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City takes look at splitting itself into political districts
Thursday, 02 February 2017 17:12

From Staff Reports

Asheville City Council is revisiting a proposal to split the city into political districts — a move it is making after roughly six months following a tough fight that stopped a powerful state lawmaker from forcing the change on the city.

Under the current setup, all seven council members, including the mayor, are elected at-large, a system that allows every city voter to vote on all council seats. Also, there is no residency restriction for council candidates, other than that they live in Asheville.

District systems often vary, but at the minimum they require that some members of the governing body live in the districts for which they are running to assure geographic diversity. Also, voters only can cast ballots for candidates representing their respective district.

Council’s three-member governance committee on Dec. 13 approved examing the possibility of shifting to a district system.

The discussion at council’s mid-January public hearing was led by Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, who noted that she has heard some interest in Asheville and some in the state legislature in Raleigh to change to districts.

Therefore, Wisler said she, on behalf of the city, is trying to determine whether there is significant interest in the plan.

Wisler acknowledged that she  does not have a suggested method for gauging resident interest — nor does she have a timetable.

However, if a majority of council members agree that the district idea is worthy, she would want to turn over the process of determining citizen interest in the change to the municipal staff.

Meanwhile, Councilman Cecil Bothwell has said he thinks Asheville is too small for districts, although he said he does not mind getting feedback from the community for the idea.

Councilman Gordon Smith said he would prefer to commission a poll, rather than hold public meetings for feedback, to get a better sense of where the voters stand on the issue.

In June, then-state Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Hendersonville, introduced legislation to mandate six districts, under which the mayor still would be elected at-large. Apodaca represented a large area that included a portion of South Asheville. However, his efforts failed, as other legislators accused him of being heavy-handed in forcing the change on Asheville. 


 



 


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