Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer says the city’s response has been delayed to a 2018 General Assembly measure forcing election districts to be created for future city council elections because Asheville did not have a city attorney for several months. Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Manheimer says that all should change now that Brad Branham will take over as city attorney April 8th.
"The city council has asked for legal advice to help them understand what their options are so that they can try to deal with the legislation that best reflects the desires of the voters of Asheville," the mayor said, alluding to the fact that Asheville voters in 2017 via a ballot referendum overwhelmingly rejected the use of districts for council elections. "We are still in transition here with our legal representation. Our new city attorney starts next month."
Branham replaces Robin Currin, who resigned effective last September. That came just a few months after the Republican-led General Assembly passed a bill forcing the city to use council districts for future elections. Supporters of the measure said other large cities in North Carolina used districts for similar elections, and that any state measure dealing with the matter superseded any local actions, including the 2017 voter referendum. Because the measure was a local bill in the General Assembly, it was not subject to a veto from Democratic governor Roy Cooper.
Currently, all council members are elected at-large, and both primary and general elections are officially non-partisan. All current Asheville city council members are registered Democrats however, and that's been that way for most of this decade. Under the bill creating districts, council elections will now be held in even-numbered years, pushing this year’s election to 2020. Five districts would be created, meaning one council seat would still be elected at-large, as well as mayor.