CHARLOTTE — Like the Greek Festival, Speed Street and pollen, discussions of four-year terms are an annual tradition in Charlotte. But this year, there appears to be momentum to hold a vote.
Despite being one of the most critical meetings a council member can attend, only Mayor Vi Lyles, Ed Driggs and Julie Eiselt attended Wednesday’s Charlotte City Council budget workshop in person. All other members skipped the meeting or chose to attend virtually.
Mayor Pro Tem Eiselt pointed to the low attendance as a reason why four-year terms would be beneficial.
“Look at today. We have a couple of members who showed up,” said Eiselt. “It is election season, and most people aren’t even here. The work seems to come to a grinding halt during election season every other year.”
Eiselt supports staggered four-year terms for the Charlotte City Council and the mayor so they can run for office again after one year of being reelected.
She compared the job to a master’s in public administration, where it “takes a couple of years, and then you learn how to apply it.”
“You have to build relationships, figure out where the power centers are and figure out how to get things done and you have to understand the issues,” she said. “In order to do that, that takes time.”
The city’s Citizen Advisory Committee on Governance supports staggered four-year terms, saying 80% of Charlotte’s peer cities have them, 351 of 393 jurisdictions have staggered terms, including eight out of 11 cities with populations over 50,000.
“At some point, we have to have this conversation,” Eiselt said. “We don’t like change. Nobody really likes change, but for a city our size to have two-year terms, especially for the office of mayor is crazy.”
If the council approves the measure, it would likely not apply immediately and voters may have the opportunity to decide on it. Eiselt says four-year terms may apply to two councils from now.
In 2015, voters rejected four-year terms for Mecklenburg County commissioners.
“I have been asked to bring it forward, and we will,” Councilman Ed Driggs, the Republican representative of District 7, said.
Driggs is the chair of the Budget and Governance Committee that deals with the topic. He pointed out that the legislature and House of Representatives have two-year terms, and Driggs says it doesn’t strike him as overly burdensome.
Driggs also thinks it gives voters a good system of checks and balances to ensure they are satisfied with their representatives.
“A lot of candidates for local office are relative newcomers, not very well known, and I think voters should have the opportunity in frequent intervals to review their performance and maybe make a change if they need to,” Driggs said.
The council doesn’t have to let voters decide on it. But if they don’t, voters can force a referendum on the topic by collecting 5,000 signatures.
A poll conducted in 2018 by Victory Enterprises found 62% oppose the idea.
(Watch the video below: Channel 9′s Joe Bruno sits down with James Mitchell, running for Charlotte city council at-large)
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