Fayetteville City Council members not only wanted to extend their terms of office, they are seeking legislative authorization to remove a member from office should the need arise. Voters said no to changing the terms. Council voted unanimously at a work session to ask the North Carolina General Assembly to grant it recall authority.
Members have not said why they prefer recall to amotion, an existing process by which elected officials can be removed from office. This year, 2nd district Councilman Tyrone Williams faced the amotion process and chose to resign. The recall proposal, authored by city attorney Karen MacDonald, is patterned in part after recall ordinances in Durham and Greensboro.
A recall procedure would allow Fayetteville citizens an opportunity to address any “serious concerns that may arise between regular city elections with regard to allegations of misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance or a violation of the oath of office,” as stated in the proposed resolution adopted by council.
A recall ordinance would also provide an opportunity for a council member to resign rather than face a vote of the people. A recall document would be submitted by a five-member council committee asking for a formal petition.
Councilman Larry Wright commented that the process seemed lengthy.
“It is a high bar and will require a lot of work,” responded MacDonald.
Fifteen percent of registered voters in the effected member’s district would ask the Cumberland County Board of Elections for certification of the petition. It would then be sent to the city clerk, who would submit it to the city council and notify the elected official whose removal is sought. If the elected official does not resign within five days, the city council would then order a date for a recall election.
In other business, city council agreed to strengthen the city’s code enforcement ordinance and fine property owners who ignore nuisances on their properties. Owners could be fined for noncompliance with regulations governing overgrown lots or yards, junk and abandoned vehicles, maintenance of structures, illegal signs and other public nuisances. Fines of up to $1,000 could be imposed for repeat offenders.
Michael Martin, assistant development services director, said more than 90 properties in the city had four violations last year.
Several council members expressed concerns about burdening property owners with financial hardships. Councilman D.J. Haire said people in his district dump limbs, refrigerators and furniture on vacant properties and the owners are held responsible.
“It’s just a vacant lot and it’s always, of course, on that property owner,” he said. Other council members took a harder line. “Whatever happens is their responsibility, and they must be held accountable,” said councilwoman Tisha Waddell.
Council agreed on a tiered approach in which a $500 fine would be levied on a fourth violation in any 365-day period. After that, property owners would face $1,000 fines for each violation in that year. A property would no longer be a nuisance when there have been no violations within 12 months.