RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – North Carolina Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Republican who lives in Winston-Salem and represents a portion of the city in House District 75, is taking another crack at an idea he has pushed a few times in the General Assembly: expanding the Winston-Salem City Council.

Lambeth has filed House Bill 334, which would add two at-large seats to the City Council and expand the board from eight representatives to 10, a concept that was to begin its tip-toe through committees starting Tuesday.

The bill was on the agenda for the Local Government Committee but was removed sometime during the day. Apparently, it remains in the Rules Committee – the starting and ending points for all bills in the chamber – but it’s not on the list of bills to be considered during a meeting of that committee at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

A similar bill filed in 2021 didn’t make it out of committee.

State Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem) during one of his pitches of Medicaid expansion.

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 Republican Robert Clark in the West is a Republican. Mayor Allen Joines, another Democrat, is elected county-wide.

“If you compare the top 10 municipalities in North Carolina, all of them have elections that include at-large members,” Lambeth said in response to questions from WGHP. “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.

This is not a new concept to Lambeth. In 2019, he 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.

The 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 bill.

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

The city of Winston-Salem also is represented in the House by two Democrats, Amber M. Baker in District 72 and Kanika Brown in District 71. Neither responded immediately to an email seeking comment.

If the bill were to advance to the Senate, Winston-Salem is represented primarily by Democrat Paul Lowe. Because HB 334 is a local bill, it would not be subject to a veto from the governor.

Lambeth, a member of the House since 2013, is an influential member of the Republican caucus. He is the senior chair of the Appropriations Committee, which currently is dealing with the budget proposal circulating in the House. As chair of the Health Committee, Lambeth recently spearheaded the expansion of Medicaid that was signed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Lambeth says the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce had asked him to file the bill this year, and he cited the state’s oversight role for local elections. “So this is a reasonable approach and makes minimum changes,” he said.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines (WGHP)
Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines (WGHP)

Joines said in an emailed response to questions from WGHP that “we are continuing to have conversations with Rep Lambeth.”

He had told the Journal earlier that the City Council had not requested the change and that he thinks the city is doing OK, although he recognized this bill matches the commission’s recommendation.

An email seeking comment from Mayor Pro Tempore Denise D. Adams, who represents the North Ward, did not receive an immediate response.