In the face of state efforts to change how they’re elected, the Wake County Board of Commissioners responded Monday by agreeing to form a citizens committee to get public feedback on the issue of voter representation.
The new committee, which could have as many as 35 members, would look at issues such as how Wake County commissioners are elected and whether some parts of the county are under-represented. Commissioners say they’re hoping the State House will hold off on acting on Senate Bill 181 to give time for the new committee to study the topic.
Senate Bill 181 would change Wake commissioner districts, notably eliminating having commissioners run countywide in favor of only in regional districts. Before the bill was passed in the Senate last week, Republican lawmakers rejected a Democratic-backed measure to put the election change to a referendum in Wake County.
“The people deserve to have a voice, and we should hear what they have to say,” said James West, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Republican lawmakers have cited as reasons for the bill that five of the seven commissioners live in Raleigh, which they say means rural areas being underrepresented. Democratic lawmakers have charged the bill is political payback for Republicans being swept off the Wake board.
Commissioner John Burns said his support for the creating the committee should not be interpreted as an admission that they’re not adequately representing all parts of the county. He and other commissioners have criticized the bill and the intentions of Republican lawmakers, something that occurred again Monday.
“I believe very strongly that this is not indicative of the will of the people,” said Commissioner Jessica Holmes. “It’s indicative of Sen. Chad Barefoot and some of the Wake delegation that is simply upset that their candidates lost. It’s purely partisan. It’s purely politics.”
The committee would include the mayors for all 12 municipalities, a designee for each of the 16 House and Senate members whose districts are in Wake County and members of the public appointed by the seven commissioners.
Monday’s meeting was only a work session so the official vote on forming the committee and appointing the members will take place April 6. A concern raised by some commissioners is whether the House will have approved the bill by then.
Commissioners were told Monday that former Sen. Richard Stevens, the county’s registered lobbyist, is “working with the House leadership and the Wake County delegation on trying to slow it and give more time for public input as well as input from the commissioners.”
“I feel very strongly that the House will have better judgment and better sense on dealing with the situation,” said Commissioner Betty Lou Ward.