Residents back county board election change

By Emily Coakley
Published August 25th 2005 in The Herald-Sun
CHAPEL HILL -- Residents speaking at Wednesday night's public hearing agreed that the current election structure for the Orange County Commissioners should be changed. Some asked for a completely different method, while others asked for a voice.

"I feel like I'm not represented in my community," said Vern Miller, who lives in Little River Township. "There's things I'd like to have a voice in. I don't feel like I have one now."

Others advocated using a proportional, or cumulative system instead of a plurality.

"Proportional representation would provide the opportunity for meaningful representation to all Orange County residents," said Artie Franklin, who lives in Chapel Hill Township.

Franklin would like to see the county divided into overlapping "super districts" which would mix urban and nonurban voters.

Approximately 35 people attended the hearing, held at the Southern Human Services Center. The hearing lasted 30 minutes, with five people speaking to the board. The commissioners will host another public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the F. Gordon Battle Courtroom in Hillsborough.

Commissioners are currently elected at-large, and have offered three options. Public comments are not limited to these options, which are:

-- Candidates for five seats would be nominated from the district in which he or she resides. In the general election, voters would vote on all candidates nominated in the primary, no matter which district the voter resided in.

-- The second option involves a board of seven commissioners comprised of five district and two at-large seats. Voters would choose candidates from their district in the primary, then vote on all of those nominated in the general election.

-- Under the final proposal, the county would be split into two districts: one would comprise the five northernmost townships. In that district, voters would nominate people for two seats on the board. In the southern end of the county, there would be a district comprised of two townships, and that district would nominate people for three seats. All voters would vote on the nominees throughout the county in the general election.

District lines in these proposals have not been determined, Carey said.

"The lines would have to be drawn to maintain one person, one vote," he said. "The intent was to focus on the model and not on any lines in particular."

After the meeting, Carey said he expects to hear from more people at next week's hearing. He hopes the system will change.

"To maintain the status quo, in my opinion, is unacceptable," Carey said.

Bob Nutter, one of the people who originally presented a petition seeking more representation for the northern end of the county, said he thinks the commissioners will make a change for the better.

"I thought the number one proposal was the one that suited me well," he said after the meeting.

Dan Coleman, of Carrboro, asked the commissioners to consider making the elections non-partisan.