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Salisbury crime concerns turn to city staff criticism

By Josh Bergeron 

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Concerns about crime morphed into an online spectacle this week when local resident Carolyn Logan canceled a meeting with city staff and Councilman Kenny Hardin lashed out on Facebook at City Manager Lane Bailey and a staffer.

In a lengthy Facebook post about the meeting’s cancellation, Hardin dished out criticism of Bailey, city employees and Communications Director Linda McElroy. Hardin also posted emails between himself and Bailey that contained additional complaints. Meanwhile, McElroy says she is seeking an attorney related to Hardin’s statements this week and previous remarks.

When asked about his public criticism of city staff, Hardin said people should be focused on crime and a lack of communication between Salisbury’s majority black communities and city officials.

“You’re just trying to create a scenario,” Hardin said. “That is not the focus. That is not the point.”

Less than 25 percent of Hardin’s first post solely focused on crime, policing, the city’s relationships with its residents or Logan. In the remaining 75 percent, Hardin criticized city staff.

If Ms. McElroy is allowed to attend this meeting, I will not attend and will encourage Ms. Logan to decline and seek alternative means via third party entities to have her concerns addressed,” Hardin said in the post.

Bailey responded to Hardin’s public criticism with two sentences praising McElroy.

“I have no comment other than Linda McElroy has done an outstanding job,” Bailey said. “I’m proud to have her part of our leadership team.”

Meeting scheduled

A narrative provided by city staff states that in mid-January Bailey instructed McElroy and Police Chief Jerry Stokes to contact Logan to speak about concerns related to rising violence in the city. Logan often attends city council meetings to speak during public comment periods.

City staff didn’t have Logan’s number and asked Hardin to provide it, the narrative states.

The city’s narrative continues, stating that McElroy identified herself as the communications director in a phone call with Logan. The pair spoke briefly about a time that would work for an in-person meeting. Later, the pair would talk through text messages to discuss a time that would work.

A text message exchange between Logan and McElroy obtained by the Salisbury Post shows that Logan agreed to have a meeting at the Salisbury Police Department at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. Logan canceled the meeting after McElroy took too long to respond to a text message.

“It should not have taken 16 hours and 45 minutes for me to receive a response,” Logan said in the text message. “My concern for the city and the crimes and violence that plague the city and the crimes and violence that plague the city are genuine. I refuse to be patronized or to be a pawn in a political arena of games.”

In addition to the time it took McElroy to respond, Logan said in an interview that she was upset McElroy was scheduled to attend the meeting at all. She said the presence of McElroy shows that the city isn’t taking her concerns seriously.

Foster a relationship

In an interview, Logan said her concerns include crime in Salisbury’s West End and a lack of trust between police and citizens. Police need to foster a relationship with Salisbury residents affected by crime.

“They want to portray me as an angry black lady,” she said in an interview. “And, yeah I’m angry … I’m tired of the crime. I’m tired of the violence. I’m tired of the unsolved murders.”

She rattled off a number of anecdotes about incidents of crime, including people breaking into houses during the daytime. One man has been the victim of crime because his car looks like another person’s vehicle, she said.

“I don’t feel like they’re taking the violence seriously,” Logan said about city staff.

Logan said local residents would be more apt to disclose information related to crimes if police officers fostered meaningful relationships with those affected by crime. Relationships also matter for people involved in gangs.

“Do you think that everybody that’s in a gang wants to be in a gang?” She asked. “People who are in a gang want a way out … He’s so scared because he’s worried they’re going to kill his family. You tell me what he’s supposed to do.”

Logan said people know information about crimes but aren’t willing to talk. Logan noted the fact that no one has claimed the $20,000 city-county reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for 7-year-old A’yanna Allen’s death.

Logan said she asked “for months and months” to schedule a meeting with city staff. Instead of McElroy, Logan said she would have preferred to meet with another member of the police department and Police Chief Stokes.

“I’m not that typical elected official”

Within an hour of Logan canceling the meeting, Hardin published his first post, which includes a large section where he gives his opinion on Logan’s meeting.

“I was disappointed in the frivolous, patronizing and insensitive manner in which the City Manager dealt with Ms. Logan,” Hardin says in the second sentence of his post. “I took exception to his veiled attempt to imply that I was impeding a city employee, who I feel does not meet the standards of respect and customer-friendly values of the City, from executing her duties. She is the not the first city employee I have gone to the City Manager to share behavioral concerns.”

In his post and the text of emails, Hardin calls Bailey “derelict in his responsibility.” Hardin says McElroy is unprofessional, rude, not customer service oriented and irresponsible. Last week, he repeated claims about McElroy’s job performance in follow-up posts and emails to city officials.

When asked about the exchange and the public criticism of city staff, Hardin said he regularly posts his email exchanges online.

“This is nothing new in that sense,” Hardin said. “I’m not that typical elected official.”

McElroy said she’s is seeking an attorney to defend herself against Hardin, who only has hiring or firing authority over the city manager.

“I disagree with Mr. Hardin’s assessment of my work performance,” McElroy said. “I look forward to continuing to successfully serve our citizens.”

Piece of the puzzle

Mayor Karen Alexander wouldn’t comment on Hardin’s actions, but spoke at length about ways to solve crime-related problems.

“We all have to come together to solve the problems,” Alexander said. “Each one is a piece of the puzzle. We can stand in a circle and assess blame, but we will never get anywhere. We have to all work together.”

She said government can solve some problems. There are others that require coalitions of various entities. She listed nonprofits and churches as examples of non-governmental agencies that would be important in permanently solving crime-related issues.

The proliferation of drug activity in Rowan County and Salisbury shouldn’t be seen as a problem that’s only a local issue. Alexander said drug activity was the most-discussed topic at a recent mayor’s conference she attended.

“The days of sort of expecting that government alone will solve societal problems are gone,” she said. “It’s not reasonable to expect that … Sometimes we put at the feet of the police department and law enforcement officers responsibility that they cannot shoulder alone.”

She listed citizen involvement in the Salisbury Neighborhood Action Group as one of several examples of ways the city tries to be proactive about community issues. If the city can include trust in a foundation it uses to solve crime-related issues, then solutions will be easier to find, she said.

“We have to lay down our arms and pick up our shovels and work on digging the foundation and doing the hard work,” she said. “That’s going to be more important than name-calling.”

Contract reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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