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Salisbury residents raise alarm about lack of fair housing action

SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council on Tuesday faced questions about what residents said is a lack of urgency on fair housing and a newly formed committee to deal with the issue.

Council members approved a resolution to create a Fair Housing Committee in January to update a 2014 analysis required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The updated analysis is due to HUD in May.

During the public-comment period at Tuesday’s council meeting, Renee Wimbish asked council members why it has taken so long to appoint seven at-large members to the committee. It includes members from the Human Relations Council, Housing Advocacy Commission and Salisbury Community Development Corp. who would be joined by council-appointed members.

The council has approved no appointees.

Wimbish also questioned why the committee’s first meeting on Feb. 20 was not properly publicized.

Susan Lee, a member of the Human Relations Council and the Fair Housing Committee, attended the Feb. 20 meeting with three others. The Centralina Council of Governments presented data about the city’s fair housing policy, providing information that since the last analysis for HUD, Salisbury has done little to improve the housing situation.

“My take on it is we’ve done far too little and far too late as appointed HRC members to the newly created Fair Housing Committee,” Lee said. “I was stunned how little attention had been given in response to HUD’s 2014 analysis of impediments over the past five years.”

Salisbury resident Whitney Peckman questioned why there has been a lack of action after the 2014 analysis was completed.

“With five years to collect data and take action and promote corrective measures, why was the request for input and recommendations allowed to come down to the last 30 days?” Peckman asked.

Mike-o Martelli, who spoke Tuesday, asked council members why they are dragging their feet on the Fair Housing Committee despite unanimously approving its creation.

Interim Planning Director Brian Hiatt said he has asked for an extension until mid-July to submit the analysis and is waiting for a response from HUD.

Mayor Al Heggins responded to complaints by saying she would meet with Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield to set up a meeting with the Council of Governments.

But that wasn’t the only matter about which council members faced questions. Salisbury resident Dottie Hoy asked the council to address the mayor’s statement on immigration raids.

On Feb. 15, Heggins released a statement saying the city and its Police Department doesn’t participate in raids by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. After the statement was published, Mayor Pro Tem David Post and Councilwoman Karen Alexander told the Post they were not aware of the mayor’s statement in advance.

Police Chief Jerry Stokes said his department will contact ICE when an undocumented immigrant in custody is determined to be a gang member .

Hoy questioned the process of the mayor’s statements and asked if she needed approval to speak publicly and to clarify the city and the Police Department’s role in ICE raids.

Stokes said the city has never been asked or sought to participate in an ICE raid. He added the city would be willing to participate in an ICE raid if someone is here illegally and involved in criminal activity.

“(If) we have people that are involved in criminal activity, particularly those that are involved in violent crimes, gangs, drug dealing, then we’re definitely going to, if we determine that person is in this country illegally, use every resource available to us to address that,” Stokes said.

Heggins said she does not need the council’s approval when making a statement. Councilman Brian Miller said although council members can make individual statements, the council works better together when members collaborate and work in unity.

In other business:

• City Attorney Graham Corriher recommended solutions to address the Planning Board’s extraterritorial jurisdiction membership.

The two current members have served past their term limits on a temporary basis. Corriher presented a list of 1,000 landowners in the jurisdiction for consideration. He also said the board could decrease its membership to 10, which would decrease the number of extraterritorial members needed to one.

Miller asked Corriher to look at cities that have abandoned their extraterritorial memberships if the positions can’t be permanently filled.

• Heggins asked for a better description of items in the consent agenda that have a significant dollar amount. Post said residents deserve to know what the city is spending taxpayer money on.

• Council members heard presentations from the Alternate Methods of Design Commission, Planning Board/Board of Adjustment, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and Greenway Committee before the meeting began.

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