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City council candidates propose their own innovative ideas for Salisbury

In the midst of Tuesday’s Salisbury City Council debate, candidates were quizzed on crime and racial injustice. As part of answering the second question, however, most also listed one or more innovative ideas he or she would like to see implemented if elected.

Responses for innovative ideas ranged from changing meeting times to expanding Fibrant to other cities. The second question involved innovative ideas, but also asked about bridging a divide between Salisbury’s leaders and minority communities. As a result of the multiple topics covered in the second question, some candidates didn’t mention an innovative idea.

Incumbent Karen Alexander was the only candidate who was unable to attend Tuesday’s forum, which was organized by the group Time to Talk. Challenger David Post left early to celebrate the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. The forum was held at East Square Artworks in downtown Salisbury.

Candidates drew numbers randomly to determine the order of responses. As a result, some candidates touched on the same innovative ideas. A summary of statements from candidates who specifically talked about ideas they’d pursue if elected are listed below in alphabetical order.

Stephen Arthur

Arthur calls his idea second chance ministries. From Arthur’s description of the program, second chance ministries seemed to be an idea where those charged with a crime would be able to learn a trade.

“A lot of people, these younger people, they maybe mess up or make mistakes in life, they get on the wrong path and society sometimes throws them away,” Arthur said. “We don’t want to give them a second chance.”

Ultimately, the ministry would result in participants getting a job, he said.

Arthur said he planned to start the ministry regardless of whether or not he is elected to the Salisbury City Council.

Roy Bentley

Bentley’s idea was for Salisbury to hire a grant writer. He cited the decision by Rowan county Commissioners to hire a grant writer.

“I think that’s something that’s absolutely imperative for us,” Bentley said. “It’s something we have to do.”

Specifically, Bentley said Salisbury should investigate grants related to fiber optic networks.

“It’s the nice, hot thing,” he said. “The government wants fiber-optic in underserved communities whether they be urban or rural.”

He mentioned the possibility of expanding Fibrant outside of Salisbury.

Maggie Blackwell

Blackwell said her first idea might sound funny. However, she proposed putting a flag and flagpole on the front of city hall.

“We have so many citizens that don’t even know where city hall is,” she said.

A second idea she mentioned was Salisbury’s mayor having a morning coffee with residents one per week. The coffee events would be in a neutral location and allow Salisbury residents to share concerns.

Kenny Hardin

Hardin’s idea was to use the city’s buildings and facilities as training centers for students to learn a trade.

He said facilities such as Miller Recreation Center in Salisbury’s West End neighborhood are underutilized. Instead of having people leave communities for classes, Hardin said the City of Salisbury could partner with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to offer classes at facilities such as Miller Recreation Center.

“Teach these kids a skill and give them some type of hope,” Hardin said. “Everybody is not going to go to college what we need to do is reinvest in our communities and reach those kids in their communities.”

He said children need alternatives to “being on the street.” A Boys and Girls Club was another idea he mentioned.

Constance Johnson

Johnson talked extensively about the potential for Fibrant — the Salisbury’s municipally owned Internet provider. She proposed creating a tool that would allow “every single person in Salisbury” to access the Internet.

“The money is made not through charging high prices, but it’s made through hits and it’s made through how we communicate with each other and everybody moving in the same direction,” Johnson said.

Referencing cities she has been to around the world, Johnson said other cities have a better “communications system” than Salisbury.

“I know that people will tell you that we don’t need an Internet system, we don’t need a digital technology company and the city doesn’t need to be an entrepreneur,” she said.

Rip Kersey

Kersey joked that he’s not an out-of-the-box thinker” and said he’d rather listen to people.

His idea was to create a manufacturing academy with various community partners. The idea would involve students learning a skill over the course of ten weeks. At the end of the course, the participants would be guaranteed a job.

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College could be a partner, he said.

The idea is similar to one that takes place at Catawba Valley Community College, where Kersey works.

