Winston-Salem seeks charter change to fill council vacancies

Faced with the possibility that three council seats would be open after the November election, the Winston-Salem City Council voted on Monday to ask the General Assembly to approve changes to the city’s charter that would allow for a special election—preceded by a special primary—to fill seats with more than 12 months left on an unexpired term.

The vote to request the charter change was unanimously approved. But things got sticky when an additional change was run up the flagpole—that the new rules would apply retroactively, if requested by petition from 1 percent of the voters in the affected ward:

Here’s why the petition provision matters: At least one council seat will soon become vacant and two more potentially so: Council Member Derwin Montgomery resigns Nov. 5 to fill the N.C. House District 72 seat left vacant when Rep. Ed Hanes resigned in August. That’s the certain vacancy.

Two other council members, D.D. Adams and Dan Besse, are running for other elective offices. Should either or both win their races, more seats open up on the council. And it is possible that their replacements would be named before the change in the city charter went into effect.

During a committee meeting last week, Besse objected to subjecting people appointed under the old rules to the special election invoked by petition.

“I don’t think it is fair to people who take office under the existing law to change the terms after the fact,” Besse said.

Interesting that Besse believes that 1 percent is a low threshold for citizen petition. He knows winston-Salem better than I do; speaking for my city of Greensboro, when you only get 12 percent of the population to just show up and vote,

Sam Hieb / Contributing Editor

Sam Hieb is freelance journalist from Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a contributing editor for Carolina Journal and for Piedmont Publius, a blog that focuses on political a...

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