RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The plan to expand Winston-Salem’s City Council is moving quickly in the North Carolina House but in a different form than it was last month.

House Bill 334, Rep. Donny Lambeth’s plan to add at-large representation to an 8-person council dominated by single-member districts, passed through the Local Government Committee in a discussion that took only a couple of minutes on Tuesday morning and then was moved out of the Rules Committee and to the floor even more quickly on Tuesday afternoon. Both were clean voice votes.

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

When the bill will get the vote of the full House is unclear, but it could receive a critical second reading as quickly as Wednesday. The House is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m., but the calendar has not been published and a later session could be called.

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

“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.”

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.

Lambeth did not respond immediately to an email asking with whom at the city he had been working on the compromise, and his comments at the afternoon meeting repeated that this was a plan with which the city is OK.

He said in March – and repeated at the Rules meeting — that 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.

Joines told WGHP in March that “we are continuing to have conversations with Rep Lambeth.”

Lambeth had 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.

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

Winston-Salem also is represented in the House by two Democrats, Amber M. Baker of District 72 and Kanika Brown of District 71. It’s unclear where they stand on Lambeth’s bill. His cosponsors are Rep. Jeff Zenger (R-Lewisville) and Rep. John Faircloth (R-High Point).

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.

State Rep. Amber Baker (D-Winston-Salem)

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 current bill.

If HB 334  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 by the governor.