Fayetteville City Council is considering asking the legislature for authority to give citizens the right to recall elected officials who misbehave in office. It’s an outgrowth of the attempted bribery case involving former District 2 Councilman Tyrone Williams. City attorney Karen McDonald told council several North Carolina cities have recall provisions in their charters. But, she said, there is no consistent pattern to the various arrangements.
McDonald offered ideas that council members can consider, such as a method by which citizens could circulate a petition of grievances. It would require a predetermined percentage of registered voters’ signatures, which would be submitted to the Cumberland County Board of Elections. Once certified, the elected official would have five days to resign or face a recall election.
Because council members are elected from districts, one question that remained unanswered is whether the vote would be in the district where the member was elected or citywide. “Whatever we do wrong impacts the entire city,” said Councilman Bill Crisp.
“If city taxpayers pay for the recall election, city taxpayers should vote,” agreed Councilman Jim Arp.
City Manager Doug Hewett cautioned that city council must take care in developing criteria for having members removed from office. “This is something that is extraordinary; an avenue of last resort,” he said.
North Carolina does not provide for statewide recall elections. Virginia’s law states that recalls can be held when “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.”
Council is also considering a plan to do away with primary elections and extending terms of office from two to four years. Mayor Mitch Colvin said any such changes would be put to a vote of the people.
“Primaries cost a lot of money and serve no purpose,” Crisp said. He said primaries cost the city $100,000 and that he wants to save the money.
Councilwoman Kathy Jensen voted against the Crisp plan to cancel primaries. She thinks they help ensure the ultimate winners of the general election have clear support of the voters.
Crisp also wants to raise the filing fees for city council candidates to one percent of the annual salary.
Councilwoman Tisha Waddell objected, saying, “There are people who may not have a lot of money but have a lot to offer.”
Crisp contended that candidates who have popular support could easily raise the money to pay the higher filing fees.
City council took no action on any of the proposals but agreed to further discuss conditions that would justify including recall elections in the city charter.