Editorial: City Council stuck on basics

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 11, 2018

The current Salisbury City Council has already made history for its diversity. Let’s hope the council does not set a record for discord, too.

Salisbury has its first black, female mayor, first Jewish mayor pro tem, first openly gay member and first female majority — and a banker. Now it’s time for these five very different people to come together, find common ground and get about the business of governing. So far they are struggling to get along.

Not that the council is at a complete standstill. In the last two months, the city has made progress on a promising Fibrant lease, named a new fire station, rezoned property on Statesville Boulevard and announced it will sponsor a 2018 Cheerwine Festival.

At the same time, oddly, the process for putting together the agenda for each council meeting is still being debated. So are the council’s own rules of procedure. Under Mayor Al Heggins, the most basic aspects of running the council — usually a given for any elected body — have become sticking points.

Last week the council got hung up on whether the public could put items on the agenda, as Heggins suggested. That sounds noble, and arguments could be made for giving it a try. Citizens participation is a good thing. But this is a city of 33,000 people. The process of choosing which citizens actually would get on the agenda and for what purpose could become dicey. Some citizens speak during public comments month after month, with their time limited to three minutes. What if they also wanted to be on the council agenda month after month? Who wants to explain why they cannot? The comment period is a good mechanism for public input. It’s the council’s responsibility to decide what needs action.

The council’s conversation about rules of procedure was testy, with obvious friction between Heggins and Mayor Pro Tem David Post. It’s hard to believe that, three months after being sworn into office, the council still has no official rules of procedure. The mayor and council member Karen Alexander are supposed to be working on it as a committee, but they have yet to meet. When David Post pushed for action Tuesday — action that other council members appeared to support — Heggins pushed back and asked in a raised voice for the committee to be allowed to do its work. A subdued council agreed — for now.

North Carolina has 532 incorporated municipalities, and probably nearly that many personality clashes on their town boards and councils. Differences make the world go around. But inconclusive, hour-long discussions about procedure don’t go anywhere. Please, don’t make maddening mountains out of procedural molehills. Take a vote on these internal matters and move on. Then put your energies toward doing what’s best for Salisbury.