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Mecklenburg County To Vote On Commissioners' Term Lengths

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Early voting starts Thursday and on the ballot is a significant change to local government besides who'll be mayor or serve on city council. Mecklenburg County voters will get to decide whether to change the terms of county commissioners from two years to four years.

Mecklenburg County is the only one in North Carolina where all commissioners serve two-year terms. More than 90 percent of counties use four-year terms, and a few others use a mix of two- and four-year terms, according to the state association of county commissioners.

Getting in line with the rest of the state is one reason for the referendum. Democratic Commissioner George Dunlap also argues the change would lead to better governing.

"Most commissioners will tell you they spend a year campaigning and less than a year governing and beginning to plan for the next campaign," he says.

Dunlap and six of his colleagues voted to put the referendum on the ballot. Two commissioners voted not to: Republican Matthew Ridenhour and Democrat Pat Cotham.

Cotham says the current setup gives voters more chances to hold commissioners accountable. 

"They have that right to tell us we're doing a good job or not," she says. "Two years is good enough for Congress and our legislators, so I think it's fine."

Mecklenburg County voters have in the past rejected a similar referendum. In 1999, 54 percent of voters decided not to switch county commissioners to staggered four-year terms.