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Editorial: The mayor’s responsibility

Mayor Karen Alexander surprised a lot of people Tuesday when she prefaced City Council’s public- comment period with a statement of her own. She said she took responsibility for the contentious tone that has come to typify the comment period at council meetings in recent months. She’d been too lenient, she said.

It was an unusual response to the storm of criticism that followed Alexander’s shushing of speaker Carolyn Logan at a meeting last month. Rather than talk about that specific incident, Alexander chose to address her general behavior during public-comment periods over the past several months. A reporter at the meeting said Alexander’s tone was apologetic. Others disagree.

Either way, Alexander’s statement clearly fell short for those who believed Logan was due an official apology. More than anything, the mayor seemed to want to start public comments anew by acknowledging past problems and restating the guidelines.

That’s a start; whether citizens will settle for this attempt at a do-over remains to be seen.

There is a disconnect between the mayor’s deep love of Salisbury and her ability to deal with citizens. A talented architect, Alexander works with straight lines and precise angles, all carefully controlled and logically worked out. Public office is seldom that neat, though, especially for the person sitting in the mayor’s chair. Citizens are unpredictable. Complaints usually outnumber compliments. Alexander, who maintains a sunny outlook, has been dismayed by the lack of attention given to the city’s positive attributes and her efforts to improve the quality of life on other fronts.

The shushing of Logan as she spoke during the Aug. 15 meeting has caused something of a social media sensation in some circles, and not to Alexander’s benefit. But the unseemly incident is history; the mayor cannot undo it.

If 2017 were not an election year, that might be the end of the story, but people pulling for other candidates will continue to stoke the fires of discontent up to Election Day. They would have done so even if Alexander had apologized.

For many boards, the public-comment period is almost an afterthought; hardly anyone shows up. That has not been Salisbury’s experience. For City Council members, the period is a barometer. For citizens, it’s a platform. And for anybody who thinks citizen comment can be controlled, it is a field of land mines.

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