Last night, I attended the standing-room-only town council meeting in Carrboro, in which Barbara Foushee was sworn in as Carrboro’s first Black female mayor, and Eliazar Posada, Catherine Fray, and Jason Merrill were sworn into their seats on town council.

Mayor Barbara Foushee took the oath of office with U.S. Congresswoman Valerie Foushee, and stood beside her husband, Braxton Foushee, who was the first Black member of the Carrboro Town Council elected in 1969.
Mayor Barbara Foushee took the oath of office with U.S. Congresswoman Valerie Foushee, and stood beside her husband, Braxton Foushee, who was the first Black member of the Carrboro Town Council elected in 1969. (Town of Carrboro)

If you’ve never been to a swearing in ceremony, I highly recommend it. The room was filled with family, friends, Foushee’s high school classmates and sorority sisters, photographers – and a lot of joy. I stood next to one of Foushee’s high school classmates, Robert Osbourne Moore, who drove in from Duplin County to watch her get sworn in. Beautiful (and at times funny) resolutions were recited to honor outgoing mayor Damon Seils and council members Susan Romaine and Sammy Slade – and Foushee’s acceptance speech, in which she said she “stood on the shoulder of giants” was echoed in later remarks made by council members Posada and Fray.

Watch Mayor Foushee’s acceptance speech (it starts at 51:10)

 

After the festivities, the new council got down to business – and quickly. They selected a new mayor pro tem (Danny Nowell) and discussed how to fill Mayor Foushee’s former council seat.

carrboro-town-council-2023
Your….Carrboro Town Council :air-horn:

I wrote about council’s options for replacing Foushee earlier in the week, and those options were repeated last night by Foushee: Council could choose to hold a special election, in March or November, appoint someone, or leave the seat open until 2025, when Foushee’s council seat would be up for reelection.

The Council decided to do two things:

  1. To hold a special election in November 2024 for the empty council seat
  2. To have a future discussion about the town charter, which currently gives Carrboro the option of appointing or a special election to fill the seat

A few notable things:

This will mean Carrboro’s election for a council seat will coincide with the 2024 Presidential election. That’s really cool.

timeline shifted
More people vote in even-year elections. We’ll get to test out what happens in Carrboro this year.

Turnout in odd off-year election cycles is roughly 20-25 percent. Turnout in even years – when we elect the Governor and President – is about 75 percent. That means a lot more people will be engaged in the council race. (And for those of us who hope Carrboro and Chapel Hill switch to even year municipal elections, a test to see what happens.)

As voting guru and former Chapel Hill Town Council member Gerry Cohen has pointed out, a number of municipalities in NC have switched to even-year elections in the past decade: Winston-Salem, Asheville, Raleigh, Lincolnton, and all of the towns in Stanly and Surry Counties.

We’ll have a more in-depth interview with Cohen soon about the ins and outs of even-year election cycles for municipalities in North Carolina.

This doesn’t reduce the burden of a candidate needing to run twice in two years

A number of council members pointed out last night that a special election means someone will need to run twice in two years: first in the special election, and then (if they want to continue to serve) during the regular cycle.

Council Member Danny Nowell mentioned that making someone run twice in two years is “ungainly and inequitable” and may affect who can run. I tend to agree with this point, as mounting an election campaign takes up a lot of time and money, and facing the prospect of doing so twice is more difficult than running on a four-year cycle. Revisiting how to reduce this burden for potential applicants seems worthy of a council discussion. (Council Member Eliazar Posada mentioned the burdens of this in his comments as well – he was elected in a special election in May 2022 and then ran for a full-term in November 2023.)

The council voted unanimously to hold the special election in November.

This was a really nice discussion informed by historical context provided by several of the council members. I found myself learning a lot. (I didn’t know, for instance, that Carrboro amended its town charter twice – once to only have special elections and then once to give the option of either a special election or an appointment. Thanks Council Member Catherine Fray!)

I appreciated how Mayor Foushee immediately outlined the facts and reiterated that both options before council were legitimate ones. I also appreciated how many of the council members talked about the nuances of this matter – and really laid out their thought processes. It’s helpful and contextualizes their rationale and decision-making process. The nuanced discussion that followed started two hours and 20-some minutes after the meeting began, and is well worth listening to in full. (It’s pretty short for a Carrboro Town Council discussion.) Here’s the clip which should start where the discussion does when you press play:

Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....