Editorial: Historic day for council

Published 10:40 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Taking her seat as Salisbury’s new mayor, Al Heggins immediately set the tone for the new City Council on Tuesday. “Welcome to the people’s meeting,” she said to the large audience.

As the most diverse council in Salisbury history begins the 2017-2019 term, council members will need the people who crowded into Tuesday’s meeting to stay involved and supportive if Salisbury is to  move forward.

Council meetings have always been the people’s meetings. In a way that’s nothing new. Some people, however, have felt unwelcome or ignored in council chambers. That was especially true over the past year for people of color — including Heggins — who raised issues about distrust of police and the need to curb violent crime. Her election turns the tables.

The old guard must be shaking its collective head. For the first time, the majority of council members are women. One, Heggins, is the city’s first female African-American mayor. Another, Tamara Sheffield is the city’s first openly gay member. And, among the men, the council has its first Jewish mayor pro tem, David Post.

In his comments, Post unwisely suggested that women think with their hearts while men think with their heads. That sent a loud groan through the largely female audience. If Post is going to get along with this council, he’ll have to wise up about the female intellect. (By the same token, more could be done to respect Post’s religion, such as not presenting only Christian Bibles for taking the oath.)

This council is about celebrating differences, though, not tiptoeing around them. People should be slow to take offense and quick to seek understanding. “Our diversity is our strength,” Heggins said. These council members are as smart and businesslike as any the city has had. They have many decades of business experience among them. Meanwhile, they bring broader representation of the community. That is an important strength.

Former Mayor Karen Alexander appeared truly relieved to see someone else take over the gavel. She and Brian Miller bring valuable experience that the council as a whole will need.

Meanwhile, the departing members of the council were gracious. Ken Hardin, who lost his re-election bid, said he knew he could be “a strong cup of coffee.” Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell encouraged citizens to work toward their own solutions before seeking the city’s help, as her neighborhood did in establishing a park. “There is no ‘they.’ The power is in your hands. This is your city.”

It’s said hard work puts you where good luck can find you. So good luck — and good effort — to the new Salisbury City Council.