Participants in election process meeting note need for more voices

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 6, 2018

SALISBURY — People who attended a meeting about Salisbury’s election process Wednesday evening agreed the room should be full when discussing future City Council elections.

Esther Atkins-Smith and PJ Ricks spoke at the beginning of the meeting about the lack of information given to the public and ways to add more voices to the conversation.

“This is a huge change, and we need to make sure we have done everything we can to get input from different communities that exist out there,” Atkins-Smith said.

She recommended the council committee use resources like social media and the city app Nixle to share information about the meetings and their rotating locations in different communities.

Ricks said the committee needs to concentrate on people feeling like their voices are being heard and that people in the community feel like they matter.

“If I stand up and say I want a polka-dot member of the City Council, nobody is listening to me,” Ricks said.

Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield echoed their concerns about the lack of turnout for these meetings and whether that means the election process doesn’t need to be changed or the process is not accessible or known about.

The group began discussions about how many members the council should have, with most saying seven.

Jane Gamewell asked if adding more people would fix the lack of diversity on the council.

“Why do you think that if we add more people to the council that automatically (they’re) going to be this huge group of diversified people?” Gamewell said. “They’re not. They haven’t done it in the past.”

Don Vick said he thinks adding two more seats on the council would allow him and his community to be more represented — people age 70 and older. He also said it may help prevent coalitions like he saw during the Rowan County commissioners election last month.

“It’s very easy to get three people together and pass things,” Vick said. “We saw this with the last election. Their signs were all together — boom, boom, boom.”

People said they would like to see the terms staggered, which would require a council member to serve for four years to avoid having yearly elections and city elections that would be in even-numbered years.

“The terms need to be staggered so we don’t have a brand new council or so we don’t have people who are not familiar who do not know the system,” Ricks said.

The group, though, was undecided about how to elect a mayor, whether it should be a separate race or whoever receives the most votes in the council election, which has been the practice. Mayor Pro Tem David Post said not all council members have the time to serve as mayor and whoever serves has to have their ducks in a row. He said Salisbury is the biggest city in the state that doesn’t have a separate mayoral race.

Some speakers noted that with a separate mayoral race, the person who lost would not have an opportunity to be on the council at all.

“You think you solve one problem, then you create another problem,” Post said.

As the conversation was wrapping up and council members summarized the agreement on having a seven-member council that would elected for four-year, staggered terms, Kenneth Stutts, who has attended previous election process meetings, said the agreement at a previous meeting was the opposite.

At the October meeting, there was no consensus on the size of the council after a pros and cons list was created with the 23 people there. Nine people attended Wednesday night’s meeting.

Sheffield said ahead of the next meeting, committee leaders will strive to make sure the public is informed about the meeting and what it entails.

The next meeting date will be announced later.