Public office terms: What is most beneficial to Fayetteville?

This entry was contributed by on December 11th, 2015 at 3:44 pm and is filed under , .
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In Fayetteville, North Carolina there has been discussion on whether or not to expand the city council and mayoral terms from two years to four. Sitting city officials have brought up the matter at public forums. They cite the difficulty of accomplishing the city’s goals in two years, particularly for new councilmen who have a learning curve when taking office. The Cumberland County Commissioners have four-year terms and they believe that it is appropriate to mirror their structure.

Some in Fayetteville believe that extending the two-year city council terms to four years makes sense. Councilman Larry Wright of District 7, has publicly voiced his concern that a two-year term is not enough to learn the ropes of city council and then launch and fund a re-election campaign.

Councilman Mitch Colvin of District 3 stated that taxpayers make an investment to train incoming council members because they have to travel out of town for training and state conferences. So it would not make sense financially to train a new councilman every two years.

Mayor Nat Robertson stated that, “the system has worked, and it has worked for years, but it’s hardly the recipe for great council work during the last six months of a term, when members are distracted by the details of setting up and running a campaign and finding the money to fund it – which these days runs well into the thousands.”  Robertson also served on the City Council from 1989 – 2001.


Reasons for a Two-Year Term

Some might argue that the two-year terms will motivate elected officials to move at a much faster rate to accomplish their goals while they are in office. Not allowing elected officials to get comfortable enough to waste the city’s time.

Another argument for the two-year term is that there is quick turn around for bad councilmen. If a new council member is particularly poor, or a dud, there is only two years until the public is able to rectify the error lessening the amount of damage that can be done.


Reasons for a Four-Year Term

Some have said that it is difficult to see the results of plans put in action regarding community development, reduction of homelessness, and the overall economic health of the jurisdiction they govern in two years because it is a building process.

It is worth noting that since the question has been raised over term duration, all of the concerned councilmen have been reelected. Some with an overwhelming majority.

So if the public is reelecting the same people based on their two-year terms, would they then be resistant to a four-year term? Or why fix something that isn’t broken?



12 Responses to “Public office terms: What is most beneficial to Fayetteville?”

  1. Retha Gaither

    Our five member Board rotates, meaning there is an election every two of three members. The top two officials who receive the most votes will have four year terms and the third person with the most votes will only have a two year term.

    • John Stephens

      Retha – interesting system, where someone always has a 2-year term, but everyone else has a four-year (unless only 2 people run). Which town is this, please? And what do you and others think about it?

    • Michelle Bir

      Hi Retha,
      Thanks for your comment! That’s interesting. Where is that? Are all the districts equal in size? I kind of like that.

  2. Megan Smit

    Members on our board have four-year terms. I’m a big proponent of this term length because it gives staff and board members a chance to work together and accomplish something. When terms run alongside a two-year election cycle, the lack of continuity can complicate strategic planning efforts, as well as perpetuate a burden on staff continually educating new members. And let’s face it, politicians and politics don’t happen occur inside a vacuum. A four-year term gives staff a break from some of the politics also.

    • Michelle Bir

      Hi Megan,
      Thanks for you comment! What county is your board in? Yeah, I totally get that and I would agree that running a campaign does take away from the job. But what happens if you have a board that isn’t working well together and in gridlock? The citizens have to wait 4 years to replace them. The question isn’t what is best for the councilmen, it is what is best for the community. Here in Cumberland County, 2 year terms have worked and the councilmen know what they are getting into before they run. Should they not be expected to operate on the level that they asked citizens to appoint them? I mean they are politicians, should is it fair to give them a ‘break’ from politics? Isn’t that what they are suppose to do?

      • Megan Smit

        We’re in Cabarrus County. To respond to your point about what’s best for the community, I add that well-educated, engaged council members are going to make better decisions for the community, as opposed to council members who are championing whichever topic will get them re-elected when they campaign next year.

        Gridlock happens. It’s an opportunity for board members, and community members (don’t forget how valuable public comments are), to focus on what’s really important. Conflict is normal and understandable when considering the wide array of constituents council members are elected to represent.

        On a closing note, we must remember that a council member doesn’t have authority on his own – it takes council members acting collectively to make decisions. I believe this adequately protects the community’s best interests while allowing council members the opportunity to become invested in their role.

  3. Esther J. McCrackin

    When I started with the City, Council was in the midst of moving from 2 year terms to 4 year staggered terms. I have documents for how the council considered and enacted the change.

    I have information about the thinking and resolution language for the change from 2yr to 4yr terms. For those that are interested.
    Personally, I really like the staggered terms and it has worked well for Council because the experienced members help the new members get up to speed with existing projects/needs, etc. and yet the new members bring new ideas. In other words, there is continuity with each 2 year voting cycle.

    Hope this helps — call or email me if you have any questions.

    Esther J. McCrackin – City Clerk – City of Henderson, NC

  4. Michelle Bir

    Interestingly enough, there was an informal vote the other day, it went 8-2 in favor of moving forward with a formal vote in March to put it on the referendum in November. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the councilmen that is in opposition of the election change this afternoon. Bobby Hurst of District 5 says:

    “Simply it allows for more accountability with constituents. Although staggered terms was a good idea, CM Wright’s request was for 4 w/staggered or remain the same. Four years is too long until the next election should a poor, in effective, Councilor get elected. I get the sense that supporting 4 year term at the City Council level is like creating a “job” for yourself. Of course nothing against CM Wright – just my opinion.”


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