City council races unclear until SB36 resolved

Greensboro City Council members are anxiously awaiting for the drama, formerly knows as SB36, to unfold tonight. The bill, which was expected to be voted on by the N.C. House of Representatives on Monday night, was delayed and rescheduled for today. The bill was first introduced by Senator Trudy Wade earlier this year and has been trudging along since. But not without controversy. Every sitting council member, with the exception of District 5 representative Tony Wilkins, has spoken out loudly in protest to Wade’s redistricting plan.

To offset the controversy and make her idea more appealing, Wade stuffed her original SB36 plan into a bill that includes a much less controversial plan to change the Trinity City Council. Whether this works for Wade or not will be seen soon.

If passed, the council structure would change by shrinking the council from nine seats to eight. Currently, the council consists of five district representatives, three at large members and a mayor. If the new bill passes, there will be seven district members and a mayor. The mayor will also only be allowed to vote if there is a tie between the district members. It’s awfully hard for a vote of seven to end in a tie.

However, who is elected and where is not the only change that could come. According to Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt, how people are elected in Greensboro will also change. “The system we have now is operated by a primary followed by a general election. The new way would have an election and then a run off.” Collicutt explained that the new bill, if passed, would only have a run off if candidates failed to capture more than 50 percent of the vote. That would mean we could have only a few candidates participating in the run off election in November.

If Mayor Nancy Vaughan gets 50 percent of the vote in October, then she wins and that race is over, under Wade’s plan. Same thing goes for all the other seven districts as well. The candidates that get 50 percent of the vote in October wins and there is no run off. This set up, if passed, could greatly shorten the election season. It also could mean that Greensboro’s historically low voting numbers for October could jump tremendously.

On the other hand, if the people don’t come out to vote in October, the entire election could be decided by less that 5 percent of the voting population.

Insiders also reported to YES! Weekly that if the controversial bill becomes a law, it is very likely that two long time at-large council members will not seek re-election. Yvonne Johnson and Mike Barber are said to be ready to hang up their council careers if the bill passes.

That would leave Jamal Fox of District 2 as a favorite and Nancy Hoffman a favorite in the newly created District 4. Hoffman would have some competition from current at-large council member MariKay Abuzuaiter, but she would still be considered a favorite to win.

If the bill passes, Greensboro’s newest council member, Justin Outling, would be a strong favorite in the newly formed District 7 as well. It was heavily rumored that Guilford County School Board Member Deena Hayes was going to run in the new District 7. If that were to happen, Outling would have some serious competition. However, she doesn’t appear interested in the seat and that leaves Outling on the inside track to getting elected. Outling was appointed to the council to fill former councilman Zack Matheny’s seat last week. One thing Outling would bring to the council, if SB36 passes, is a greater chance for a tie between district representatives. Outling is an attorney for the law firm of Brooks Pierce and they do a lot of work for the city. Expect Outling to recuse himself often. If the bill is passed, his conflicts and recusals could result in the mayor breaking a lot of ties between the remaining six council members.

One of the races that will undoubtedly be close and more than likely headed for a run off is District 1. Currently Sharon Hightower is the representative. She won in 2013 by narrowly defeating Dianne Bellamy- Small by a dozen votes. Expect a rematch for this one and expect it to be close. Sources close to both camps have all but guaranteed Bellamy- Small will run again in 2015. Bellamy-Small won her first election in 2003 by defeating incumbent Belvin Jessup. She remained the District 1 representative until losing to Hightower in 2013. After losing to Hightower, she unsuccessfully ran for the Guilford County Commissioners. !