Davidson’s Town Board on Tuesday decided to drop a proposal to shift to 4-year staggered terms for the mayor and commissioners. In a special meeting at Town Hall, commissioners voted 3-1, to rescind a resolution approved at the board’s July 17 meeting that called for a referendum this November on the idea.
Commissioner Jim Fuller cast the lone voted against the motion, saying he wished the town would hold the referendum to get a true measure of how citizens feel about the issue.
The vote came after a 25-minute session in which several commissioners said they felt the board wasn’t adequately prepared or unified on the issue to bring it to citizens for a vote. Commissioner Connie Wessner was absent, but sent a message via Mayor John Woods suggesting that the board withdraw the proposal.
Commissioners had voted last week to call a public hearing and start a process leading to a November referendum on a proposal to lengthen board members’ terms from the current 2 years to 4 years, and to stagger their terms. But after technical questions were raised about wording of the July 17 resolution, and after some soul searching by commissioners, the board called Tuesday’s special meeting to revisit the issue.
Commssioner Laurie Venzon said she had changed her mind about four-year terms after deciding arguments in favor of the idea weren’t “compelling.” “I don’t really feel like they’re compelling enough for me to support a change any more,” she said.
After talking to voters, Ms. Venzon said she came to realize that people weren’t clamoring for the proposed charter change. And some felt that longer terms would take away voters’ “flexibility” to make changes.
“This wasn’t a hill I was going to die on,” she said, as she proposed that the board withdraw the previously approved resolution.
Ms. Venzon also said four-year terms could have a negative long-term impact if citizens elected a majority of commissioners with extreme views – on one side or another. A Tea Party-influenced majority, for example, could decide to stop spending. Likewise, she said, a majority could get elected that was “sick of seeing” the town unable to complete its capital projects list, and might decide to raise property taxes four cents.
‘They could change a lot in four years,” she said. And voters would not have a chance to make a “mid-course correction.”
Commissioner Rodney Graham, who was the only board member to vote against the resolution earlier this month, repeated his opposition to the idea.
And Commissioner Brian Jenest asked out loud, “Why can’t we do this?” He was referring to the board’s inability over several years to build momentum for the charter change. He noted that even when the board did manage to vote for a referendum recently, “event our process wasn’t correct.”
“I’m not sure we have the support. I didn’t find any really good reasons for us to move forward,” he said. “I think we really need to drop it … I’d like to see us not talk about it for a long time.”
Added Mayor Woods: “We as a team don’t have a vision that is singular or concentrated or unified in this particular area.” He agreed that the board should table its discussion of longer terms.
About a dozen citizens and town staff attended Tuesday’s meeting. Among them was Rick Short, who lives in the Bradford neighborhood and has been an outspoken opponent of the change. Short helped raised questions about the wording of the July 17 resolution, which led to Tuesday’s special meeting.
Asked to comment afterward, he said only, “I’m glad they withdrew it.”