Alliance holds City Council candidate forum
By Shelley Smithssmith@salisburypost.com
More than 70 people attended the Historic Neighborhood Alliance’s (HNA) Salisbury City Council candidate forum Tuesday night at Salisbury Station.
With 24 prepared questions submitted by residents in each historic district, each candidate was given two questions. The questions focused on ordinance enforcement, housing commissions and historic preservation. Candidate Brian Miller was unable to attend.
With the candidates responding in reverse alphabetical order, Michael Young started the forum.
Asked about changes to ordinances addressing two opposite problems such as failure to cut grass and demolition by neglect, Young answered, “I strongly believe in the free market, but, you always have to ask ‘at whose expense.'”
Paul Woodson was asked how he would implement stronger code language with enforcement ‘teeth’ to reduce the number of dilapidated, vacant structures. Woodson said he did not like “constantly having the same problems with the same houses,” from not cutting the grass, having furniture on porches or wrecked cars in front yards.
“We will tell you one time, and if you don’t fix it, you get a big fine,” he said. “We’ve got to quit writing letter after letter.”
Asked what changes should be made to current codes to ensure housing standards are met and landlords are not permitted to rent substandard properties, William Peoples commented that he has experience, and that he worked on the landlord-tenant handbook himself.
“There are landlords out there that rent substandard housing,” said Peoples. “If there’s a housing complaint, there’s no one to address the complaint to. A house should not be rented until it is brought up to code. If a landlord is a repeat offender, after the first offense he should be fined heavily.”
Mark Lewis received a question on current ordinances that allow an empty house to be either neglected or boarded up, and was asked how he would change things.
“Ordinances are only good when they are enforced,” said Lewis, who noted that proper planning and code enforcement were key. Lewis said he wanted to deal with better housing across the city.
Susan Kluttz tackled a question on how the city should address unoccupied properties susceptible to becoming public nuisances.
“Anything the council decides has to be accepted by the community,” said Kluttz. “The most important thing we can do is educate the public. I feel that it will be much stronger if we do have support from the community, and we need to give our new code enforcer time.”
William Pete Kennedy was asked how he would incorporate traffic mitigation, well maintained streets and sidewalks and preservation-supported zoning into a preservation plan for Salisbury.
“From the very beginning I’ve said our city is only as strong as our weakest part of the city,” said Kennedy, noting a sidewalk plan is in the works. “I’ve always supported the greenways and connecting the greenways throughout all of our cities.”
Benjamin Johnson believes the best information is in the hands of citizens. When asked how he would work to increase legal enforcement tools toward recovery-based enforcement decisions on unoccupied properties, he said he is not in favor of forcing things on anyone.
“I’m probably not going to be most in favor of forcing people to do specific things with their property,” said Johnson. “We end up hurting the free market economies by putting rules in place.”
Blake Jarman was asked what changes he would make to save historic buildings that are neglected versus tearing them down.
“It’s very important that if there is history behind a building in any way in Historic Salisbury, we need to do our best to revitalize it,” said Jarman. “We need to make people enthusiastic and more financially able to own (and/or renovate) a historic building.”
Carl Dangerfield was asked whether he would support a comprehensive preservation plan and how it would differ from existing preservation roles.
“It’s a balancing act,” said Dangerfield. “We need to grow and we need to expand without annexing our neighbors. It’s important that we have ordinances that are enforcible. We have to be logical and practical.”
Maggie Blackwell was asked how she would adopt a preservation plan that was not only for downtown Salisbury but for all historic neighborhoods.
Blackwell spoke of how she recently toured the Park Avenue and Brooklyn historic districts of Salisbury and was appalled at the conditions.
“It opened my eyes,” she said. “I have begun to study what can be done, and I take it very seriously.”
Charles Black was asked how a housing authority will address insufficient maintenance of exterior and interior rental units in a historic neighborhood.
“I would want code enforcers to be well trained,” said Black. “They need to deal with tenants face to face, and try to solve all problems. If that doesn’t work, then they will go to a penalty phase.”