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Council committee gets public’s input on future of city elections

SALISBURY — A City Council committee continued talks about how the mayor and council should be elected Wednesday night.

Led by Mayor Pro Tem David Post and Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield, the committee heard feedback from Salisbury residents about whether the mayor should be elected separately or remain chosen by the council itself and whether the number of council members should be increased.

Most who spoke agreed that there should be a referendum so that voters have the final say on any changes.

“You can’t just decide yourself,” said Andrew Walker, who is on the Historic Preservation Committee. “There will be backlash.”

Participants discussed the pros and cons of having a seven-member council versus the current five. They debated whether more members would allow for more diversity and would help manage the workload of council members being liaisons with boards and committees.

Deedee Wright said she would like a council with more diversity, saying the city’s African-American population doesn’t feel it is represented with one council member.

“We have the most diverse council now that we’ve ever had,” Wright said. “It’s wonderful, but I’m not impressed when I read that we have a gay person, a Jew and a black person. I wasn’t that impressed with that.”

Post said there has been one African-American to council at a time since the 1960s, but noted that African-Americans make up 40 percent of Salisbury’s population. He said if the city moved to seven council members, there would likely have been three African-American members after the 2017 election but only one out of seven after the 2015 election.

Most people at the meeing said they would prefer a seven-member council.

The committee moved on to discuss whether the mayoral race should be separate as opposed to the current system in which the new council typically elects the winner of the most votes in the council election.

One person asked Mayor Al Heggins her thoughts about being elected mayor after her first run for City Council.

“I was, of course, surprised,” Heggins said. “I wasn’t running to get the most votes. I was just running for council.”

“For first run for council, if there had been a separate mayor’s race, I probably would have not had run,” she added.

Post said for some City Council candidates only want to be a council member and don’t have the ability to commit to being mayor.

Sheffield said having a mayor’s race would help build confidence in the mayor and council.

“I think that confidence, that vote — we wanted you, and we wanted those five,” Sheffield said, “I think that would strengthen that goal from a confidence perspective.”

Kenneth Stutt said the committee needs to consider multiple people running for mayor and the possibility a mayor could be elected with less than a majority of votes.

Post said if a mayoral candidate failed to get a majority, he wouldn’t be able to serve on the City Council at all.

“If you decide to run for mayor, you can put all your eggs in one basket,” Post said.

Sheffield and Post assured those present that the conversation would continue. They plan to have one more meeting before the new year. They also added that any proposed changes wouldn’t take effect until 2021.

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