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Bill to split Asheville into districts clears House on 67-49 vote
Tuesday, 04 July 2017 10:20

Dems’ Turner make deal, lends support

From Staff Reports

RALEIGH — A bill to divide Asheville into districts for the purpose of electing members of Asheville City Council passed  the full House 67-49 on June 27.

The measure cleared the Senate in April, and now that a revised version received final approval from the House, it will make its way back to the Senate for approval of the House version of the bill. At that point, the bill would become law.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, who is claiming members of council typically come from a certain geographic region of the city — especially North Asheville, downtown and West Asheville, leaving many groups feeling disenfranchised. 

Edwards’ bill calls for dividing the city into six districts, each to elect its own representative for city council. The mayor would continue to be elected citywide. It further instructs the city’s designees to draw the districts no later than Nov. 1, for implementation in the 2019 election; with the default position being that the legislature will draw the district lines in 2018.

Meanwhile, Rep. Brian Turner, D-Buncombe, committed his support for the bill after striking a deal in which Edwards agreed to an amendment to allow an independent commission to draw the districts. The independent commission that Turner is proposing would have seven members with no more than three coming from the same political party. Trying to preserve as much autonomy as possible in the given circumstances, the city launched a parallel defensive track with a citizen survey. 

Not finding much interest in district elections, council decided to hold a referendum on Nov. 7 to record the voice of the people. That is the same date as the general election for four council seats.Council is scheduled to vote July 25 on whether or not to hold that referendum, a point that may by then be moot.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer has said the legislature may be setting itself up for a legal challenge on constitutional grounds. Manheimer — an attorney with experience working with state government — had previously expressed concerns over things that can go wrong when people unfamiliar with the area try to draw districts. 

Both Edwards and Turner represent South Asheville, an area that tends to vote more in-line with business interests and fiscal conservatism than the rest of the city.Turner’s support of Edwards’ bill, which passed the Senate in April, likely will improve its chances of passing the House, when it comes up for a floor vote, likely some time in early July.

Edwards noted that Asheville has grown significantly since its current system of government was enacted in 1935, but that the election process has not changed. He added that the time for change in Asheville’s system is now.



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