Editorial: The same but different
Itís hard to say which is the bigger surprise ó the vote of confidence for all the Salisbury City Council incumbents, despite friction over Fibrant, or the fact that Mayor Susan Kluttz did not get the most votes for the first time in 14 years.
According to the unofficial tally Tuesday night, Councilman Paul Woodson received 35 more votes than Kluttz, and Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell was just 40 votes behind her. Those would be razor-thin margins in most political races, but not with a small city like Salisbury. Provisional ballots are unlikely to change the order.
Woodson was nearly speechless after the final tally came in. All the candidates campaigned hard, spurred by worthy challengers. Woodsonís goal was to stay on the council, with no thought of leading the ticket. But he did, and council members have always followed the tradition of electing that person mayor. So, after 14 years in training on the council, Woodson is in line for the top job.
Ironically, Kluttz was the top vote-getter the first time she ran and has always led comfortably. Now she is likely to be mayor pro tem. What went wrong, besides things going so right for Woodson? Maybe it was all those years standing shoulder-to-shoulder with former City Manager David Treme and, like him, becoming a lightning rod for criticism. She got burned, but only slightly. Kluttz still has a leadership position on the council and may find it liberating to let someone else take the heat. At any rate, Susan Kluttz has been the face of Salisbury for 14 years ó a very active, progressive presence ó and the city has benefitted from her leadership.
The fact that Woodson, Kluttz and fellow incumbents Blackwell, Brian Miller and Pete Kennedy all won re-election belies the claim that voters are fed up with Fibrant. That actually is not a surprise. Though critics always sound off loudly, Salisbury rarely ousts incumbents. The cityís broadband network certainly needs better scrutiny and management than it appeared to receive in its first months, but Salisbury voters are sticking with the program. These guys started the endeavor (three of the five); the burden is on them now to make Fibrant succeed.
As for the challengers, they made a good go of it. Rip Kersey and Ben Lynch gathered significant support. Blake Jarman and Dale Stephens rounded out the ticket. All showed civic commitment and are to be commended for getting some traction with an electorate that seems stuck in place.
Once again, the city voted for more of the same, this time with a twist ó a different mayor. Key vacancies await filling, such as the city manager and the head of Fibrant. Salisburyís future depends nearly as much on those staff positions as it does on the council. But much work remains to be done. Voters may have re-elected the same people, but weíre all hoping for better times and better results.