Candidates face questions at forum

SALISBURY — Three challengers made their case for change on the Salisbury City Council, while five incumbents defended their records during a candidate forum Thursday night in the West End neighborhood.

All candidates attended except Dale Stephens. The event was sponsored by West End Pride, a group of residents and friends of the West End community, and more than 50 people attended. Mae Carroll moderated the forum.

While a few questions were answered by nearly all the candidates, many other queries were directed to one or two.

Police and crime

Challenger Rick Honeycutt said he would hire more police officers but not raise taxes. It often takes too long for police officers to respond to calls, and sometimes they don’t show up at all, he said.

Honeycutt said he would “strategically place them on the street,” rather than spread police coverage evenly across the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell challenged the idea that the city could hire additional officers without raising taxes. She said Police Chief Rory Collins created a second Police Interdiction Team without increasing his budget by delegating to other staff the paperwork that used to keep officers at their desk and off the street.

While some people complain that they’re reading about more crime in the paper, Blackwell said that’s because the city is catching more criminals.

Challenger Blake Jarman said overcoming problems is up to the community, not just the police, and he would encourage more cooperation among residents. He also advocated more police officers and better pay.

Councilman Pete Kennedy said one of the best ways to stem crime is to lower the dropout rate. The city encourages employees to serve as mentors to help keep kids in school, he said, and also offers Project SAFE as an anti-crime program.

Mayor Paul Woodson took issue with challengers who suggested the city needs more police officers, saying Salisbury has more police officers per capita than the state average.

“We’re not skimping on police officers,” he said.

Challenger William Peoples disagreed and said after a recent daytime murder on West Horah Street, he parked near the crime scene and waited three hours before he saw a police officer pass by. Peoples called for two permanent officers assigned to the West End.

Woodson acquiesced and said, “We might need to put another officer or two in this neighborhood.”

Woodson said the city has not filled the position of chief deputy to save money and avoid raising taxes.

“We are trying to keep expenses down,” he said. “We are trying to run the city like a business now.”

Parks and rec

Councilman Brian Miller said he’s “very committed” to increasing youth activities and said the city should collaborate with the YMCA, Little League and other recreation programs.

“We don’t need to recreate a lot of things,” Miller said. “We do need to work better at coordination, and we need transportation to the Community Park.”

Miller attributed the bus service idea to Peoples, who has criticized City Council for years for building a park outside the city limits, promising bus service but never providing it.

Peoples said the city also needs to listen to youth, not consultants, about recreation. Kids have been asking for a skate park for year and still don’t have one, he said. Peoples said a city with 34,000 residents needs more than one public swimming pool at Lincoln Park.

“Why is there not a pool on this side of town?” he said.

Incumbent Karen Alexander said children need more recreation opportunities and suggested inexpensive changes like adding basketball goals and bike racks in more neighborhoods and collaborating with churches.

Woodson said City Council was not happy with employees who were running the Parks and Recreation Department and made changes. City Manager Doug Paris earlier this year fired the director and her top manager.

Since then, Woodson said the city has offered many new programs, including Movies in the Park that attracted 600 people last month and a successful camp out.

Blackwell said she has been investigating a “playmobile” program, which would bring mobile recreational equipment on a regular basis to neighborhoods like Lash Drive with lots of children but no transportation to public parks.

Jarman said the city needs to do a better job of getting the word out about recreation programs.

African American employees

Peoples, a long-time critic of the city’s lack of African American employees, said while 40 percent of Salisbury’s population is black, only about 14 percent of the city’s workforce is black, a result in part of having only two African American department heads.

“Sometimes we hire people we look like,” Peoples said.

Woodson agreed the city needs to hire more African Americans and said he has been trying to address the disparity, working with Assistant City Manager Zach Kyle and Collins to help promote two African American police officers. Woodson said the city can’t hire or promote anyone who is not qualified and pointed out that a new top Fibrant employee is African American.

Blackwell said Collins is so aware of this issue, he has accepted a position as an adjunct professor at Livingstone College to help find qualified African Americans to apply for police positions.

Kennedy said when the city had plenty of money, any qualified African American who wanted to be a police officer was hired. Now, in leaner times, the city can’t add positions, he said, but the city is working with the NAACP to increase the number of African American employees throughout the city ranks.

“We are very conscious of it and we are working on it,” Kennedy said.

Livingstone, Catawba colleges

When asked why Livingstone receives negative publicity while Catawba gets good press, most candidates disagree with the premise.

“Livingstone College is one of Salisbury’s best-kept secrets,” said Alexander, who said she’s been involved with the college for 20 years. “It’s phenomenal what they’ve done there. Their hospitality program is amazing.”

Honeycutt said he’s not heard anything negative about Livingstone and said both colleges are excellent. He said if he’s aware of a specific problem, he can help get to the root and fix it.

Blackwell said she also hadn’t heard negative stories about Livingstone but said the college needs crosswalks and pedestrian signs like Catawba, as well as a lower speed limit on Monroe and more police enforcement.

Jarman, who graduated from Catawba and now attends a church that meets at Livingstone, said he’s heard concerns about how Livingstone is perceived. He said City Council should do more to boost tourism, which would help improve the reputations of all the colleges in Salisbury.

A Livingstone graduate, Kennedy said his alma mater receives good publicity and has a strong public relations department. He agreed with lowering the speed limit on Monroe.

“We hear that loud and clear,” Kennedy said. “We will do something about that.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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