Lewisville council to resume discussion on term limits, town charter

Published 12:10 am Thursday, August 2, 2018

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

After taking a break from discussing term limits and the town charter in July because of vacations for a couple members of the Lewisville Town Council, the hot topic is scheduled to be back on the agenda in the Aug. 9 meeting.

However, If the council listens to former mayors and council members who spoke in the public hearing during in the June meeting, it won’t alter anything relating to the town charter and term limits.

Certainly, that was the united viewpoint voiced to the council when the hearing was called on amending the town charter by repealing Section 3-5, Governing Body Limitation on Terms of Office to be in compliance with the N.C. Constitution as interpreted by the N.C. Supreme Court.

In 1992, the N.C. Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case involving an N.C. statute that required a holder of one elective office to resign that office before running for another elective office. In that case, Moore vs. Knightdale Board of Elections, the Supreme Court determined that such a requirement violated the N.C. Constitution, which contains only two requirements to run for office – being 21 years of age and being eligible to vote for the office sought.

Town attorney Bo Houff said that an article was written by the N.C. School of Government in 2010 and that he found it some time after that and spoke with the prior town manager. However, they determined at the time that since this provision of the charter had never been challenged or questioned in any way and that it seemed to be a popular charter provision, that they would wait and not initiate comment on it until such time it was challenged, someone asked a specific question or if a citizen inquired about it.

Houff said that the issue came up in a planning meeting with council in January when various issues related to the charter were discussed, when he advised them that term limits for municipal council members and mayors are not allowed under the N.C. Constitution and that he was asked to look at the procedure for the possible amendment of a charter provision, which he found in the General Statutes, Section 160A-102.

That resulted in a resolution of intent by the council to set a public hearing, following a vote by the council no sooner than the next scheduled meeting of the council or within 60 days, leading to council consideration in the Aug. 9 meeting.

Councilman Fred Franklin expressed disappointment to Houff in the June meeting that “this council is taking up this matter when we could have left it the way it was. My point is you had discussed it with the previous manager, and just like, let a sleeping dog lie. What really made it come out this time is that you decided to poke the dog and let us all know about it.”

Houff responded, saying: “The issue itself was mentioned in a public meeting at which time I felt that I could not not mention it at that time. We knew that this very discussion was going to take place whenever this might happen but, if I can state frankly both as a citizen and as an attorney, if we could keep term limits here, I would be in favor of that.”

Previous mayors and council members made their feelings known to the council in that meeting.

“One thing that term limits has done for this town has set Lewisville aside from the others,” said Dan Pugh, former mayor and council member. “Whether it be mandated or voluntary, I think it’s served the best interests of this town. I would urge you to consider that and not amend the charter to do away with term limits. From a legal aspect, it’s probably not enforceable until challenged and probably not enforceable at that point, but I think public sentiment, public opinion will enforce it.”

Former councilman Ken Sadler said: “To my knowledge there was no request on the part of the legislature that the town modify the charter. The notion that the charter has to align with the constitution after 26 years makes no sense. Therefore, there is no compelling reason to change.”

Current councilman Jeff Zenger said: “One of the things that Lewisville has always done is doing things its own way. I am fine with us doing our own thing.”

Franklin added that he believed in the traditions established since the town was incorporated and that it has served the community well.

“When we had the vote to establish the public hearing, I was against it at that time, and I will continue to maintain that stance even though I’m somewhat conflicted because I stood up here in December and placed my hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States and North Carolina,” Franklin said. “Now I’m being advised through these discussions that our provision, our charter, is unconstitutional. I don’t believe that. I believe it may be unconstitutionally enforceable, which still means that the provision can stay in place in our charter.”