In two weeks, debate over one of the more-divisive political issues in the city of Greenville’s recent history will rage once more as city leaders reconsider their decision to strip party labels from municipal elections.
The City Council has called a special meeting April 6 at City Hall to vote on a request from more than 6,000 city voters to repeal the move to nonpartisan elections — an effort that Mayor Knox White says is “unprecedented” in the city.
The public will have one more opportunity to speak on an issue that, after a split vote last spring, had appeared to be put to bed.
The mayor said that before the council votes it will hear from members of the public who sign up to be heard, with a 3-minute time limit. The last hearing before the vote last May was “one of the most-crowded public hearings ever,” said White, who was one of three who voted against the change.
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In the face of overwhelming public opposition at hearings and neighborhood meetings, a 4-3 majority of council members — citing a silent majority who believe that partisan labels have little bearing on local governance and discourage independent candidates — voted to remove primaries that use party affiliation to decide who runs for office.
However, opposition on both ends of the political spectrum that cited both disenfranchisement for those of lesser means and lack of clarity on ideological positions mounted a petition campaign that resulted in more than 15 percent of the city’s voters asking for repeal or a referendum put to the public.
The movement, dubbed Greenville Together, was efficient, Greenville County’s director of Voter Registration and Election wrote to the city’s municipal election commission this week.
“The petition submitted was one of the best organized petitions this office has had to certify,” wrote director Conway Belangia, whose agency was tasked with verifying the signatures.
Nearly all signatures submitted included voter registration numbers, speeding the verification process Belangia said.
The petition drive required 6,057 signatures, which amounts to 15 percent of voters who participated in the last municipal election.
The group submitted 6,777 signatures, of which 6,369 were deemed valid, Belangia wrote.
The City Council has two options when it takes up the issue April 6, City Attorney Mike Pitts said.
It can vote to repeal the ordinance, or if that doesn’t happen, must offer the matter to voters in the next general election.
The meeting will be held in the council chambers at 5:30 p.m.