State Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem) addresses the House Rules Committee (WGHP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The addition of an at-large seat to the Winston-Salem City Council is off to Senate for consideration without so much as a comment against it.

House Bill 334, Rep. Donny Lambeth’s plan to add at-large representation to an 8-person council dominated by single-member districts, was combined with two other local bills – one to distribute ABC profits in Concord and the other to expand leases at the Halifax-Northampton Airport – that passed second and third readings on clean voice votes, although the NCGA House Dashboard for some reason showed vote totals of 73-41 without any record of those votes.

HB 334 had passed through the Local Government Committee on Tuesday morning and the Rules Committee on Tuesday afternoon, also clean voice votes.

This bill is different now from the document Lambeth filed on March 31. Instead of two at-large additions, there will be one, leaving the council at nine plus Mayor Allen Joines.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines (The Winston-Salem Journal)

“I’ve been negotiating with the city,” Lambeth told the Local Government Committee, which officially amended the bill. “They would have preferred one at-large member rather than two. The city is comfortable with it.”

Lambeth wrote in an email to WGHP later that he had worked out the situation with Joines.

“We agreed on one at-large after talking through a number of options,” Lambeth said. “I personally wanted one at-large, so this helps.”

The city now has eight so-called single-member districts, with a resident representing each of eight wards: East, West, North, South, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest and Northeast. Seven of those seats are filled by Democrats. Only Robert Clark in the West is a Republican. Joines, another Democrat, is elected county-wide.

State Rep. Kanika Brown (D-Winston-Salem) (NCGA)
State Rep. Amber Baker (D-Winston-Salem)

Winston-Salem also is represented in the House by two Democrats, Kanika Brown of District 71 and Amber M. Baker of District 72. It’s unclear where they stand on Lambeth’s bill, but there was no discussion when it was introduced on the House floor. The bill was cosponsored by Reps. Jeff Zenger (R-Lewisville) and John Faircloth (R-High Point).

State Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Winston-Salem)

It’s also unclear how the Senate might view this bill. Crossover bills sometimes are placed behind Senate bills when the Rules Committee considers which ones to forward. Local bills may have less resistance.

Winston-Salem is represented in the Senate by Paul Lowe (D-Winston-Salem), but neither he nor his spokesperson responded to an email seeking comment and perspective.

Why the bill?

Lambeth said in March that the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce had asked him to file the bill this year, and he cited

Winston-Salem’s structure as compared to the 10 largest municipalities in North Carolina.

“All of them have elections that include at-large members,” he  said. “And the mayor votes in most cities. But Winston-Salem is not in line with other big cities.

“I am a city resident, and I filed the bill to bring Winston-Salem in line with the typical large city. I did not change the mayor voting or the district. And I did not reduce the size of members elected now by districts, and I could have done that if size [of the council] was an issue.”

Greensboro, as a point of comparison, has five district members, three at-large seats and then the mayor, who also serves as a voting member of the council. High Point has a mayor, six ward representatives and two at-large districts. Raleigh has a mayor, three at-large members and five district reps. Charlotte City Council has 11 members plus a mayor.

In 2019 Lambeth and former Rep. Debra Conrad, a fellow Republican, introduced a bill to reduce the city to five wards and have the other three seats filled on an at-large basis, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. That plan drew an outcry, in part because it would have compressed three Black women on the Council into one district.

That bill was set aside when Lambeth and Joines made a deal to create a study commission, the Journal reported, which recommended the structure included in Lambeth’s current bill.