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Could the Raleigh City Council face a recall? One group wants to talk about it.

A steady line of voters wait outside of Cameron Village Library early Tuesday morning, Nov. 3, 2020, for their turn to go inside the library and vote.

A steady line of voters wait outside of Cameron Village Library early Tuesday morning, Nov. 3, 2020, for their turn to go inside the library and vote.

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A community group that includes two former Raleigh City Council members wants to gauge the city’s appetite for recalling the sitting council.

“This decision about delaying the election for 13 months has really got a lot of people upset and concerned, and there are a lot of questions,” said Susan Maruyama, chair of Livable Raleigh.

“Since one of our goals as a group is to inform and engage, we thought we would be the perfect organization to try and give people the opportunity to speak up and tell us what they think about this,” she said.

Livable Raleigh, an advocacy group that formed after the 2019 municipal election, is holding a virtual meeting Monday to hear from residents and to see if the Raleigh City Council can be recalled and an election be held this year under the city’s charter.

In a normal year, the city’s next municipal election would be Oct. 5.

But the U.S. Census Bureau’s delay in releasing districting data made October elections unlikely for cities like Raleigh that have district seats. A change to state law, in Senate Bill 722, was proposed to move the fall 2021 elections to the March 2022 primary.

The Raleigh City Council voted in closed session to ask state lawmakers to move its election to November 2022, as well as keep it in even years and change it from a run-off method to a plurality method. That change was included as an amendment to SB 722, which has been approved by the N.C. General Assembly.

“Given the legal issues related to an October 2021 election and the substantial consequences to the city that would occur if an election was held and later determined to be unconstitutional, the discussion and potential solutions were covered by the attorney-client privilege,” Raleigh City Attorney Robin Tatum wrote in an email to The News & Observer.

Voting in March wouldn’t give the city enough time to redraw its districts and prepare for a proposed parks bond, she explained..

The Raleigh City Council decision to try and move the elections was criticized for not seeking public input or feedback.

Local governing boards may go into closed sessions to seek legal advice but public policy discussions must occur in open sessions, Brooks Fuller, director of the N.C. Open Government Center, told The N&O in a previous interview.

How a recall could work

The city’s charter outlines how council members may be recalled by the voters.

In short, a petition has to be filed with the city with voter signatures totaling at least 25% of the voter turnout from the last municipal election. In the mayor’s race, 54,566 people voted meaning a petition would need to have 13,642 qualified voter’s signatures.

If the petitions are valid, an election is held within 60 days. The recalled incumbent automatically placed on the ballot for the election.

Livable Raleigh’s advisory board includes former council members Stef Mendell and Russ Stephenson and former Wake County Commissioner Yevonne Brannon. Mendell and Stephenson both lost their council seats in 2019. The group has been critical of Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and a majority of the City Council, calling the council’s decision to try to postpone the election a “slow-moving coup.”

“Our whole purpose has been to inform and engage,” Maruyama said. “Yes, we have been critical but we have seen some pretty bad decision making and it’s hard to ignore. So we had to speak up in a way we hadn’t planned to. But we had to do it. We felt we had to anyway.”

But the meeting isn’t just for people critical of the current council, she said, and pursuing a recall election isn’t the “foregone conclusion.”

“Maybe it’s really the influence of everything happening nationally,” Maruyama said. “We are really concerned about voters having the right and ability to vote like they expected to. We elected this mayor and this council for two years. … We know the districts will need to be redrawn. But we feel like there is an obligation to vote as soon after they would have normally voted as possible, we hope we are attracting a broad swath of people who are interested in voting in the city election.”

Want to attend?

What: Livable Raleigh’s virtual meeting to discuss a special recall election

When: 7 p.m. Monday, June 21

Other details: Sign-up is required to participate. Visit www.livableraleigh.com to register.

Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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