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Residents, City Council discuss whether election procedures should change

SALISBURY — On multiple occasions during Wednesday night’s meeting of the city’s election process committee, City Council member David Post said, “Wow.”

That came when the approximately 10 people at the committee meeting agreed on how the election process should be.

In one case, everyone agreed that the process should change by making council members’ terms staggered.

“What happens if all five get off City Council?” asked committee member Jack Connery. “If you’ve got staggered, at least there’s people there that can keep going the important projects that the city has been working on.”

Minutes later, after more people agreed with Connery’s sentiment, Post asked, “So nobody likes this, ‘Everybody’s up every two years’?”

Everyone shook their heads or said, “No.”

There was disagreement within the ranks with regard to how long the staggered terms should last. Most of the citizen committee members said they would prefer four-year terms.

“With a two-year term, you spend too much time running for office and not enough time doing what you were elected to do,” said committee member John Struzick.

But, said Emily Perry, “You get rid of them if they’re not what you want.”

George Benson agreed with Perry, saying that four years is “too long a time.”

The other procedure on which all residents agreed was something the city has already been doing — making its council elections nonpartisan.

“As chairman of the (Rowan County) Republican Party, I would prefer nonpartisan,” said committee member Don Vick. “I didn’t vote party in the city election.”

Towanda McNeil said she looks “strictly at policy” in local elections.

“I totally agree,” said Karen Alexander, who participated in the committee as a resident, not as a City Council member. “Because we’re not dealing with issues that are partisan.”

There were other potential changes discussed — the number of council members, whether representation should be by district, a separate mayoral election — that committee members did not all agree on.

The idea of having a separate mayoral election was strongly favored by committee members Latasha Wilks and DeeDee Wright.

Wilks, who ran for City Council in 2017, said a separate mayoral election would help people who want to be mayor make their intentions known.

“If Tamara (Sheffield) wanted to run for mayor and David Post wanted to run, it would be a lot easier for y’all to run against each other than to have to worry about the other 14 people that’s over there trying to be on council,” Wilks said. “You know that this is what you want and this is what you’re doing, whereas the others know, ‘We want to be on the council.'”

McNeil mentioned an idea that she said she heard the last time Salisbury council election procedure was debated, around 2004.

McNeil said the mayor is currently not elected by the people but by fellow council members.

“It is tradition for the council to vote with the popular vote from the people. But it is entirely possible that the council go in an entirely different way and the city simply must accept that,” McNeil said.

McNeil said that instead of a mayoral election, the city could make it required that the top vote-getter become mayor.

“Thus, the popular vote becomes the mayor and the second popular vote becomes the mayor pro tem, with the council members having no say in what it is,” McNeil said.

This was the first meeting of the election process committee, and Post said the next one will probably not be until after the Fibrant referendum on May 8.

But Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield, who — along with Post — made up the council representation on the committee, said the results of the committee will come down to “what fits us” as a city.

“That’s what we need to figure out,” Sheffield said.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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