Note from Publisher Bill Bowman: There are many urgent needs in the Fayetteville community. I am yielding my space this week to James Baker, a retired Army officer and Fayetteville resident advocating for a local government initiative that would better serve residents by giving them a much greater voice in their leadership and future.
Recently I attended a conference in the Asheville area. Making conversation, another attendee asked me, “Where are you from?” “Cumberland County,” I answered. “Fayetteville.”
The man smirked. He caught himself and tried to make it look like a smile, but it was still a smirk. “Fayette-Nam, you mean?” he said. “Still, lots of crime, right?” I changed the subject, and the man was nice enough to let me get away with it. But this brief exchange rankled. I recalled the downtown of three decades ago: strip joints and stabbings, hookers on Hay Street, gunshots, and sirens almost every night. Things in Fayetteville are a lot better now than they were back then, I thought.
The following week I was back at work here in Fayetteville. Just on a hunch, I went to my laptop and Googled “crime rate Fayetteville NC.” I was astounded at the results. The first entry read: “With a crime rate of 44 per one thousand residents, Fayetteville has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of all sizes.”
The next entry was even more depressing. It informed readers that, on a scale of 1 to 100, “Fayetteville violent crime is 39.1. The U.S. average is 22.7. Fayetteville property crime is 69.4. The U.S. average is 35.4.” Internet search results don’t guarantee scientific accuracy, I realize. But I kept on reading, entry after entry. They all said essentially the same thing: Fayetteville is bad news. No wonder the smirking man at the conference trotted out the old nickname: “Fayette-Nam!” I began to look more closely at my local surroundings. I started taking a different route to work every day, just to re-visit parts of the city I don’t always see. Downtown I saw the remaining scars of the 2020 unrest. In another part of town, I saw what looked like the start of a “homeless camp.” It wasn’t uncommon for me to see at least two panhandlers — and sometimes more — during my drive.
About this time, I read a newspaper report stating that, before the end of April, our city already had its fifteenth homicide this year.
These observations bothered me. But what I found even more unsettling was a conversation
I partially overheard in a grocery checkout line. Shoppers were bitterly agreeing with
each other that “the politicians at City Hall don’t care about our problems.”
Clearly, street crime isn’t the only issue that Fayetteville struggles with — it’s only part of a larger problem. And the solution is not automatically a law enforcement issue.
Much of the current frustration in Fayetteville seems to spring from a feeling that City Council isn’t very responsive to citizen concerns. And that perception may very well be right.
Instead of criticizing specific politicians or personalities, perhaps we should look instead at the structure of the Fayetteville City Council. We have 10 people on our City Council, but only one of them — one! — is expected to look out for the city as a whole.
That’s the mayor. The mayor is elected on a citywide basis. But the other nine people on the Council are elected from their own local districts.
They look out for their home district, not for the city at large. And you know what? That’s not wrong, and it’s not abnormal — it’s just human nature.
But we need a few more Council members who don’t put their district first, and the city second. We need men and women on the Council who don’t look the other way, when they see homeless camps, or street crime, or other problems, in somebody else’s district.
We need more elected officials who won’t say, “That’s in your district, so it’s your problem!” We need more people on the Council who will look out for the whole city.
The way to get more people like that on the Council is to elect more of them on a citywide basis — in other words, to elect more of them as “at large” Council members. We could do this with a simple structural change to the Council. Keeping the Council at ten members, we could strike a balance by electing five of them from districts, and five of them as citywide representatives — instead of nine district representatives and only one citywide representative, the lopsided way it is now.
The balanced method seems to work well elsewhere in North Carolina. Both Raleigh and Charlotte, for example, have a balanced City Council, with roughly equal numbers of district representatives and “at large” members on their City Council. Balance is the key, and both cities clearly understand that. Fayetteville needs that kind of balance, also. To get it, the first step is to petition for this issue — updating the structure of our City Council — to be added to the ballot at our next municipal election.
Let the voters decide! Citizens should be able to vote on this important issue. If you agree, go to www.voteyesfayetteville.com and sign and mail back the petition.
Fayetteville is a pretty town. Fayetteville has character. And Fayetteville is not finished.
Our best days as a city are still ahead of us!
JAMES BAKER, Contributor