Leda Belk: ‘We’ve got to get outside the box’
SALISBURY — Leda Belk believes there has to be a balance between city involvement at an intellectual level and city involvement at a community level.
“You can still have diversity training … but we’ve got to do something else. You’ve got to get outside the box,” Belk said. “That’s an intellectual level, and I’m all for that. But I don’t think that that sometimes breaks down to where it needs to be.”
As a former county commissioner, Belk said she has sat on “a lot” of boards and commissions.
“And it’s good because that’s your road map for your city to move forward,” Belk said. “But don’t think it’s not going to change because it should, if it’s effective. Because hopefully, as you move out in the community, you learn something. And if you learn something that needs to move up in priority, let’s not be so rigid that we can’t be flexible.”
Belk sees City Council’s job as “policy making and engaging people.”
“So I would want to support our (police) chief. I would want to make sure our officers had what they needed to do their job, whether that’s in the gear they’ve got or that’s in the training they’ve got or whether that’s in cultural sensitivity training,” Belk said.
She said council members should engage people in a way that brings them together.
“Not just feel-good, touchy-feely sessions where you go one day, you work on the charts, you do this, you do that, and everybody goes away thinking, ‘Oh man, we’ve got a path to getting everybody talking.’ No. Break it down on a neighborhood community level and bring communities together,” Belk said.
One way to bring people together, she said, could be to hold neighborhood cleanups with city staff.
“You get out, you clean the community, you talk to your neighbors. Maybe we understand each other a little better; maybe we understand why this is like this or why you want this like this,” Belk said. “And if we start talking and if we spread it around, maybe the result will be that we’re more tolerant as people.”
Belk said she sees a “huge” correlation between high crime rates and a dirty city.
“You take away hope. We learn to settle for less,” Belk said. “And I think we start a slippery slope and a slide where we don’t expect the best of ourselves as people.”
On public comment
Belk said public comment at council meetings should be a time when people are encouraged to share their thoughts.
“But do we encourage them? You know, ‘You’ve got to be here by this time, got to sign in by that time, you’re going to speak maybe at this time.’ Well, what if I’m working? … What if it’s my first time to come to chamber and I don’t know where to sign in?” Belk asked.
She said council members could encourage people to participate in public comment by delivering fliers to area churches with details about the meetings.
“Where do people congregate? Their churches,” she said. “Just let them know, ‘If you want to come to council, here (you go).’”
She said council members could also publicize the time periods that they’ll be in their offices and available to talk with constituents.
Although the City Council does not have jurisdiction over the school system, council members should still talk with school board members about the school system’s needs.
“How do I know what’s important to the school people unless I talk with them? … How do I understand the leaky roofs, the windows falling out in our schools? How do I understand that when all I’m seeing is a dollar figure they’re throwing at me for capital improvements? Break it down to why that’s hindering the education of our children, the safety and the health of our children,” Belk said.
She said the school system has “great people” who are doing “everything they can” to support the city’s children.
“I support the schools. They’re working their hearts out. And they’re doing everything they can to help our kids. And I don’t think some of the grades we’re getting actually reflect what’s going on in the schools. Because we had kids at a much lower standing and they’re coming up,” Belk said. “We’ve got to stay the course and continue to look for avenues that are going to help support these kids.”
Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.
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