Donny Lambeth Versus The City Of W-S, Round Two

State Representative Donny Lambeth is back at it. Lambeth has once again filed a bill in the North Carolina House to amend the structure of the Winston-Salem City Council. But this time around, there isn’t much to object to. Instead of sweeping changes to the City Council, Lambeth’s HB334 keeps the existing City Council wards intact and merely adds two at-large representatives to the eight-member Council.

“House Bill 519 would have made significant changes in how the Winston-Salem City Council was structured and elected, including the creation of at-large seats on the City Council, changing mayoral voting rights, and shortening council member terms to two years.” -The Winston-Salem Local Governance Study Commission Final Report

The Journal’s Wesly Young first reported this story. Young got comments on HB334 from Mayor Allen Joines and Councilmember Annette Scippio.

“We feel like we are doing pretty good the way it is. But that was the recommendation of the independent study commission that we put together.”

“It makes the Council pretty large, going from nine to 11. It makes my job a little bit tougher in terms of getting consensus on items. It takes some more phone calls.” -Allen Joines, Winston-Salem Journal

Lambeth is leaving Winston’s eight wards alone; he’s not reducing three majority African American wards to one ward, as he proposed in 2019. He’s also not making the Mayor a voting member of the City Council, which would place Joines in an awkward position and expose the Winston-Salem Alliance President’s conflicts of interests. Currently, the mayor only votes in the event of a tie. The new bill also doesn’t reduce the City Council terms to 2 years. At-large members of the Council are a reform that Joines and the City Council must accept.

A bloated, sometimes cumbersome 10-member City Council is the price Allen Joines and the City Council will have to pay for not coming up with an alternative plan to Lambeth’s plan to reduce the number of City Council wards.

The Winston-Salem Local Governance Study Commission was formed to find a compromise between local leaders and Raleigh. The Commission met in 2019 and 2020. It studied the City Council’s current state and compared our Council to Councils across the state. Then after months and months of work and meeting after meeting, they published a report. Then they put the report on the shelf, never to be mentioned again.

Donny Lambeth was wrong to insist on sweeping changes in 2019 without consulting with the City or the citizenry. But at-large representation is a reform the Allen Joines and the City Council need to embrace. And Mayor Joines should not be surprised that Lambeth filed HB334 late last week.

Currently, each Councilmbmer refers to the ward they represent as their ward. Councilmembers can essentially do whatever they want in “their ward.” This often lowers standards of accountability and discourages scrutiny. Examples of wasteful spending in each ward are easy to come by. Drive through the late Vivian Burke’s Northeast Ward, and you’ll find one ill-thought-out project after another (Liberty Street Market, the Amer Center, Brookwood Business Park).

Annette Scippio, who the Journal quoted condemning Donny Lambeth’s reform bill, has spent $120,000 on a housing study that would cost $86 million to implement. Sadly, Scippio’s plan will never become a reality. Another example of wasteful ward projects is the renovation of Bellview Recreation Center. A project that initially had a more modest price tag is now projected to cost $5 million. That’s a lot for one rec center.

It’s important to look at the big picture to see the City in its entirety, and for that, we need at-large representation on the City Council. We need Councilmembers who will speak up, challenge wasteful projects, and look out for the interests of us all. The Winston-Salem City Council, like practically all local government bodies across the country, is run by local elites and real estate interests. Adding two at-large representatives to the Winston-Salem City Council won’t change that. But it will likely loosen Allen Joines’ hold on the City Council, and that’s a good thing.


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