Abby Church, Fayetteville Observer USA TODAY NETWORK
Chalmers McDougald said his main reason for stepping away was because he liked his current “peace and quiet.”
Chalmers McDougald, former city councilman and the only Black member in the group Vote Yes Fayetteville’s effort to change the City Council’s structure, backed out of the initiative Monday.
“For personal reasons I cannot support the initiative (Vote Yes Petition) to change Fayetteville City Council structure as proposed in your petition,” McDougald said in an email to Vote Yes Fayetteville members Ted Mohn, Bobby Hurst and Tony Chavonne. “Please remove my name as a supporter from all correspondences, websites, and social media platforms.”
Mohn and Hurst are former councilmen. Chavonne is a former mayor.
On Tuesday, McDougald said in a text to a reporter that he was “enjoying the quiet and peace of being away from the political venue” in response to a request for comment. In another message, he said his reason for stepping away was “enjoying family.”
In a later interview, McDougald said having some at-large candidates would be fine but that there needs to be discussion. He said he signed on to the group for the conversation, and said the model could offer an opportunity for more candidates to run in areas where there’s already a candidate. His main reason for stepping away, he said, was because he liked his current “peace and quiet.”
Prior to his departure from the group, McDougald was one of two Democrats. As of Tuesday afternoon, his name was still listed on the group’s website.
The group’s effort is focused on changing the City Council’s current structure, which has nine district representatives plus the mayor. The group’s proposal would change the makeup to have four at-large seats, five district representatives and the mayor.
The proposed model would allow voters to have six votes: one for each of
the at-large seats, one for mayor and one for their own district representative. As it stands, voters only have two votes: one for mayor and one for their district representative.
The circulating petition is only to get the initiative on the upcoming ballot for city elections. If it’s voted in, the model would be implemented in 2023, Chavonne said Friday.
Vote Yes Fayetteville’s effort came under fire after its launch last week partly due to the model’s rife racial history. The last time a similar council structure was passed locally in 2007, the Department of Justice stepped in to stop it under the premise that it made it harder for Black candidates to be selected for council. Chavonne said Friday that since the last effort, the policy that stopped the enactment had been declared unconstitutional.
Chavonne said other government bodies in the county have at-large members, and nine of the 12 biggest cities have a model where at-large members are included.
Chavonne and Mohn said Tuesday they respected McDougald’s decision.
When asked if they were looking at diversifying the group, Chavonne said the effort was a “big tent,” and said the group wasn’t looking for one set type of person, but people who “believe we can be better.”
Mohn said he knows others in the community, both white and Black, who support the referendum.
Neither Chavonne nor Mohn had an update on the number of signatures gathered so far, but Chavonne said it could take months