Polk puts referendum on ballot to change BOC terms to 4 years

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2016

By Leah Justice


Polk County voters will be asked this November if they want to change the terms of county commissioners to staggered four-year terms instead of the current mix of two- and four-year terms.

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The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday, Feb. 8 and approved by a 4-1 vote a resolution calling for a special referendum for the Nov. 8 general election.

Commissioner Michael Gage put the item on the agenda saying in 2013 the county considered changing the terms at first by sending the request to the state legislation. Residents at the time urged the county to allow voters to decide if the county was going to move forward with changing the terms of commissioner seats. Gage said at the time commissioners decided to let things be and approved a resolution to support leaving the terms as they are.

“Well in three years this board has learned a lot,” Gage said.

Gage said the county has completed an economic development policy and talked to professionals about the consistency of government, which is extremely poor.

“If we have a flip-flop of a board every two years people get nervous about spending money,” said Gage. “If we had the opportunity for some consistency in government and every four years you had a flip-flop (in commissioners), then people are more willing to take a chance and spend money in this county to start a business. I think it’s extremely important.”

Gage also said elections are expensive for candidates. He said commissioners get paid $6-$7,000 per year for the job and candidates spend at least $3,500 to run for elections and some have to run every two years. Gage said with four year terms, the county could get someone with a little more meager means to actually run for commissioner.

“They have the opportunity to be on this board because it won’t be so hard on them and their family as they are trying to run every two years,” Gage said.

Gage said in 2013 there was a variety of people who felt the right way to decide whether to change the terms was to put it to a citizens’ vote.

“And if (the citizens) don’t want to do it then they will say that and that’s fine,” Gage said. “So be it.”

Commissioner Ray Gasperson voted against the resolution to hold a referendum and said it was quite a discussion in March/April 2013. Gasperson said he was a strong advocate then if the county wanted to change the terms to let the citizens speak on it. Gasperson said a resolution certainly puts it to the citizens and he said he applauded Gage for doing that.

Gasperson reviewed minutes from 2013, including former commissioner Ted Owens saying in April 2013 that the current terms of commissioners has worked well and as the old adage says, “if it’s not broke don’t break it to fix it.”

On April 22, 2013, commissioners by a unanimous vote approved a resolution to keep commissioner terms at two and four year terms. The way Polk’s terms have historically been set up is that the top two highest vote getters in an election receive a four-year term and the last one receives a two-year term. Every two years there are three commissioners up for re-election, the two-year term winner from the last election and two four-year term winners from two elections ago (four years ago).

Gasperson said this week he voted for the 2013 resolution and was fine with that resolution.

The 2013 board of commissioners included all current commissioners: Gage, Gasperson, Keith Holbert and Tom Pack and then Owens. The current board includes Shane Bradley instead of Owens.

The 2013 board of commissioners considered a resolution approved by the then Polk County Republican Party asking the state to change the terms of office to all four-year terms.

The Polk Republican Party’s 2013 resolution said 91 out of 100 North Carolina counties have four-year staggered terms for commissioners.

The referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot for Polk County voters will read, “Shall the structure of the board of commissioners be altered to change from a mix of staggered two-year and four-year terms of office to staggered four-year terms of office?”

The voter will have a choice to answer “yes” or “no.”