Majority of Fayetteville, NC City Council…a Dictatorship Government
29 August 2022
For several years, I have been extremely disturbed by various actions of our city council. However, the Council’s 6-4 vote on 22 August 2022 not to authorize a referendum on the Vote Yes Fayetteville petition has sent my disgust and distrust to a level beyond description. In my estimation, the six council members who voted not to put this referendum on the ballot simply followed the pattern of recent councils.
That is, they are and – if not challenged – will continue to be a dictatorship government. An unattributed online definition says this is “a type of government in which a single person—the dictator—or party has absolute power. This means that the ruler or party has complete control. The rights of the people are typically suppressed in a dictatorship, sometimes to a great degree.” I forthrightly contend that this is an accurate description of the recent past and current majority of Council, in general, and relating to the handling of the Vote Yes Fayetteville petition in particular.
In a CityView TODAY article headlined “City Council votes 6-4 against referendum on Vote Yes Initiative”, Michael Futch explains the Vote Yes effort as follows:
The Vote Yes initiative would restructure the election process for City Council members. Instead of electing all nine members by district, four members would be elected at large and five would be elected from districts. The mayor would continue to be elected citywide.
Against that backdrop, consider how this council processed the referendum petition. The decision as to whether the issue would appear on the November ballot as a referendum rested with the council and their decision had to be made no later than 22 August. The matter was tabled in two earlier meetings because there was a question as to whether the group leading the petition drive had done all the required steps. The final sticking point was whether General Statute 163-218 applies to this type of petition. The statute is copied below:
Article 19. Petitions for Elections and Referenda. § 163-218. Registration of notice of circulation of petition. From and after July 1, 1957, notice of circulation of a petition calling for any election or referendum shall be registered with the county board of elections with which the petition is to be filed, and the date of registration of the notice shall be the date of issuance and commencement of circulation of the petition. (1957, c. 1239, s. 1; 1967, c. 775, s. 1; 2017-6, s. 3; 2018-146, s. 3.1(a), (b).)
In their 8 August 2022 meeting, Council tasked City Attorney Karen McDonald with getting clarification regarding the Statute 163-218 question. In the 22 August meeting, McDonald reported that she had written to the Cumberland County Board of Elections regarding this issue. Copied below is the section of her letter that shows what information was requested:
I have been directed by the city Council to formally request (1) a copy of the filed notice of circulation and the date of registration as required in General Statute 163-218 and (2) whether the citizen-initiated petition is a valid petition since the provisions of 163-218 have not been met.
After stating that she had written to the Board of Elections and received a response, Attorney McDonald said, “At this point, Mayor, it appears, particularly based on the response, that there remains a question regarding the validity of the petition that was submitted to the City Council for consideration.” Immediately after that statement, Councilmember Mario Benavente made a motion that the City Council not put the referendum on the November ballot. The motion was seconded by Councilmember Derrick Thompson.
Before the vote, Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins asked some questions of the attorney. At the end of their exchange, Dawkins said, “So, we don’t know that the statute applies to the petition. Is that your guidance?” Attorney McDonald responded by saying, “No, my guidance is that when you look at 163-218, it says that ….” (She quotes the statute as it appears above.) After quoting the statute, McDonald says, “Because we have not received that, the Council has not received that, it appears to me to be a legitimate question as to the validity of the petition.”
The vote was taken and the Benavente motion carried 6-4. Voting in favor was Mayor Mitch Colvin, Council members Shakeyla Ingram, Mario Benavente, D.J. Haire, Derrick Thompson, and Courtney Banks-McLaughin. Voting in opposition to the motion, and wanting a referendum, were Council members Deno Hondros, Brenda McNair, Kathy Jensen, and Johnny Dawkins.
The letter from Angie Amaro, Interim Director of Elections, does say that a notice of circulation was not received by her office; however, the letter goes beyond that acknowledgement. What she writes makes it crystal clear, in my estimation, that she does not believe that this petition required a notice of circulation and she contends that the Fayetteville City Council has sole responsibility for determining the validity of the petition. The body of the Amaro letter is copied below:
I respond to your request for a document and an opinion as follows:
- The North Carolina State Board of Elections maintains information and guidance on filing petitions on its website. The only petition form provided on that website is a North Carolina Petition Request. Neither the State Board’s website nor the Petition Request form mentions a notice of circulation. I am not aware that any such form exists. Neither a document identified as a notice of circulation, nor a North Carolina Petition Request was filed in my office for this petition.
- I supervised the verification of the signatures attached to the petition that was presented to my office and June 13, 2022, notified Bobby Hurst that 5,009 names of the 5,721 signatures were qualified. That is my certification of the petition. This petition is to the Fayetteville City Council, not the Board of Elections. I am advised by the counsel to the State Board of Elections and the county attorney that whether the petition is valid is a question for the city council, citing G. S. § 160A-104.
Critical considerations from what is presented above coupled with some other points not mentioned there are summarized below:
- From Attorney McDonald’s letter to Ms. Amaro: (1) the city was notified on March 18, 2022 of the petition initiative; (2) June 13, 2022, the city received notification that the petition had been certified.
- The matter was tabled twice by the council after June 13th and not acted on until the last permitted day. Council had some 68 days in which to act on this petition, but waited until the last possible day.
- In the letter from Angie Amaro, Interim Director of Elections, to Attorney McDonald, she presents reasons for concluding that there is not a requirement for submission of a notice of circulation. This input from Amaro was not mentioned in the August 22nd meeting.
- Every indication is that Amaro is correct in stating that, under G.S. § 160A-104, it is City Council’s responsibility to determine validity of the petition. It reasonably follows that where over 5,000 registered voters were verified to have legitimately signed the petition, council members should have protected the process no matter their individual objections to the petition. That is, in fairness to citizens, council should have early on identified the concern and tenaciously worked to clarify the situation and advise the Vote Yes Fayetteville leadership. What is presented here indicates that Council made no serious effort to deal fairly with those of us among the 5,000 plus signers.
The bottom line is that everything here points to a majority of the most recent and present Fayetteville City Councils intentionally managing the petition process in a fashion that achieved their desired outcome of defeating it. In doing so, they clearly suppressed the rights and the will of over 5,000 citizens. I submit that this is a dictatorship government that abuses citizens, disregards individual rights, and will take this city to an unimaginable low point of existence. We cannot allow this to happen. Fayetteville citizens must faithfully gather information, think clearly, be informed voters who focus on issues and refuse to have their thinking controlled by skin color or self-interest; in the end, stand up for what is right, for what is Godly.
To the Vote Yes Fayetteville leadership, please tell me: (1) that there is a definite plan for challenging Council’s action in this matter; (2) how to financially support that plan; (3) what else I might do to help.