Gift for city hopefuls?
Christmas in July? That might be what some Salisbury City Council hopefuls are thinking right now.
The Salisbury City Council is a five-member board, and all its seats are up for election every two years. In 2013, the entire sitting council was re-elected — and easily at that. Councilman Brian Miller had the lowest vote total among the incumbents with 1,611, but that was still 624 more than the challenger with the most votes. Mayor Paul Woodson called the re-election of the entire slate of incumbents a vote of confidence from Salisbury residents.
Keeping that confidence may not be such an easy feat in the 2015 elections.
In 2013, this council had a dynamic young city manager in Doug Paris who, along with others, Woodson said “makes me look good.” In 2015, this will be the council weighed down by the fact that an inexperienced young city manager — again, Doug Paris — departed under a dark cloud when his contract was terminated early and mysteriously after a nearly five-hour, hastily called closed session.
This will also be the council that paid Paris a $209,000 severance package immediately after his contract was terminated. And it will be the council whose members are claiming ignorance about why another former city employee — public information officer Elaney Hasselmann, who resigned the day after Paris left — was given a nearly $33,000 severance when the city’s own policy says an employee who quits without notice will be paid only for time already worked.
Perhaps most potentially damaging is that this will be the council that has clearly decided that none of the reasons for these things — the contract termination, the nearly quarter-million dollars paid in severance — will come to light. At least, not from them. When contacted last week, only council members Miller and Karen Alexander would even acknowledge Paris had been evaluated by the board during his tenure. A majority of council members used essentially the same line to deflect questions — that Paris is no longer an employee, and they won’t talk about him anymore.
“We want to move on,” Woodson said.
Again, that may be easier said than done.
Looking back at the results from the 2013 election may embolden this council in many things, including their current course of action regarding the departures of Paris and Hasselmann. But it shouldn’t, at least not if they hope to keep their seats next year. The silent treatment does not make this issue go away. What it does is hand potential 2015 challengers a single issue they can use to galvanize support — a great big gift with a bow on top.