Columbia prepares for election of aldermen

Published 3:58 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The three candidates for Columbia Board of Aldermen will be running as a group and not for numbered seats, as reported earlier.
Last year the board asked the General Assembly to amend the town’s charter to increase the mayor’s term from two to four years. The law that passed (Session Law 2016-66) struck out a vague provision for election of mayor and aldermen and inserted the requested four-year term for mayor.
Then the law added these sentences: “In 2017, and quadrennially thereafter, members of the board of aldermen shall be elected to Seats 1, 2, and 3 for four-year terms. In 2019, and quadrennially thereafter, members of the board of aldermen
shall be elected to Seats 4 and 5 for four-year terms.”
Seats on the board of aldermen have not been numbered in the past.
The Tyrrell County Board of Elections, which is conducting the town election, required each candidate to specify which seat he was filing for, but as the change was discussed further and the new law was examined more closely, Debbie Swain, elections director, sought an interpretation from the State Board of Elections.
State elections officials first referred Swain to Columbia’s attorney, but when told the office is vacant, referred her to Tyrrell County Attorney David Clegg.
Clegg stated on August 14, “The new law does not attach a district to the seats, so the numerical identification of the seats is for the designation of the staggered terms and not for purposes of representation.”
The county elections board intends to follow the county attorney’s advice, Swain said, so there will be no numbered seats on the ballot, and the three candidates’ names will be listed alphabetically.
Since there are three seats up for election, town voters may mark up to three names. In other words, there are no contests among aldermen, but two candidates are running for mayor.
This new arrangement codifies the practice of staggered terms which has prevailed in Columbia for decades — three aldermen elected this year, two aldermen elected two years hence, and the cycle is repeated, assuring some degree of continuity in town leadership.
Similar staggered term systems are in place for the Tyrrell County Board of Commissioners, the county board of education and the United States Senate.
The Session Law also validated all Columbia elections held since January 1, 1977, and ratified and confirmed all actions of the board of aldermen since that date, “notwithstanding any irregularity in the manner of election.”