Durham Voters Decide to Reduce City Council
Posted December 7, 1998
DURHAM — Voters headed to the polls Tuesday and decided to reduce the size of the Durham City Council to seven members.
With a 20 percent voter turnout, the final numbers added up to 15,261 for the measure and 9,041 against.
Durham voters voiced their opinion at the polls, and told city leaders that they are not happy with the status quo.
"I think there is a great deal of voter frustration with the way that the council has spent a great deal of its time on critical issues," City Councilman Floyd McKissick said. "I think what they are showing is voter outrage about spending time talking about the size of American flags or salary increases."
The 13 member council angered many residents by traveling on the taxpayers' dime, and by voting themselves a 37 percent pay increase. They quickly reduced the raise to 9 percent, but the damage may have already been done. Under the plan that voters approved Tuesday, the council will be reduced to just seven members by 2001.
"In the next election, those people will only be elected for two years, so that all 13 will be up at one time," reduction proponent David Smith said. "At that time in 2001, the number will change from 13 to seven."
For 74 years, the Durham City Council has had 13 members. Opponents of the referendum thought that the current board promoted diversity and better represented the city's residents.
"We're going to have to now be strong and make sure that poor people and African Americans are being represented," NAACP President-Elect Curtis Gatewood said.
The 2001 plan allows for one mayor, three members who are elected at-large and three who are elected from districts. The current city council will redraw the new voting districts.
"I don't think this type of issue has been voted on anywhere in any of the 100 counties in North Carolina, so there really is no precedent for this," said Carol Booth, director of Durham Board of Elections.
Supporters of the measure say a smaller council will work more efficiently. They had collected enough signatures to bring the issue to a citywide vote.
Election officials were not sure how well voters would turn out for a single issue election held in December. However, turnout was steady at polling places around the city, and was over 30 percent at one precinct in West Durham.
"It has been steady," Precinct Chief Norma Martin said at 6:00 p.m. Tuesday. "There hasn't been more than 10 to 20 at one time, but it has been a steady stream of people all day."
After the polls closed at 7:30 p.m., the Durham Board of Elections tallied about 24,000 votes from the 54 precincts. The results were announced shortly before 9 p.m.