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Salisbury voters will decide on separate mayoral election

SALISBURY — Salisbury voters can expect to see an additional question on the November municipal ballot — whether the mayor should be elected separately from the other four members of City Council.

The City Council late Tuesday night approved an ordinance to allow for a separate mayoral election and a resolution to allow voters to decide the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Regardless of the voters’ choice, the change would not go into effect until the 2021 municipal election.

The current tradition is that the highest vote-getter in the council election is elected mayor by the council.

Both Mayor Pro Tem David Post and Councilwoman Karen Alexander said they have received emails from residents who are both for and against the change. Post said he replied to the emails, asking if the referendum should be on the ballot rather than if the change should be made. He said “without exception, everyone has said let’s have a vote on it.”

After a low turnout at committee meetings to discuss the elections, Alexander said, having the voters decide will give a broader viewpoint.

Mayor Al Heggins suggested the choice be on the March primary ballot, which generally has a higher turnout than a municipal election. It will feature primary races for president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and governor.

“I would sure like to have as much of the public weighing in,” Heggins said.

Post said the November ballot is ideal because it would be on all ballots relating to the Salisbury municipal election rather than having split precincts in March.

“It seems to me that it’s easier since it’s a municipal issue to have it occur in the municipal election,” Post said.

Alexander said having it on the municipal ballot is logical, especially since some Salisbury voters may live in the Granite Quarry or Faith areas but be in the Salisbury voting jurisdiction.

“If they’re going to vote this election for their choice of municipal people, they certainly would be there to vote on how they feel about keeping it the same or having a mayor (election),” Alexander said.

Alexander said she does not want to see the separate mayor election question be delayed any further.

“I don’t see any point of deferring it because we’re taking it to the people,” Alexander said. “We’ve been talking about it for a year.”

The council passed both the resolution and the ordinance allowing for the question of a separate mayoral race be on the November ballot on a 4-0 vote. Councilman Brian Miller was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The resolution states the ordinance is “effective only if approved by the qualified voters of the entire city of Salisbury in a special election.”

The ordinance states, “The qualified voters of the entire city elect the mayor separate from the election of the other four members of council.”

Had the council only approved the ordinance, no referendum would be on the ballot and the separate mayoral election would be in effect for 2021. 

The ordinance does not change the powers or the length of term of the mayor. Following an election, the council would select the mayor pro tem from among the four council members.

“Power to the people now,” Post commented after its passage.

Heggins responded, “Always is.”

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