venzon are in the first wave.
Jenest and Venzon have been the top vote-getters in recent town elections. Moreover, their views on some issues are notably different than those of the other three current board members. Potentially, two incumbent commissioners 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 coincidentally are not on the ballot, Woods and Brice mean to hold a plebiscite on the charter amendment, under the banner of “let the people decide.” However, lengthier, staggered terms would institute arrangements that undermine direct majority rule by the people.
That is, the voters will be asked to give up their existing constitutional 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, to four-year terms in 2013; and three other commissioners to four-year terms in the next election, 2015.
If the referendum should pass, the power of the voting franchise will be substantially diluted. After 2013, 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.
The two board members first elected for four-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, approve a new comprehensive plan, or change the transportation arteries to accommodate a phantom “red line,” and not have to face the voters until 2017!
A “rolling majority” not subject to recall at the next election is what the town manager and the mayor want to eventually accomplish. Incumbent protection and longevity are the goals, not democratic majority rule based on consent of the governed every two years.
Arrogantly, those who back this change think they know what is the best system for us – a Rube Goldberg arrangement that is embraced by no other municipality in Mecklenburg County –- and we should just eat our broccoli.
– William E. Jackson Jr., Davidson