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Editorial: Councilman Hardin, Mayor Alexander should engage in meaningful conversation

In the middle of an election year, we’re beginning to see a rapidly deteriorating picture of how personalities interact on the Salisbury City Council. A rift between two members, in particular, has widened into a chasm.

As the city in recent months waded through difficult issues — police staffing, crime, Fibrant and the decision about police conduct in the killing of Ferguson Laurent — Councilman Kenny Hardin routinely lobbed criticism and insults at other council members and staff about city action. Those statements occurred in the most public manner possible — during council meetings and on his social media pages. Lately, Mayor Karen Alexander has responded or preempted criticism with statements of her own.

The atmosphere at council meetings has become toxic because of the relationship between Alexander and Hardin, in particular. Something has to change. In this case, the pair might benefit from sitting in a locked room and talking until coming to some sort of agreement — or at least a cessation of hostilities. The particular topics discussed aren’t as important as a meaningful dialogue between the two.

Friendlier relations between Alexander and Hardin could go a long way to solve other problems such as the city’s public comment periods, which have become more akin to theatric performances than a method for local residents to express opinions.

If some solution isn’t found soon, we’ll begin to see more incidents like what occurred this week when Hardin stormed out of a council meeting because of “the idiocy of the mayor.”

First, as an elected official, Hardin should be held to a higher standard. Hardin’s departure occurred three hours before other council members left City Hall. Still on the agenda were rezoning matters, a grant to help renovate a downtown business, a closed session in which council discussed an agreement for the purchase of the Empire Hotel and other matters.

In walking out on the meeting, Hardin walked out on the city of Salisbury. He complains about being disrespected, but we’re unsure Hardin is living up to the same standard he expects other council members to meet.

In a phone conversation with the Salisbury Post, Hardin said he shouldn’t be required to “extend an olive branch” to the mayor. He responded to questions with a pair of comparisons, one of which was that an abused wife shouldn’t be required to reconcile with her abusive husband. That’s a bit obscene, considering Hardin wasn’t forced to run for City Council or run for re-election this year. Hardin, however, made his point clear — he’s not going to apologize or reach out to others to create a positive working relationship among council members.

It thus falls to the mayor to attempt to clear the toxic political cloud hanging over the city. When a councilman storms out of meetings and citizens routinely complain about policy decisions during public comment periods, that’s a red flag for businesses looking to build in the city’s limits or zoning jurisdictions. All municipalities in the Charlotte region are battling for new business. A prospect could just as easily build in China Grove or across the Rowan County line instead of Salisbury.

Underneath the constant veil of outrage, however, Hardin has legitimate concerns. The city of Salisbury should do a better job of understanding Salisbury’s residents of color who have been historically disenfranchised in more ways than the right to vote. All city council members should be part of important decisions, even those that don’t require a council vote.

The council is, essentially, the most important citizen advisory board for the City of Salisbury. Even when formal votes aren’t required, the city council’s input can be valuable. However, it’s critical that the input is constructive and well-placed. The Salisbury City Council must either remedy the current, atmosphere or prepare for the most controversial campaign year to date.

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