Republican legislators made big changes to Guilford County’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education without public input but also without much public opposition.
That probably won’t be the case if they try to change the size and structure of the Greensboro City Council. Since Sen. Trudy Wade suggested such action in December, a minor uproar has ensued. It should warn her to do nothing without popular support.
Wade, who engineered a change to make school board elections partisan, hasn’t shown her Greensboro cards. They may include reducing the nine-member council to seven while increasing terms from two years to four. Both moves would weaken the voice of the people.
North Carolina city councils vary in size. Charlotte’s has a dozen members. Fayetteville has 10 seats, High Point and Winston-Salem nine, Raleigh eight and Durham just seven. Greensboro is about average for the state’s larger cities.
The town of Eden, where Senate leader Phil Berger lives, has an eight-member council serving a population of just 15,000 — fewer than 2,000 people per councilman. With a population of about 280,000, Greensboro’s ratio is more than 30,000 people for each council member. Berger has expressed approval for changing Greensboro’s council, while there is no move to tinker with Eden’s.
Greensboro developer Roy Carroll, who owns the Rhino Times, wrote in that publication this month that he supports a structure that produces “a diversified majority of business professionals represented on the council,” which in his view may or may not require a smaller council.
The size of the council is one question. Whom voters elect to fill its seats is another matter.
Carroll contributed $9,000 to Berger’s campaign last year and $5,300 to Wade’s, so his voice will be heard. But legislators should listen to all the people.
Greensboro’s council structure is well balanced. It features a mayor directly elected by the people, plus three at-large members and five elected from individual districts. All areas of the city are represented, but each voter still gets a say in choosing five council members — a majority — every two years. Any alternative to this structure must address and correct a deficiency. It must be clearly superior. And it must have public support.
So, if Wade comes up with an idea for restructuring the council, on which she served, she should do the following:
* Write a draft and submit it to other Guilford County legislators and the elected council for review and comments. (The council is on record as opposing changes.)
* Hold public hearings in Greensboro, not just in Raleigh.
* Revise her proposal to take into account suggestions for improving it, or withdraw it if the reaction is negative.
* Put any proposed changes to a vote of the people, concurrent with city elections this November. The people must be given the last word on what their local governing body looks like.
Surely Wade won’t want to subject Greensboro to an unpopular or inferior council structure. While it may be hard to think of an alternative that would serve better, it will be easy to recognize a scheme that is worse or meant to benefit some people to the detriment of most.