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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with J. Carlton Fleming, [date unknown]. Interview B-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Fleming assesses consolidation's failure

Fleming assesses consolidation's failure. The committees established by the Chamber of Commerce were likely too large and too diverse; these committees were pushing for drastic change; and the issue was sold poorly.

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Oral History Interview with J. Carlton Fleming, [date unknown]. Interview B-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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I'm wondering, now . . . From what I've read, the Chamber was very important in establishing committees and getting the legislation passed and bringing the effort up. When, however, Brookshire and Lowe actually came to appointing members of the commission, it seems that, maybe . . . There are sort of two ways you can do this thing. You can get sort of a house committee, a small committee of businessmen. Or, you can go and get representatives from all segments of the community. They chose to get representatives from all segments of the community. I'M having a little bit of trouble understanding why that choice was made. It seems that maybe if they really wanted to get it passed, then, the more practical thing politically to do was to have the small committee.
Well, I guess there are two ways to look at that. One is that, if you get broad representation, maybe you get a lot of ultimate support because almost any element in the community can say, "Well, Joe Smith is on the Charter Commission, and he would represent my views. If he thinks it's alright, it's probably alright. It's probably too complicated for me to understand anyhow." The other side of that same proposition, I guess, is that if you have broad representation like that you do get some imput, that's unquestionably true, that you wouldn't get if you had a limited-in-number, establishment-oriented group to do it. Then, of course, in addition to the Charter Commission itself, there was that large group that was an advisory group that must have numbered what, you probably have the figure, fifty or sixty people. I was a member of that, incidently, and attended a number of meetings and read into the late hours many nights the many drafts that came out with the assistance of the Institute of Government. I think the result was not so much, the unfortunate result, if you want to characterize it as that, was not so much the product of the way in which the commission was put together as the drastic amount of change which the commission ultimately injected into the issue. A small, establishment-oriented committee might have come up with not quite so many changes, changes that were not quite so drastic. They might well have come up with enough changes that the electorate might not have accepted it. I sort of look at the final results and try to analyze what happened and why it happened. I really think that the reason the issue went down to defeat at the polls was . . . Like most election issues, there's usually no very simple answer. You just can't make a simplistic analysis. I don't want to over-simplify it. I'm sure there are a number of votes that went for many, many different reasons against the proposed consolidation. I think the one thing that really scuttled the whole effort was that there were just so many changes. Changes that were so drastic, and, in many instances, so little understood, that the typical voter said, "Well, that's just more than I can swallow. I could take a nibble, but they're just about to drown me in the complexity of the thing. Wpheaval of our entire governmental system. Going to the system of election of the legislative body for the combined city and county that's just too much of a change for me to take. I can't absorb it." A lot of blame has been placed, in the press particularly, to the effect that this was a vote against high taxes in the outlying districts. I'm sure, to a certain extent, that's true. I really think that's a subsidiary cause of what resulted. I think the overwhelming principal cause was that there were changes too many in number and too drastic in effect that the general electorate just would not accept. I think, for example, if we had . . . We had seven members of the City Council and five members of the County Commission. We had a mayor who didn't get a vote except in case of ties. I think if we had just combined those, if we had had a twelve-man, atlarge election . . . Basically speaking, that's no change at all. Only change you've made there is you have allowed people in the county to vote for the city councilmen. You haven't changed anything as far as the five seats formerly held by the county commissioners were involved. I think if we had gone to that type of legislative arrangement, this issue may well have passed. Particularly if there had been a satisfactory selling job on the special taxing districts that would have been set up under the charter. In other words, really what I'm trying to say is, Bill, I think if we had kept the issue simple and gone to the electorate and said, "Really, what we're doing is no great change except that we're trying to give you better government. More efficient government. Hopefully at somewhat less cost, although we can't guarantee tremendous savings. "We never did try to guarantee tremendous savings. They weren't there in the first place. Just to say to them, "Instead of having to go down, if you live in the city as, of course, the bulk of the population of the county does anyhow, and having to mark two sets of ballotts, one for the City Council and one for the County Commission and elect twelve people. Just elect all twelve on one ballot. In the process, this means we are going to combine the city and county police force. We are going to combine the animal shelters, and things like that. All that will do is make for more efficient, better operation." I think there's a good chance that the effort may have been successful.