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Mall tensions come to surface during commissioner meeting

Underlying tensions about the former Salisbury Mall boiled over during the Rowan County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday, as the board discussed a loan to cover the mall’s purchase and repairs to its roof.

Those tensions forced a brief recess after Commissioner Craig Pierce accused the board’s three newest members of being “bought” by Salisbury City Council and told Chairman Greg Edds he doesn’t know how county government operates.

Commissioners approved submitting a $3.95 million loan application to the Local Government Commission — a county and municipal financial regulatory agency — with nearly no discussion. The loan contains money to replenish the county’s fund balance from the mall purchase and for renovations. The loan would essentially be the same as a previous proposal sent into the Local Government Commission. That application was dropped by commissioners in late 2014.

Commissioners also voted to cancel all previously approved contracts and find temporary space for Rowan County’s Board of Elections and Veterans Services — which had been identified as the first to get space in the former mall, now called West End Plaza.

While discussion on the loan was sparse, comments grew tense as commissioners discussed the solicitation of bids for two sections of the mall’s roof.

One section would be over a proposed space for Veterans Services. The other would be over the Board of Elections. Pierce’s motion to seek bids for roof repairs failed by a vote of 2-3, with the three newest commissioners — Chairman Greg Edds, Vice-Chairman Jim Greene and Commissioner Judy Klusman — in opposition to soliciting bids. Commissioner Mike Caskey voted with Pierce.

Klusman was the first to question the proposal made by Pierce.

“I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” Klusman said. “Quite frankly, we need to get our space needs study in. I know I’ve been banging that drum for a long time, but it’s not going to be that much longer.”

The space needs study is scheduled to be presented to commissioners at the first meeting in March.

Once Pierce’s proposal failed, Klusman subsequently motioned to cancel all contracts that were previously approved and stop any work at the mall until a space needs study and master plan are complete.

Pierce responded fervently to comments about a delay in soliciting bids for roof work.

“All I can say is this is the best commission that the city council’s money can buy. And you know what I mean.” Pierce said as the roof was being discussed.

Edds asked for more discussion, but immediately stopped to address Pierce’s comment.

“We have been through a full year of public comment about this project and I don’t believe the general public is against us owning the West End Plaza,” Edds said. “I believe they want to be sold on it and they want to know what the plan is. I am not against us owning the West End Plaza. The prior board of commissioners ordered a space needs study and the purpose of a space needs study is for us to learn exactly what departments need space.”

After Edds’ lengthy response to Pierce’s prior comment, Pierce fired back again.

“Well that just goes to show you that you don’t know how county government works,” Pierce said. “Once you cancel the contracts, you have to send it all back out for bid again … You just put the Board of Elections and the Veterans Service Office out another six months, minimum, to start construction. And this is all because you won’t do what you’re supposed to do, which is take care of the county.”

Immediately after those comments, Edds, red in the face, called a recess.

When the commissioners reconvened, they were set to vote on Klusman’s motion, but first Commissioner Mike Caskey spoke up. Caskey asked that the commissioners vote to find temporary space for the Board of Elections and the Veterans Service Office, if Klusman’s motion was going to pass.

Both Klusman’s and Caskey’s proposals passed. Klusman’s by a 3-2 vote, with the three newer commissioners in favor. Caskey’s proposal passed unanimously.

After the meeting, both Pierce and Edds said the county wasn’t likely to sell the mall.

When questioned, Pierce talked extensively about the process for obtaining new bids for contracts.

“All they had to do was table it until the space needs study was finished,” he said. “They canceled it. That throws everything off. It wasn’t the way to proceed in my opinion, but I’m just one of five.”

Edds focused his post-meeting discussion on the space needs study and its timeline for consideration by commissioners.

In addition to the space needs study being presented in March, Edds said the architects would present a master plan in April, which would detail the space needs for all departments in the future.

“We will know what the finished product of the mall will look like,” Edds said. “It will have a firm picture of what the mall will look like at the end.”

 

 

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