It's over for now.
The mayor and the City Council got it right Monday night, opting to put an end to discussion about four-year, staggered terms for council members in future election seasons.
“I would make a motion that we do not move forward with the change of the charter to move our charge from two years to four-year, staggered terms,” said Derrick Thompson, the 62-year-old freshman councilman who on March 3 first broached the notion of taking current two-year council terms to four-year, staggered terms — a proposal, Thompson said, that could save the city money, time and stability and provide council members with an opportunity to concentrate on strategic planning of municipal projects.
A council change in the city charter, Thompson had initially said, is in the council’s authority under state law.
But on April 10 at a public hearing, city residents were overwhelmingly against Thompson’s proposal for four-year, staggered terms. If nothing else, the majority of some 30 residents said, at the least give city residents the voice to decide in a November ballot referendum.
Voting for the motion to drop the issue were Mayor Mitch Colvin, Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins and council members Kathy Keefe Jensen, Shakeyla Ingram, D.J. Haire, Brenda McNair, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin, Deno Hondros, and Thompson.
Freshman Councilman Mario Benavente voted against Thompson’s motion.
“I believe folks who came made it clear they want this on a referendum,” Benavente said before the vote, referencing the April 10 public hearing. “It would be a mistake to take away the voice of the people.”
He would have preferred a referendum in November. City residents rejected a plan for four-year, staggered terms, with 65% of voters opposing it, in a 2018 referendum.
A third option, according to City Attorney Karen McDonald, was to do nothing.
Benavente’s words fell on deaf council ears.
‘We’re killing it’
“What in a sense we’re doing with this is we’re killing it,” Dawkins said prior to the vote. “We’re not going to move it to a referendum. The people have spoken years ago — three or four, I can’t remember how many years ago now. But we want in effect to table it, but we’ll see. But I’m going to vote in favor of in effect tabling it. Killing it.”
Hondros, another freshman councilman, sided with Benavente.
“I think to kill it now is a cop-out,” Hondros said.
Jensen was clear in her assessment: No change from two-year terms for council members to four-year, staggered terms. And no referendum.
“I don’t know if you’ve got the emails that I got or you got the phone calls I got, but my phone was blowing up and my emails were off the hook,” Jensen told the council. “I know that my district has told me very loud and very clear that they are not in favor. I am ready to move on and start doing the city’s business. So, when I do not vote” for a ballot referendum, “I do not want to see in the paper tomorrow, ‘Council member Jensen voted not to take it to the people.’ I’ve heard from my constituents, and they have been loud and clear.”
To be all the more clear here: The was no misinformation, as the mayor prefaced Monday, about the issue. Nothing, if you listened carefully in previous meetings.
City Attorney Karen McDonald had made the council’s options quite clear on April 10, saying the council could vote to change the city charter, propose a referendum, or do nothing and let the proposal die.
The preponderance of city residents who spoke at the April 10 public hearing came to tell Mayor Mitch Colvin and the council it simply did not want the council exercising a unilateral decision. If that were to be the case, city residents said, we’ll make that decision by referendum.
Not the mayor, city residents said, but us. Not Kathy Keefe Jensen, Shakelya Ingram, Mario Benavente, D.J. Haire, Johnny Dawkins, Brenda McNair, Derrick Thompson, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin or Deno Hondros, city residents said, but we the people.
‘Don’t be tone-deaf’
Peter Pappas, a businessman who failed in his District 6 bid against Thompson in the past election, was one of those city residents who came on April 10 to voice his opposition to four-year, staggered terms.
“Tonight, you will put the matter of extending your terms to a vote,” Pappas would say in an email to the city manager and council member before Monday’s council meeting. “On April 10, I appeared before this council to voice my opposition to the matter. I tried to convey that claiming a cost savings or that there is not enough time to work on behalf of the citizens before your next campaign is a pack of lies. Your own agenda packet has a statement from city management stating the impact on the budget is unknown at this time, which proves that the contradictory statements of council members who claim that fewer elections will mean less cost is invalid.
“Thanks to the journalism of the CityView (website), as of Sunday morning, April 23, it was stated that the council has four votes solidly opposing the extension of your terms. I would like to see that number become unanimous among all members before you step into chambers. It would be tone-deaf in today’s political climate to use your statutory authority to vote to extend your terms when you were currently voted in to serve two years.
“We the people peacefully recycle our government every two to four years,” Pappas wrote. “It is the American way, and it is the only way.”
‘You’re out of order, ma’am’
This wasn’t an easy evening for the mayor, who earlier found himself embroiled in a decorum issue with Councilwoman Ingram, who challenged Gregory Perkins, chairman of the Community Police Advisory Board, after Perkins’ report on the board’s annual progress in working with the city Police Department.
Ingram followed up on Benavente’s inquiry to Perkins regarding May 20, 2020, when protesters and provocateurs damaged the Market House in protest of the George Floyd murder by a Minneapolis police office.
Perkins told the councilwoman he was not aware of the specific date, later telling Ingram he was aware of the Market House protest and stood at City Hall with other local ministers calling for calm in the aftermath. And he later supported repurposing the historic landmark, where Black slaves were sold in the 1800s.
“In a general overall conversation, when we say May 2020, it is unforgettable for anyone to forget what happened, and I think for anyone to lead an organization, it should ring a bell like it was yesterday,” Ingram told Perkins, a volunteer chaplain with the Police Department. “So, it is a bit alarming that it didn’t ring a bell to you, because I think many people in Fayetteville have some significant trauma to what occurred whether they look like me or don’t look like me. There is some significance to May 2020.”
The mayor would take umbrage, saying it should not be “an interrogation” of Perkins, a volunteer trying to make the city a better place.
“But, Mister Mayor, I wasn’t creating a interrogation,” the councilwoman interrupted.
“Just hold on,” the mayor said.
Ingram talked over the mayor.
“You are out of order, ma’am,” the mayor said. “You’re out of order.”
“No,” the councilwoman said. “You interrupted me.”
“Council member Ingram,” the mayor beckoned. “Council member Ingram.”
Dawkins, the mayor pro tem, suggested that the mayor could silence Ingram’s microphone because the councilwoman was not abiding by the mayor’s request.
“Don’t do that,” Ingram said.
Good fodder for reporters, perhaps, but an uncomfortable scenario for others witnessing the heated exchange between the mayor and the councilwoman.
The mayor told Ingram that if she had questions for Perkins to ask them on her own time and not the council’s time.
“That’s OK,” Ingram told the mayor. “I meant what I said.”
And we wonder why so many city residents are opposed to four-year, staggered terms, and why there are some city residents so put off by some council members.
No matter; in the end Monday evening, the council got it all right, including a rather contrite Councilman Thompson.
Two terms per election cycle, council. Two terms per election cycle.
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-624-1961.