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Charlotte City Council moves closer to four-year terms and adding a new member

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City of Charlotte
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Voters could decide on two significant changes to City Council in November.

The Charlotte City Council is on the verge of asking to voters to approve two significant changes to how it governs, by moving from two-year to four-terms and adding a new district representative.

The council’s budget and governance committee Tuesday unanimously approved the changes, which the full City Council will consider next. Voters would then get their say in a ballot referendum.

If voters OK the proposals — possibly this November — it would be the first change to how the city is governed since 1977. That’s when Charlotte switched from having seven at-large members who represented and were elected by the entire city to the current format, which is four at-large members and seven districts.

That change 45 years ago was led by Black leaders who wanted the city’s government to be more diverse. Creating districts allowed minority groups to elect representatives in what was then a majority-White city.

This year’s proposal is, in part, in response to how large the city has become, with nearly 900,000 residents. That's almost triple Charlotte's population in the 1980 Census.


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At-large council member LaWana Mayfield, who was a district representative last decade, said the demands on the seven district members are intense.

“The city has definitely grown a lot,” Mayfield said. “Even when I served the first time for eight years, District 3 had over 130,000 residents. That was a lot of neighborhood meetings and a lot of community conversations.”

The committee could have recommended reducing the number of at-large seats to three and still added a new district seat, but chose not to do that.

If the full council and voters approve the changes, the City Council would have 12 members. That could lead to an increase in tie votes — forcing the mayor to break ties.

Four-year terms

The other proposal was to switch from two-year terms to four-year terms for the mayor and council.

They would serve in staggered terms, meaning at least half of seats would be on the ballot every two years. That’s similar to how the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board is organized.

Mayfield and other council members have said the city has become so large and complex that council members need more time to govern before running for re-election. Under the current system, every seat is up for election every two years.

The city has debated moving to four-year terms several times in the past, but has never gone as far as putting the issue on the ballot.

The committee also discussed increasing the pay of council members, but took no action. Two years ago, the City Council voted to increase its pay, as well as the total compensation for the mayor.

Council members’ total pay is now roughly $52,000 — up from around $34,000. The mayor makes about $60,000 a year.

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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.