A panel appointed to study the election methods for the Winston-Salem City Council held its first meeting on Thursday, though it may be some months before the group makes its recommendations.

The panel will be looking at whether the city should change its council structure to include at-large members, or make any other changes from the current methods.

The 11-member panel was appointed after state Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, and Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, a Democrat, reached a compromise that led to Lambeth withdrawing a bill that would have split the city into five wards and added three at-large members to the council.

On Thursday, the panel heard from Bob Joyce of the UNC School of Government, who explained that the options are many for deciding whether elections are partisan or non-partisan, whether primaries are used to narrow the field, the length of terms and the number of members a governing board can have.

Currently, Winston-Salem has a partisan eight-member council elected to four-year terms, with each council member elected from the particular ward in which the member lives.

The mayor gets a vote only in case of a tie.

When Lambeth introduced his bill last spring, he came under fire for how the proposed five wards would be drawn.

Lambeth said legislative staffers drew the lines with no input from him, but Lambeth’s wards were attacked for putting three of the council’s four black members into one ward.

Lambeth had denied claims that he was trying to reduce minority representation, and defended his bill as putting the city more in line with other major North Carolina cities.

Joyce presented the study panel with a list of how cities of over 200,000 people in North Carolina pick their governing boards.

Winston-Salem and Charlotte both have partisan elections, while non-partisan boards rule in Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham and Fayetteville.

Winston-Salem and Greensboro are the only cities in the group that have four-year terms.

Winston-Salem and Fayetteville both have council members representing individual districts only.

The other cities have a mix of district and at-large members.

The panel is chaired by Steve Berlin, an attorney, and Dr. David Branch, an ophthalmologist.

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