After Asheville voters say ‘no’ to districts, lawmaker says ‘the law is the law’

Asheville Mayer Esther Manheimer (Left) and State Senator Chuck Edwards (Right) voice their opinions on Tuesday’s vote on Asheville City Council districts. (Photo credit: WLOS/North Carolina General Assembly)

Local leaders are weighing-in after the majority of voters disagreed with a state law requiring Asheville to create city council districts. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)
<p>“Despite the fact that they’ve wasted taxpayers’ time and money on a sham of an election that they knew would attract such a low turnout, it still does not change the law,” Sen. Chuck Edwards said in a release on Wednesday. (Photo credit: North Carolina General Assembly)</p>

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — Local leaders are weighing-in after the majority of voters disagreed with a state law requiring Asheville to create city council districts.

In a statement on Wednesday, Senator Chuck Edwards, the sponsor of law, called Asheville’s referendum vote on districts “a sham of an election.”

On Tuesday, 75 percent of Asheville voters said “no” to creating those districts, despite a state law requiring the city to submit city council districts by November 15, 2017.

Esther Manheimer, Asheville’s mayor, says there’s nothing to fight because there are no districts right now. That could change next year when the legislature goes into session.

The law says the legislature will draw the districts in its session if the city doesn’t. Senator Edwards told News 13 he plans follow through with what the law specifies.

“State law is state law,” Edwards told News 13 in an interview. “We, as citizens, don’t get to choose whether or not we’re going to obey the law.”

Based on the referendum results, Manheimer doesn’t want to create districts. Meanwhile, Edwards said the Asheville City Council doesn’t understand that following the law isn’t optional.

“No,” Manheimer said, disagreeing with Edward’s remarks. “And, in fact, the city council follows the law, the law that exists for all cities in North Carolina, which allows voters in those cities to decide whether or not they want districts.”

To create districts, a city needs to amend its charter. That can happen with a council vote or a referendum. Asheville City Council opted for a referendum. Edwards called the referendum a waste of taxpayers’ time and money.

“No, not at all,” said Manheimer disagreeing. “We conducted our meetings at our regular meetings time. We didn’t have any additional meetings. There was already going to be a ballot, so it didn’t require a special election. So, as far as I know, there wasn’t any additional cost at all to ask the voters whether or not they want districts in Asheville.”

News 13 followed up with Edwards on his critiques that the referendum was a waste of taxpayer money.

“The sheer fact that consultants were hired, that ballots were used to conduct an election of this sort,” Edwards explained.

“The election would have happened anyway, though,” a News 13 reporter replied.

Last year, 13,729 people in Buncombe County voted for Edwards. On Tuesday, 12,073 people in Asheville voted on the referendum and 11,686, 75.11 percent, voted “No” on the referendum.

Citing low turnout, Edwards called the vote “a sham of an election.”

“I believe that that scant amount of folks that attended the polls yesterday is not a representative view of the citizens of Asheville,” Edwards told News 13.

“You believe a majority favors districts,” News 13 asked.

“I believe that a far greater majority favors districts than was represented at the election yesterday, yes,” Edwards replied.

Edwards said he initially sponsored the bill after numerous constituents asked for his help. News 13 has been trying to confirm this claim for months by sending an open records request, asking for emails regarding Asheville City Council districts. The senator maintains he has no emails about districts that are public record.

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