Tom Blount: Make your vote count!

Feb. 10, 2013 @ 01:40 AM

Despite “up-North” cold temperatures, a seed planted before the 2012 High Point City Council elections already has sprouted full bloom.
Now, it’s time for you, the public being “served” by City Council, to nip it in the bud!
News reports tell us that council members favor switching from two-year terms to staggered four-year terms “to give new council members time to learn the ropes and to ensure some experienced council members would remain after each election,” and “changing to odd-numbered-year elections and instituting a primary.”  Two of those ideas are good, the first – staggered four-year terms – not so much, if at all.
As Pat Kimbrough reported in late January, “council members and the mayor have served two-year terms since 2000, when city voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum” doing away with four-year terms. The report also noted that council switched to even-year elections “to try to increase voter turnout.” Changing to odd-numbered years would require a local act of the N.C. General Assembly which, according to city legal adviser Fred Baggett, “would not be difficult to obtain.”
Arguments for staggered four-year don’t hold water.
City Council isn’t rocket science or Quantum physics.
If it takes someone elected to council more than a year to “catch on,” it’s a pretty good indication she/he shouldn’t be there anyway. Many reporters with whom I worked over 60 years at newspapers, have known as much – and some quite a bit more – about council’s responsibilities, how council worked, how well it worked and what went on behind the scenes as council did. Granted, even over several years, other reporters  didn’t have a clue and shouldn’t have been on that beat.
When I covered a council for 2½ years in the late 1960s, councilmen frequently were amazed at how much I knew about how and why they did what they did. Especially when I would write columns about what I suspected was discussed, and who said what, in closed meetings. “Spot on!” one councilman would tell me each time. The mayor asked me several times if I had placed a bug in the room.
Interesting, isn’t it, that legislators in both chambers of the General Assembly serve two-year terms as do members of the U.S. House of Representatives and governors of New Hampshire and Vermont, yet City Council members need twice as long to learn how to do their jobs efficiently.
High Point better would be served if primaries are held in municipal elections. Consider: Mayor Bernita Sims was elected by just 33 percent of the vote. Many people have wondered why/how Matthew Fowler Sr. (4,011 votes, 11 percent), who didn’t campaign, and Tammy Holyfield (3,574 votes, 10 percent), who withdrew after ballots were printed drew support from one-fifth of the voters. Suggestion: Many of you may not have wanted to vote for Sims, newcomer Coy Williard or 19-year veteran councilman Chris Whitley – similar to none-of-the-above.
Primaries would narrow the general election field to two candidates. And High Point should retain nonpartisan elections and return to elections held in odd-numbered-years.
Sam Stone, News & Observer, clearly explained why local partisan elections are harmful: “Partisanship allows, perhaps even forces, local officials to introduce irrelevant perspectives and objectives. Regardless of the topic for deliberation, party allegiance casts a shadow that prefigures outcomes. … Most egregious is the bloc voting that partisanship expects. Such votes seldom reflect open-mindedness or conscientious attention to facts and responsible dialogue.”
Don’t stand for High Point City Council to playing the non-binding referendum game, trying to convince you they care about what you think.
They don’t.
Participate! Bombard council with your frosty thoughts about four-year terms, odd-year and nonpartisan primary elections.

Tom Blount retired as editor of The High Point Enterprise in 2012.