Mark Lewis

Lewis focused on Fibrant for his idea and proposed providing Internet service for Salisbury residents in poverty.

“Keep in mind, it needs to be a win-win for the city, fiber-optic system and also for the community,” Lewis said.

He said it costs about $800 to place all fiber optic equipment in a residence. Lewis proposed an extensive grant-writing effort to secure money to pay for the cost of equipment installation.

The grant-writing effort would be specifically for residents in poverty. Internet service would be provided at a significantly reduced price — Lewis mentioned $10 per month.

“I think this is a good way to bring our broadband system to everybody in our community,” he said.

Scott Maddox

Focusing on neighborhoods and education, Maddox mentioned a number of ideas.

He said Salisbury “sorely needs” a school advisory committee. However, Maddox stressed that it takes more than one member of city council to implement an idea.

“That’s no a condemnation of the current school system or the leadership in the school system, but they can’t fairly treat the city schools any different than they treat the schools throughout the county,” Maddox said. “The fact is that the schools within the city have to be treated different. If those schools don’t thrive, our community doesn’t thrive.”

Maddox also proposed having more community meetings to find out what Salisbury residents need and want.

Brian Miller

Miller said the City of Salisbury should invest in early childhood education programs by providing a pre-kindergarten program in poor areas.

“If we spent time investing in that we have a chance to make generation change in our community as opposed to have limited or long-lasting impacts,” Miller said.

He said Salisbury could “throw money at” issues such as poverty, crime, social justice or economic development, but city officials would just be “putting lipstick on a pig.”

“It will all still be there,” he said.

He said education could improve everything else in Salisbury.

Todd Paris

Paris focused on transparency when proposing his innovative idea.

He said the city should post a transparency page that would contain various, important city documents. Paris also said Salisbury should respond to public records requests on time. Paris has submitted several public records requests to the City of Salisbury. It’s unclear how many he has received back.

“We can let people know what’s really going on in the city, like Fibrants losing a mission dollars per year if you talk about employee shifting” Paris said.

Public records laws down’t dictate a specific time that governmental bodies have to respond to the requests. State laws say “Custodians of public records shall respond to all such requests as promptly as possible. If the request is granted, the copies shall be provided as soon as reasonably possible.”

Paris proposed Salisbury improve relations with black residents by not stopping cars for routine motor vehicle violations and later trying to search cars.

William Peoples

Peoples said his idea was simple: Have public meetings in communities where people live.

“Everybody can’t makee the city council meetings at 4 o’clock,” Peoples said.

The public meetings Peoples mentioned would involve city officials just talking about issues in specific communities.

“The question is why the people who have been on council before have never done it,” Peoples said.

He also mentioned an idea raised by Salisbury area children 10 years ago — a skatepark. It would give children something to do, Peoples said.

“When you talk about what we cant do, the question is why can’t we do it,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. Sometimes we get our priorities mixed up because we’re not in touch with the community.”

Troy Russell

Russell proposed the City of Salisbury partner with local churches to provide vacations to underprivileged youth.

“What a lot of our kids need is exposure,” he said. “When I was working in mental health, there were students that I talked to in Salisbury that had never been to Charlotte before, never been to Carowinds.”

Russell said the trip likely wouldn’t cost much, if any, money. He said churches often have money saved for trips.

The trips would be specifically intended to give underprivileged youth exposure to areas around them.

Tamara Sheffield

Sheffield said the Salisbury Police Department should train its officers on de-escalating dangerous situations. She also mentioned, and spent more time on, the importance of getting to know the Salisbury City Council.

Sheffield proposed a regularly scheduled “mornings with the mayor event.” She also mentioned an idea she called “coffee with the council.”

She also got a bit of applause for saying the Salisbury City Council should change its meeting times. Some Salisbury residents have criticized the city council for having meetings times when most residents aren’t able to attend.

Reporter Josh Bergeron covers county government, politics and environment for the Salisbury Post.






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