HUNTERSVILLE – Voters would ultimately have the final say about changes in the way town board members are elected, and the terms they serve. But before deciding whether to pursue a referendum on the subject, commissioners would like some type of public feedback.
At the board’s April 1 meeting, no one signed up to speak at a public hearing on a proposal to establish district representation on the council.
All six Huntersville commissions along with the mayor are elected by town-wide votes every two years. At the town’s planning retreat earlier this year, Commissioner Nick Walsh initiated discussion about amending the town’s charter to create a combination of district and at-large board representation and adjust the length of town board terms.
Commissioners agreed to schedule a public hearing, and while no residents participated, Walsh reiterated he believes the idea warrants consideration.
“Really just looking for another way for better representation,” Walsh said, referencing the town’s growing population as the primary reason for reevaluating procedures.
Walsh’s draft version of changes would keep the number of commissioners at six, but establish four in-town districts with lines drawn to balance populations in each.
Each district would elect a town board representative and the board would also include two at-large commissioners selected, like the mayor, through townwide voting.
The plan would also, after initial two-year terms for three positions, implement staggered four-year terms for all board members, creating a system where half of the seats were up for election every two years.
Walsh’s outline does not reference a change in the two-year terms served by the mayor.
During the hearing, several board members aired opinions about the proposal.
Commissioner Danny Phillips said he could “support a good part of this,” but emphasized citizens need to make the decision. Phillips added that for “years and years, most of your electeds were from downtown” in expressing his support for an approach guaranteeing representation from all parts of town.
Commissioner Brian Hines said he thought adjustments might be justified “sometime in the future,” but didn’t support immediate changes. “I don’t believe right now is the time to do it,” Hines said.
Mayor John Aneralla favors keeping the current system. “I think when you run, you represent the whole town,” Aneralla said.
Commissioner Mark Gibbons, without supporting or opposing, said the most important thing was for residents to share their views. “I’d like to hear from the public,” Gibbons said.
After the meeting, Walsh said he believes the town’s population – around 60,000 with growth expected to continue – and wide municipal footprint – close to 40 square miles not counting extra-territorial jurisdiction – along with the need for enhanced council continuity were all factors to consider.
“We’re at 60,000 now and growing, so what is the right number?” Walsh said. “And different parts of town have different issues. Skybrook (near the Cabarrus County line on the eastern edge of town) is completely different than out there where Danny (Phillips) lives (the Beatties Ford Road area on the west side of town).”
Walsh, 16-months into his first board term, admitted it takes time to “get up to speed” on town government matters and staggered terms would ensure a degree of town leadership continuity.
To place the item on the November 2019 ballot, a decision is required next month. The board’s next meeting is April 15.
If charges were approved in November, they would not be implemented until the 2021 election.