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Salisbury City Council disagrees on election committee; Miller says he won’t run for re-election

SALISBURY — When the topic of creating an election reform committee came up at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the council members had strong and sometimes contrasting opinions about what should be done.

In the course of the debate, Councilman Brian Miller announced that he will not seek another term when his current one is up.

The discussion began when Mayor Pro Tem David Post, who put the item on the agenda, said he wants to hear what reforms residents want.

Mayor Al Heggins asked, “Are you also interested in including community voices as part of the committee?”

After clarifying that she meant having residents serve on the committee with council members, Post said, “Sure.”

“I think the council committees generally are council members,” Miller said.

Miller said that while he wants and values public input, having residents on a council committee would be unusual.

“Anytime we did anything, it’s always been an open process. But I’ve never in my entire time on council been on a council committee that was also staffed by citizens,” Miller said.

Post said there are ways to incorporate residents but that it’s more complicated to do so.

“Well, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out,” Heggins said. She then turned to Miller and said, “And I’m glad you said ‘generally,’ because I think that what the public expects from us is to do things a little differently.”

Heggins said voters’ voices are “integral” to the discussion; Miller agreed.

“But I don’t want to accept the fact that, if we have a council committee, that does not allow public input. Just because we have done that process in the past does not mean that that process is not open,” Miller said.

“And I don’t want to get entrenched in (the idea that) because we’ve never done it before, we can’t do it now,” Heggins said.

Minutes later, Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield said she had a “list this long of things I’d like to say.”

She said she is concerned with the idea of council members getting to decide what election reform measures should be prioritized.

“I’m pretty sure the election process is not ours. It’s the citizens’. I’m reading it on the front of our agenda now; it’s the people’s house. It needs to belong to the citizens,” Sheffield said.

She said some of the ways that had been suggested to appoint residents to the committee — having them submit applications to the council, having them enter a lottery for selection — do not sit well with her.

“I’m all for a committee on this and changing all of the things the citizens want,” Sheffield said. “…Whatever fits the city of Salisbury is what needs to happen here. Not because one or five of us want to do something that’s in our best interest.”

Miller then said he would “go ahead and state” something.

“I’m not going to run again. So whatever you all decide won’t affect me in any way,” Miller said.

He did not speak further on the topic.

The council voted unanimously to create the committee but said it would wait to figure out the details until its upcoming retreat.

Other items on the council’s agenda included:

• The council received an update on the Empire Hotel.

The presentation was made by Downtown Salisbury Inc. Executive Director Larissa Harper, city Planning Director Janet Gapen and Black Point Investments developer Britt Weaver.

Harper said that when the project is done, it will amount to an estimated $16 million to $18 million investment.

The building will be owned by the developers of Black Point Investments.

More information on the project can be found at empiresalisbury.com.

• The council approved a request to open a 30-day public input period and appoint a special committee to review the naming of Fire Station 6.

The Salisbury Fire Department wants to name the station after two firefighters — Justin Monroe and Vic Isler — who died while fighting the Salisbury Millwork Factory fire on March 7, 2008.

Fire Station 6 will be the first department facility to be constructed since their deaths.

Fire Chief Bob Parnell said Monroe and Isler’s families are “fully supportive and appreciative.”

• In the public-comment period, people brought up a variety of topics.

Ollie Mae Carroll said the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade should be moved back to the holiday rather than having it the Saturday before.

Heggins said Carroll is not the first person to bring that up.

George Benson said garbage trucks near his apartment building are violating city noise permits because of the early hour at which they operate.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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