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Big changes coming for Waynesville’s governing board

Big changes coming for Waynesville’s governing board

The Town of Waynesville’s municipal governing board has taken steps to modernize its operations by proposing amendments to its charter — changing both the terms it uses to refer to elected representatives, and how those representatives are elected to their terms.

Currently, Waynesville is one of few local governments — and the only one in Haywood County — that doesn’t utilize staggered terms for its mayor and board of aldermen, each of whom are elected at the same time every four years.

There are pros and cons to the current election regimen.

One of the pros is that the entire board can be voted out, all at once.

One of the cons is that the entire board can be voted out, all at once.

The latter scenario would leave the new board with a distinct lack of continuity and a tremendous loss of institutional knowledge.

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Back in February, Alderman Chuck Dickson pushed for the change during a town budget retreat, warning of destabilization, turmoil and the potential for a staff exodus if such a scenario ever came to pass.

For years, Waynesville’s board had discussed making a change to where the board would more closely resemble other local governments in the county, with two board seats up for election during one two-year cycle and the other two seats plus the mayor up for election in the next two-year cycle.

With the passage of Town Attorney Martha Bradley’s resolution of intent, the town will now embark on the process of changing its charter.

Transitioning into the new schedule means that for the upcoming Nov. 7 General Election only, the two board candidates with the highest vote totals will win four-year terms, and the next two board candidates will receive a two-year term.

Mayor Gary Caldwell’s first four-year term ends this year, so the timing of the mayoral election won’t change. Candidate filing for the November General Election begins on July 7.

Then, in 2025, the two candidates who didn’t get the highest number of votes would be up for election again — for full four-year terms — thus setting up the staggered format.

A mandatory public hearing on the proposed change will be conducted on April 11, and then within 60 days, the board must adopt an ordinance to make the change official. The ordinance must be adopted at least 90 days prior to the Nov. 7 General Election.

During that same public hearing, the board will also take comment on whether or not to change what, exactly, board members are called.

Right now, Waynesville has a Board of Aldermen, consisting of four aldermen. But some of them aren’t men, and some of them aren’t exactly all that “ald” — the term aldermen means “old men” and has been in use for centuries, persisting in an era in which women can and do hold elected office on a level nearly on par with men.

Alderman Julia Freeman, who is not a man, called the term “antiquated” during that same February budget retreat.

“I travel extensively around the U.S. and people ask me what I do, and I tell them I’m an alderman,” Freeman said at the time.

A number of local governments in Western North Carolina still use the term, including in Clyde and in Maggie Valley, however, more and more have been moving away from the use of gendered language.

The Macon County town of Franklin made the change in 2017, with then-Mayor Bob Scott pointing out that not only were there women on the board, but also that some board members were relatively young.

The Haywood County Town of Canton was something of a pioneer in this movement, and has two women on its board. Although the official title of the town’s governing board is the somewhat linguistically cumbersome “Board of aldermen/women,” Gail Mull and Kristina Proctor are called “alderwomen.”

Waynesville is proposing to change the name of its Board of Aldermen to “Town Council,” and would therefore be comprised of “councilors.”

If the proposed change continues to move forward, the town will likewise have to amend its charter in the same way as for the change to staggered terms.

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