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City Council Reverses Course, Rejects Four-Year Terms

City of Charlotte
The City Council voted 7-3 Monday against moving to four-year terms.

In a surprising vote Monday night, the Charlotte City Council voted 7-3 against switching to four-year terms, after a majority of council members supported the idea for months.

Monday's vote was expected to be the first formal endorsement of switching from two-year terms to four-year terms.

A week before, council members had voted in a strategy session to place the issue on Monday's ballot, with only three members voting no. Republicans Ed Driggs and Tariq Bokhari have opposed the longer terms from the start, and Democrat LaWana Mayfield opposed the idea of placing the longer terms on the November ballot. She wanted council members to make the decision themselves.

On Monday night, Democratic Mayor Vi Lyles said she personally thought four-year terms would be the best way to govern. But she said she was worried the longer terms would be rejected by voters, and she didn't see anyone or any organization willing to convince the public that the change is needed.

Lyles did not vote. But her position appeared to make other council members to change their minds.

In the final vote, Democrats Braxton Winston, James Mitchell and Larken Egleston voted to move the process forward. Egleston said he was likely to eventually vote against longer terms, but was willing to have a public hearing on the issue.

Democrats Justin Harlow, Greg Phipps, Dimple Ajmera and Matt Newton also voted no. Phipps had been one of the biggest champions of longer terms.

Julie Eiselt couldn't attend Monday's meeting.

"I'm not sure why we are doing this to ourselves," Harlow said. "I think this will be a waste of time."

Council members who had supported the change had said that two-year terms are too short. They said they can only focus on city issues for their first year before focusing on re-election, which includes raising money and attending numerous forums and debates across the city.

Asheville, Cary, Durham, Greensboro and Winston-Salem all have four-year terms for their councils.

Council members had said they would want some officials up for re-election every two years.

One possibility was that the mayor and four at-large members would have faced voters in one two-year cycle. The seven district members would have been on the ballot two years later.

This was the city’s first look at the issue since 2011 when a blue-ribbon panel led by former mayors Harvey Gantt and Richard Vinroot recommended against four-year terms.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.