Editorial: Salisbury should think about four-year terms, too

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 17, 2021

When Spencer voters go to the polls, they will have a few items on their ballots.

They will be able to vote for members of the Spencer Board of Aldermen and the mayor, but there are exactly the same number of candidates running as open seats. Bob Bish and Sharon Hovis are not seeking re-election. So that means newcomer Andrew Howe and Rashid Muhammad, who previously filled an unexpired term, will get seats on the board.

Voters will also have a choice in ballot referendums to create four-year terms for the board and mayor and to stagger those terms. Board members and the mayor currently serve two-year terms that all expire at the same time.

The ballot referendum is a good idea. Two-year terms pose the potential for entire boards to turn over in one year, which can make it hard to sustain progress or create momentum toward fixing a problem. When candidates are thinking about running for re-election every two years, they’re thinking less about the basics of town government. With four years, candidates can dig deeper into problems with the confidence that they don’t have to face voters in another two years with a major accomplishment.

Maybe that’s why things are so dysfunctional in Washington, D.C. Members of the House of Representatives have to run for re-election every two years, requiring constant fundraising operations.

After Salisbury’s first mayoral election this year, council members should consider following Spencer’s lead. Four-year terms were one idea discussed during an elections committee led by council members David Post and Tamara Sheffield. So, they’ve already talked about the possibility. The council can hold a public hearing to double check public opinion on the matter before scheduling a ballot referendum to make the change.

Towns or cities that already have staggered four-year terms include China Grove, Cleveland, East Spencer, Granite Quarry, Kannapolis and Landis, putting Spencer and Salisbury in the minority. Granite Quarry is its own oddity because the mayor only has a two-year term.

The “if it’s broke don’t fix it” mentality presupposes that there aren’t benefits to change and that local politics aren’t broken. Think about the years of work required for Kannapolis to make downtown redevelopment happen. Would that have been possible with two-year terms?

The Salisbury City Council may come to a conclusion that there’s no need to change to four-year terms, but they should at least reconsider the possibility after the 2021 elections.