Fibrant, police top list of concerns during City Council meeting

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 21, 2014

SALISBURY — During an unusually busy public comment period at Tuesday’s Salisbury City Council meeting, five residents spoke up about issues ranging from civil rights to Fibrant.
Scott Teamer, president of the local NAACP chapter, said the city needs more African Americans in leadership positions in the Salisbury Police Department. Teamer, a former Rowan County Sheriff’s deputy, said the city has not promoted an African American to a rank higher than sergeant during the past five years.
Teamer said he believes the Salisbury Police Department had more diverse leadership in the 1990s, when he served in law enforcement, and is less diverse than departments in other cities of the same size.
“We are regressing,” he said.
After the meeting, Teamer, a bail bondsman, told the Post there are talented people of color in the police department who could be promoted. The city also could hire an African American lieutenant or captain from another city, he said.
Teamer said City Council members have tried to improve public relations by meeting with residents in the West End, where crime is on the rise, but an African American leader in the police department could have a greater impact.
Resident DeeDee Wright also talked to City Council about the police department and said the city needs more officers, especially after the annexation that increased the Salisbury’s population but not the police force.
“I don’t think there are enough officers to cover this city,” said Wright, noting the crime increase in the West End.
Police Chief Rory Collins earlier this month said serious crime in the West End jumped more than 12 percent the past five years. Collins said he will triple the police presence in the community, up from one officer per shift to three, and will create a second community relations officer position that will start out working in the West End.
The city’s second Police Interdiction Team will be fully staffed and on the streets by the end of March, he said.
In response to Wright and Teamer’s concerns, City Manager Doug Paris said he and Collins have talked about staffing levels in the police department.
“Diversity is an incredibly important goal for us, not just in the police department but in every department in the city,” Paris said.
He said once the second PIT unit is up and running, he and Collins will review staffing as part of the city’s upcoming budget process.
Paris pointed out that the city had an African American assistant police chief and police chief, but Teamer said that was years ago.
A day after the city celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, resident William Peoples said the city has an impediment to civil rights and asked City Council members if they are doing the best they can to improve the quality of life for all citizens.
Peoples said residents also need to do more.
“I fuss at you, and I fuss at the public, too,” he said.
While resident Eva GeoRene Jones praised City Council for resolving to cooperate with the Rowan County commissioners, resident J.R. Dunkley questioned the future of Fibrant, the city’s high-speed broadband utility.
Dunkley said he likes Fibrant but wants to know the utility’s “fully loaded cost,” including all expenses, to determine whether the network is profitable. City staff reported Tuesday that Fibrant, which started billing in December 2010, made a small profit for the second quarter in a row after losing $4.1 million last year.
Dunkley questioned moving Fibrant employees out of the department and into other areas.
“That just means other areas are more expensive,” he said.
With Google developing fiber-to-the-home systems in other cities, Dunkley said he wonders whether Fibrant is marketable and a good value.
Paris responded by saying the shift of employees was a consolidation that saved more than $1 million, part of a strategy developed by middle managers to cut costs. He also said the city’s general fund is only about $6,000 more than the previous year.
In the current budget, three people are listed as Fibrant employees with total salaries of $172,383. That’s down from 11 Fibrant employees in last year’s budget with total salaries of $447,236.
The city this year launched Infrastructure Services, a new department overseen by Fibrant General Manager Mike Jury. Many employees in the department are cross-trained to do a variety of jobs, from installing Fibrant to repairing traffic signals.
Infrastructure Services is the result of consolidating two information-technology groups and three infrastructure groups.
Wright also asked about network neutrality and how the current debate could impact Fibrant.
Net neutrality refers to Internet service providers like Fibrant treating all content, websites and platforms equally, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Net neutrality suffered a setback last week when a federal court struck down the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s latest regulatory effort, according to the MIT Technology Review.
That may mean providers can charge companies such as Netflix fees for faster, more seamless streaming.
Paris said the city needs to see how the FCC responds and whether the court ruling would affect North Carolina’s municipal broadband laws. But the city views the latest development as something positive at the federal level, he said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.