The Fayetteville City Council recently, tentatively, approved new municipal electoral district lines, and as reported by the news media, “…some of the incumbents would see big changes… .” Although there has to be a tweaking of the district lines each time there is a significant  annexation, such as the recent annexation of Fort Bragg, this doesn’t have to be so unsettling or painful every time.  
   Since 1986, the City of Fayetteville has had electoral districts, starting with six districts in 1986 and swelling to nine in the 1990s. At one point, the council had 12 members (nine districts and three at-large) plus the mayor.  At the end of the ‘90s, those at-large seats on the council disappeared. As any observer of the council knows, the competition for scarce revenues vs. the needs of the community has often led to significant district turf battles. As is the case in any battle, there’s a winner and a loser, and those on the losing end of the funding were left with lingering acrimony.
   In an effort to resolve this dilemma, the council studied multimember districts in the mid-‘90s. The plan considered was three districts with three members in each district.
   The map looked like a fan with its smaller end east of the Cape Fear River approximately centered at I-95, exit 56, and then the three districts fanning out to the west. For discussion purposes, the district lines might have followed Raeford Road to the south and across the river, Raeford Road to Bragg Boulevard, and Bragg Boulevard to the north and across the river. As the city annexed new areas, these lines would expand to the west. These are approximations to paint a mental picture and certainly not the actual lines. However, this configuration would be easier to redefine each time than the gerrymandering that is occurring now to protect incumbents. 
   Part of the problem with obtaining approval for a redistricting plan is that annexation planning, to be sound and comply with the general statutes, has to follow water/sewer extension planning. This is not a concern of the Department of Justice , which has to give pre-clearance (its word for approval) of the new lines each time. No one can disagree with the one-man, one-vote doctrine — and protection of incumbents — but the DOJ has never given any credit to the water/sewer concerns in its pre-clearance processing. With only three lines to adjust (excluding the city limits perimeter), it seems that allowing for population growth that follows water/sewer would make for a much easier and less costly process.
   Another advantage to three districts (could be two or three members in each) would be less infighting over projects such as street resurfacing lists and new recreation facilities.
   It would also provide an easier transition to what some other larger municipalities do, and that is require approval through the committee process of 2/3 of the council before an item may be placed on a regular meeting agenda.

  Contact Bob Cogswell at editor@upandcomingweekly.com
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