Original press release, June 25:
Asheville City Council will hold a 5 p.m. July 2 worksession to discuss legal options regarding election districts. During their June 25 meeting, Council passed a resolution adding the worksession to Council’s regular meeting schedule. The resolution also states that a motion is anticipated to suspend the rules and allow public comment during the worksession, to be held will be held at the U.S. Cellular Center Banquet Hall.
Please note:Public comment about the election districts will be the ONLY topic of discussion at this worksession.
City Attorney Brad Branham will outline legal options to Council during the worksession.
Worksession to be streamed live on YouTube
For those who cannot attend in person, the City will stream the worksession live on the City of Asheville YouTube channel. Because staff will be away from the broadcast equipment set up in City Hall, the worksession cannot be streamed on the City’s website as usual, but rather on the City’s YouTube channel.
How we got here
Prior to a recent State legislative change, Asheville City Council members were elected at-large on a non-partisan basis.
In a 2017 non-binding ballot referendum, 75% of Asheville voters rejected districts for council elections, with 11,726 voting against and 3,901 voting in favor of them.
Despite the referendum, the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill in June 2018 requiring the City of Asheville to use council districts for future elections, effective in the 2020 election. The type of bill is not subject to a gubernatorial veto.
Under the state law, Asheville is now divided into five districts with the mayor and one councilmember elected at large.
The law switches Asheville’s council elections from odd-numbered years, which is when most North Carolina municipalities choose their leaders, to even-numbered years. The bill extends the terms of all current council members by one year in order to make the transition from elections in odd-numbered years to even-numbered years.
The measure, Senate Bill 813, was sponsored by N.C. Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson. To see how members of the General Assembly voted on the bill, including the local delegation, click this link.
What comes next
The official district lines were set by the State legislature and included in the new law. To create districts, the City would need to amend its charter.
“The City Council has asked for legal advice to help them understand what their options are so that they can try to deal with the legislation that best reflects the desires of the voters of Asheville,” Mayor Esther Manheimer told Blue Ridge Public Radio News Director Matt Bush.
Legal options range from doing nothing to several potential legal responses, which will be outlined by Branham during the worksession.
Related: Legislature sets up districts for Asheville council, eliminates primaries by former Citizen-Times Reporter Mark Barrett