N.C. Rep. Tim D. Moffitt, R-Buncombe. Photo courtesy of Moffitt via the N.C. General Assembly website.

RALEIGH — A plan to add two seats to the Buncombe County Commission and elect commissioners from districts instead of countywide is chugging along at the statehouse despite a total lack of support from sitting commissioners.

The changes, set out in House Bill 471, would split Buncombe into three commission districts that mirror the county’s state representative districts. Two commissioners would be elected within each district, and a commission chairman would be elected countywide starting in 2012.

The bill, sponsored by freshman state Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, has already passed the House and will get a committee hearing in Senate as soon as next Tuesday. Democratic legislators’ attempts to derail the bill or add require a countywide referendum before the changes go into effect have been unsuccessful.

With Republicans controlling both the House and Senate — and no need for the governor’s signature on a local bill — the legislation is expected to pass.

Whether the public supports the change depends on who you talk to. State Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said this week that “everybody in Buncombe County” is against the change and that Moffitt has “traumatized our county” with the proposal.

But Moffitt said that “by in large” he hears from people supporting the bill and that there’s only “a small group of people” working against it.

Moffitt said he’s not trying to dramatically shift the partisan makeup of the board. He said the change is about giving residents across the county better representation by letting each area vote separately. Opponents say it’s meant to give Republicans a better chance of getting elected to the board, which Democrats have held a majority on since 1988.

“Absolutely (that’s what it’s about),” Buncombe County Commissioner Chairman David Gantt said. “I think it’s 100 percent political.”

Gantt said he expects the change to go through but suspects it won’t have the intended effect.

“I kind of have an opinion that it will backfire,” he said. “Because mountain folks don’t like being told what to do.”

Editor’s note: Follow progress of House Bill 471 at the North Carolina General Assembly’s site.

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Travis Fain is a contributing reporter for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at ctfain@yahoo.com.

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