Raleigh City Council

Getting Council-ed

In Buzz, September 2021 by Melissa Howsam1 Comment

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We won’t be voting for our city leaders in 2021. But much more is on the line…

ICYMI, We’re not voting for our city officials this October in Raleigh as we have been slated to do for nearly 50 years. This summer, Senate Bill 722 passed into law (sans signature by Gov. Cooper, which isn’t required for bills dealing with “local bills” that affect fewer than 15 counties), including an amendment postponing our municipal elections from October 2021 to November 2022—thereby giving Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and Raleigh City Council members an additional year in office.

That bill, worked out in a controversial closed city council session, also moves all future Raleigh elections to even-numbered years going forward and eliminates runoff elections.

We’ve since heard it said over and over that this is all a stunt for Baldwin to give herself another year in office. Reality? Fake news. While accusations have flown regarding that hourlong-ish closed-door city council session and vote (voting 7–1 to ask lawmakers to postpone the election)—as well as the lack of public vote at subsequent open sessions before the bill was passed—city officials maintain that the move was necessary as a result of the U.S. Census Bureau’s announcement that its data wouldn’t be released until the end of September (read: necessary for up-to-date district lines). As a point of note, current 2019 drawn maps were based on census population data from 2010. It goes without saying that a mammoth amount of population growth has happened here since then.

As of press time, that very data was released “early” (Aug. 12), rendering every state in the country the info they needed to start redrawing their political maps based on the most current local population data—a process that promises to be more heated in our home state than others.

But this is bigger than district lines. Late last year, a 10-member Study Group was appointed to consider such questions as length of term (recommending transitioning to four-year terms for mayor and council members,
instead of the current two), staggered terms, adjusted compensation, ways to increase voter participation and increasing the size of Raleigh City Council.

As a refresher for all of us, our current city electoral framework has operated as such since 1973—since which, quite obviously, Raleigh has exploded in growth. And “with this tremendous growth comes greater complexity that demands a level of persistent attention and strategic focus that is not achievable on two-year election cycles dominated by localized issues and relentless pressure to campaign and fundraise,” reads the group’s June interim report.

“By establishing four-year terms, city council will create space between elections, allowing it to better manage the complexities of governing Raleigh as it continues to grow and thrive.”

Clearly, a lot is on the line in Raleigh municipal elections over the next year—especially as Raleigh continues to boom. But—fun fact for those of us who may be new to Raleigh or simply could use a crash-course—the mayor does not sit atop Raleigh’s power structure as chief executive (president of the city if you will); the city manager does and that’s a position we don’t vote for at all.

It’s the city manager in Raleigh who is actually responsible for day-to-day city operations, planning, implementing and operating the city budget, and appointing many senior positions. The more you know…

So what’s next? As of press time, the Study Group has begun working on its final report, slated for a Sept. 7 release. So, stay tuned.

How Does Raleigh Stack Up?

We compared Raleigh’s power structure to other comparable cities. Looking at our home state, Charlotte operates similarly to Raleigh, with city manager as chief executive. Down in Austin—often dubbed our sister city—the same structure likewise exists, and citizens even voted in May to keep this council power structure rather than shifting to a “strong mayor” power structure, where the mayor is the city’s chief executive officer. Closer to home (in another city Raleigh is oft likened to), Nashville operates in a “strong mayor” power structure, where the mayor is the most popularly elected official and acts independently from the city council. The mayor can have the final decision on hiring prominent positions, such as the chief of police.

CITY COUNCIL—by the numbers: A look at Raleigh’s electoral framework.

Council BTN

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  1. It’s unfortunate that this article makes no mention of the change in the way the Raleigh city council is elected. A majority vote (50%+1) is no longer needed so there will be no more runoff elections. The current mayor did NOT win with a majority, only 38% of the vote. The new method is the person with the top votes wins. So no matter the percentage, the top vote getter is elected. In the recent past, Paul Coble would have beaten Charles Meeker. It would have affected other races too. These are major changes to our elections, was conducted in secret, violating state open meeting laws.

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