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Candidates take on new topics at NAACP forum

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó In their third debate, candidates for Salisbury City Council faced tough questions Wednesday night at the NAACP forum.
Incumbents Mayor Susan Kluttz, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell and councilmen William ěPeteî Kennedy, Paul Woodson and Brian Miller are running against challengers Blake Jarman, Rip Kersey, Benjamin Lynch and Dale Stephens for five seats.
Candidates answered questions from moderator Dr. Bryant Norman and audience members, who expressed frustration with what they see as the cityís lack of response to issues considered especially important to minorities.
Hiring minorities
How would you make Salisburyís payroll better reflect the cityís demographics?
Jarman: Wants to change the mindset in Salisbury and help the community come together, which starts with leadership. City needs to be business-friendly and attract corporations that hire a diverse workforce.
Kennedy: City has had a policy to hire any qualified minorities as police officers and firefighters, but some have left for better pay. City has hired a minority engineer who drives from Greensboro. Hard to find and keep minority employees.
ěWe have opportunities, we just have to find the qualified people,î Kennedy said.
Blackwell: Doesnít know whether the cityís workforce reflects the populationís diversity. If not, sheís willing to do something about it.
ěWe can find out and once we know why, then we can devise a strategy,î Blackwell said.
Stephens: Jobs are a priority for all people, not just minorities. Would brainstorm solutions using the cityís ěgreatest natural resource, our peopleî and ask them for suggestions. Would hire a professional recruiter to bring companies to Salisbury.
Kersey: Cityís hiring practices should focus on capabilities of the applicants.
ěI would be shocked if discrimination truly based on colorî was going on, Kersey said.
The city should support education so everyone has the same capabilities.
Miller: Challenged the NAACP to demonstrate the city has discriminatory hiring practices. Doesnít believe the city discriminates in policy or procedure, and if it happens in practice, it should be brought to light.
Hiring is done based on the caliber of candidates. If someone can show otherwise, ěyou would find me as an ally to correct it,î Miller said.
Woodson: Cityís human resources director, who is a minority, is fair. Worked in private industry to find, hire and train more minorities and women. His small business hires people of all races and nationalities.
Kluttz: Shares this concern and frustration. City has tried for years to hire more minorities but Salisbury canít pay as well as larger cities, and many leave for better pay.
Wants suggestions from the NAACP and others, as well as recommendations of people qualified for jobs.
ěWe are trying,î Kluttz said.
Lynch: Best and highest qualified person applying should win the job. Attrition in the city is high because Salisbury does not pay as well as neighboring cities. Cut expenses elsewhere to pay city employees more.
Police civilian review board
Do you support a civilian board to review complaints against Salisbury police?
Woodson: Chief Rory Collins and Police Department are excellent. Isnít familiar with the idea of a civilian review board.
ěPerhaps itís not a bad idea,î Woodson said.
Miller: Complete confidence in Collins. Supports input from the community in nearly all situations but needs to better understand a civilian review board and how it would work. Doesnít want to undermine the effectiveness of police.
Suggested the NAACP meet with Collins, build consensus and present a proposal to City Council in February at the goal-setting retreat.
ěI donít sense youíd have opposition,î Miller said.
(Audience member Scott Teamer later said the NAACP asked Collins months ago about establishing a civilian review board and is waiting for a reply.)
Kersey: State can conduct a third-party review of police actions under question. Not sure a civilian review board would be effective. The city manager and chief must ensure the Police Department is running well.
Stephens: Would serve as a conduit for anyone who has a beef with the city.
ěItís a good idea to oversee all areas of government,î Stephens said. ěWatchdogs can keep politicians in line.î
Blackwell: Respects, trusts and admires Collins. City has a process to file a grievance if someone feels unjustly arrested or handled inappropriately.
Would like to visit a town with a civilian review board and see how it works.
ěIím not opposed to the idea,î Blackwell said.
Kennedy: Supports Collins. Complaints against police fell drastically after the city installed cameras in cars.
ěI would support a civilian review board to prove that our Police Department is doing a great job,î Kennedy said.
Lynch: NAACP has been asking for a civilian review board for years. People would have more access to City Council if one meeting per month were held at 7 p.m. NAACP and others could express concerns publicly.
Proud of Collins and police reorganization.
Jarman: Supports civilian review board. Crime downtown has improved with removal of some clubs and bars.
Kluttz: Full confidence in Collins. A civilian review board is his decision.
City has looked into the suggestion, which is complicated because personnel issues are confidential. Complaints against police can go to the city manager with appeals to City Council, which serves as a civilian board.
Annexation
If the state forces the city to give up its extra-territorial jurisdiction, would you annex or relinquish the area (an approximately one-mile-wide ring around the city subject to zoning ordinances)?
Blackwell: Not a big fan of annexation. People who live in the city should want to be there. Relinquish.
Stephens: His negative experience with involuntary annexation caused him to run for election.
ěIím against any more annexation of anybody for any reason,î he said.
Kersey: Some people in annexed areas had to petition for street lights, which they should have received from city. Relinquish.
Miller: Not a fair question. Too complicated and too many variables to answer in the time allowed. Not opposed to annexation, but it depends on the situation. The city needs the extra-territorial jurisdiction to serve as a transition between urban and country areas.
Woodson: Would ask to voluntarily annex residents in the extra-territorial jurisdiction.
Kennedy: Salisbury residents pay city and county taxes. The city annexed areas several years ago when it was legal and has not since the law changed.
ěWe observe the law of the land,î Kennedy said. ěWhen we had the right to annex, we did so.î
Jarman: Does not support annexation. Relinquish.
Lynch: City must live within its means and not annex. City should work with the county to come up with a solution in the extra-territorial jurisdiction.
Kluttz: City already negotiated the extra-territorial jurisdiction with the county, going from three miles outside the city limits to less than two miles. Since the law changed, City Council has not discussed annexation.
The candidates meet again at 2 p.m. today for a forum at Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, sponsored by the Rowan Council on Aging.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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