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Editorial: Post endorses separate mayoral race referendum

Readers will only find one endorsement in the Salisbury Post for the 2019 municipal election ballot.

That endorsement is for a “yes” vote on a referendum about whether the city of Salisbury should have a separate mayoral election. Our full-throated support is solely based on ensuring voters have a direct say in who serves as mayor — not current, future or past candidates — and that the person is committed to and able to serve in that position.

Importantly, a separate mayoral election would produce little, if any, added cost during the election process, as voters would choose their mayor on the same ballot as council members. A separate mayoral race also wouldn’t make any changes in the power that the mayor has under the current system.

In cities across the nation and most Rowan County municipalities, voters pick their mayor. (Granite Quarry was the latest addition to that list in 2015.) Why should Salisbury continue to be any different?

For too long, Salisbury has been subject to the possibility of so-called accidental mayors. People may sign up to run for Salisbury City Council only hoping to score a term on the city’s governing body. If they receive the most votes, however, they’re also mayor, according to long-standing tradition. The 2011 Salisbury City Council results were an example. And Paul Woodson said as much after he received more votes than incumbent Mayor Susan Kluttz and the rest of the field.

“I came in here tonight hoping to get back on the council. I swear to you, ask my wife,” Woodson told the Post in 2011. “I was just hoping to get back on the council.”

That a polite tradition produces mayors from council candidates doesn’t mean he or she will do a bad job in the position, but it deprives citizens of the knowing explicitly who wants the city’s top elected spot and who’s campaigning just to get on the council, like Woodson.

There’s a big difference between the time commitment required for mayors and council members. A few mayors in Salisbury’s history have chosen not to seek re-election after serving in what’s a stressful, low-paying and demanding job. That’s an invisible price of Salisbury’s method — burnout.

Voters deserve to know who is interested and able to serve in that position. And they can do something about that by voting “yes” on the following question, which is the language of the referendum on this year’s ballot:

Shall the ordinance adopted by the Salisbury City Council on August 20, 2019, which would amend the City Charter by requiring a separate election for the Office of Mayor, be approved?

A “yes” vote during early voting or on Nov. 5 will give city council members no other option than to change Salisbury’s charter, shed its outdated, antiquated system and become a modern city by giving more power to the people.

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