Current Forms of Government

Contents of the Database
This database sets out the form of government in every incorporated city, town, and village (collectively, "municipality") in North Carolina.  For each municipality, the database includes:

  1. Population according to the most recent federal census.
  2. Whether it is a city, a town, or a village ("municipality style").
  3. Whether it operates under the council-manager or mayor-council form of government.
  4. The title of its governing board, whether council, board of commissioners, or board of aldermen.
  5. How the mayor is selected.
  6. The length of the mayor’s term of office.
  7. How governing board members are selected – at large, from districts, or some combination (see below for an explanation of the options).
  8. The length of governing board members’ terms.  (The symbol "4S" means members serve four-year terms on a staggered basis.)
  9. The size of the governing board.  (The mayor is included in this number only if the mayor is elected by and from the governing board.)
  10. The election method used (see below for an explanation of the options).
  11. The statutory citations for the current form of government (see below for an explanation of this entry).

How governing board members are selected.  Governing board members may be selected at large or from either of two sorts of districts, and a city might combine at large and district selection..  The choices, and the symbol used to represent each of them, are:

  • AL – At-large.  Members are elected from the municipality as a whole, with all voters eligible to vote for each at-large position.
  • D – District.  Members are elected from districts.  A district member must reside in the district he or she represents, and only residents of the district may vote for that district’s member.
  • DAL – District-at-large.  Members represent districts and each must reside in the district he or she represents, but all voters of the municipality are eligible to vote for district-at-large positions.  These districts are also called "residence districts."
    If a municipality has a combination of at-large, district, or district-at-large positions on its governing board, notes in the database will indicate how many members are elected in each manner.

The election methods.  Municipalities may use one of four methods for electing their governing board and mayor.  The four methods, and the word used to represent each of them, are:

  • Plurality.  Elections are nonpartisan, and the results are determined by plurality, with the person or persons receiving the highest number of votes elected to the open position or positions.
  • Majority.  Elections are nonpartisan.  If the person receiving the most votes for a particular position does not have a majority of votes cast for that position, a run-off is held between the two top finishers.
  • Primary.  Elections are nonpartisan.  A primary is held to narrow the field to two persons for each position open; in the subsequent election the person receiving the highest number of votes is elected.
  • Partisan.  Elections are partisan.  Each political party holds a primary to nominate a candidate for each open position; in the subsequent election the person receiving the highest number of votes is elected.

Citations.  The usual method for establishing or modifying a municipality’s form of government is by act of the General Assembly.  The General Assembly does this through a so-called "local act" that is applicable only to a specific city, town, or village.  The General Assembly has also authorized municipalities to modify their form of government by ordinance, without need for legislation ratification.  The citation portion of the database shows how each municipality’s form of government arrived at its current status.  The remainder of this section explains the possible citations that are found in the database.
Local acts of the General Assembly.  There are three possible citation forms to legislative acts of this sort:

  • Private laws, which are abbreviated "Pr."
  • Public-Local laws, which are abbreviated "PL".
  • Session Laws, which are abbreviated "SL".

The General Assembly published local acts, interchangeably, as either Private Laws or Public-Local Laws until 1943, when it began including them in volumes titled Session Laws.

Action by the local governing board.  As noted, it is possible for a municipality to modify its form of government through an ordinance, without need for approval by the General Assembly.  The statutes that authorize this sort of local action begin at G.S. 160A-101, and therefore when a municipality has modified its form of government pursuant to this authority the citation shown is "GS 160A-101."

In the early 1970s the General Assembly enacted a uniform election law for municipalities, and at that time those municipalities holding nonpartisan elections were allowed to select from among the three nonpartisan election methods set out above.  When a municipality’s election method was selected pursuant to that authority, the citation shown is "GS 163-290," which is the statute permitting that choice.

Municipal Board of Control.  Finally, from 1917 until 1982 the Municipal Board of Control was a state administrative agency with authority to incorporate municipalities.  (Before 1917 and since 1982, the General Assembly incorporated all municipalities; and it continued to incorporate municipalities even during the years the Board of Control was in existence.)  If some or all of the current charter of a city, town, or village was approved by the Board of Control, there will be a citation reading "Mun. Bd. Control".

Updating the database.  The database is updated each fall, after adjournment of that year’s session of the General Assembly.  Any changes made by the General Assembly are incorporated into the database, as well as any changes that were made locally pursuant to G.S. 160A-101 and that have been reported to the Legislative Library (as is required by statute).  Thus, the information currently in the database shows forms of government in effect as of October 2014.

If you find an error in the entry for any city, town, or village, please report it to Frayda Bluestein of the School of Government.  Her email address is bluestein@sog.unc.edu.

Using the Database

The database gives users three sets of choices, as follows:

  1. The first set of choices permits a reader to query for specific items of interest in the database by selecting among a set of variables.  For example, a person might ask to see all municipalities whose mayor serves a four-year term ("Mayor Term Length"), or all "cities" over 25,000 using partisan elections ("Population," "Municipality Style," and "Method of Election"), or all villages ("Municipality Style"), and so on.
  2. The second set of choices permits a person to see the entire list, either alphabetically or by population.
  3. The final choice is a summary of each of the elements in the database grouped by broad population categories.

Take me to the Database!