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Council challengers grill city staff during Tuesday meeting

A few challengers in the Salisbury City Council race harshly criticized the city’s Police Department during an informational meeting Tuesday at city hall.

Salisbury traditionally holds information meetings — intended to educate candidates on operating procedures and goals — during City Council election years. After presentations wrapped up, however, Tuesday’s meeting quickly devolved into a series of questions grilling city staff. Most questions from council challengers focused on crime in Salisbury.

A total of 16 candidates are running for Salisbury City Council. Incumbent Brian Miller, who was out of town for his job, did not attend the meeting Tuesday.

For an hour and a half, city staff presented facts about Salisbury city government and operating policies. Then, as the informational meeting came to a close, council candidate and local attorney Todd Paris stopped city staff in the middle of a presentation to ask if questions would be allowed.

City Manager Lane Bailey said yes, and city staff wrapped up presentations shortly after.

Once staff finished, Paris called Police Chief Rory Collins to the front of the council chambers. Paris began by asking Collins about unsolved murders in Salisbury before diving into Collins’ pay and employment.

“Do you work part-time at the housing authority?” Paris asked.

“I do,” Collins responded.

“Do you not make enough money as chief of police?” Paris asked.

The room immediately grew silent. Collins didn’t answer.

“Let me withdraw my question. While we do have 10 unsolved murders, you are working a part-time side job,” Paris said. “Right? … Do you know if the sheriff of Rowan County works a part-time side job. Or the chief of Kannapolis?”

Paris continued by questioning turnover in the Police Department and the number of open officer positions.

Paris’ questions weren’t the only critical ones during the question and answer session. They did, however, draw the most attention among audience members and other council candidates. After the meeting, audience members — mostly city staff — and other candidates chatted amongst themselves about the nature of questions asked by Paris.

City Council candidates Roy Bentley, Ken Hardin, William Peoples, David Post and Constance Johnson also asked questions during the meeting. Not all pertained to crime or policing.

At one point, however, Bailey — the city manager — jumped in while candidates were questioning Collins. Peoples asked about the number of police officers in Salisbury, saying fewer than 100 is inadequate.

“In fairness to the chief, the city went through some tough budget issues and had to make some tough decisions,” Bailey said, responding to Peoples. “I wasn’t here, but I doubt the police chief said, ‘Hey, I’ve got too many officers, and let’s cut some of these.'”

Peoples also quizzed city staff about trash in the city limits, operating procedures for waste pickup and public transportation and fire protection on the north end of Salisbury. Fire Chief Bob Parnell, in response to Peoples’ question, said the city was looking to relocate a fire station closer to Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

Bentley asked about the number of police officers in comparison to cities of similar size or similar average income.

Like Peoples, Hardin asked about crime, public transportation, trash pickup and recycling.

Some of the transportation questions focused on a funding reclassification of Salisbury from rural to metropolitan by the federal government.

During the meeting, Post asked about the cost of public transportation. Citing figures provided in a packet of information, Post asked why the cost of public transit for Salisbury’s system is projected to rise from $5.53 to about $9 per person. City staff said they would have to do more research to answer the question.

Johnson joined in during crime-related questions. She was the only candidate to ask about how small, local businesses might bid on contracts with city government.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

 

 

 

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