City makes some appointments to local boards, holds off on others to seek women, appointees of color

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 4, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Council members on Tuesday appointed some members to the 40 open seats across the city’s boards and commissions but also agreed to spend more time ensuring women and people of color are represented.

Though no formal vote was taken on the decision to delay some appointments, it’s likely to be discussed at the March 16 meeting since terms expire March 31. If an expired seat is not filled, City Clerk Kelly Baker told the Post, the board or commission would have a vacancy until an appointment is made. The additional time, she said, is in the hopes of having more applications submitted.

The request came from Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins, who emphasized that such members are “overwhelmingly white and male.” She suggested council members spend extra time receiving guidance from the UNC School of Government. But to address that issue, Baker said questions about gender and ethnicity are now included on applications, following a similar action taken by the city of Charlotte.

“I just think this is a responsible way for us to do this because I don’t think this was intentional, but this is an impact vs. an intent,” Heggins said. “Our intent is to make sure that we’re appointing people who want to do this work, who are qualified to do this work. But the impact has been that we have not been inclusive.”

Following a request from Heggins, Baker conducted and provided council members with a demographic assessment of existing members on the city’s 15 boards, committees and commissions. Prior to the reappointments made Tuesday, 72% of those members were white, 20% were Black, 6% were Hispanic and 3% were Asian. However, 56% of members were women, while 44% were male. These figures also include the eight city appointments made to three county boards.

“I think as a council, we have a duty and a responsibility to ask ourselves, ‘Who is not at the table,'” Heggins said. “And I think the breakdown that we received from Kelly Baker is definitely showing us who is not at the table.”

Council members moved forward with some appointments, particularly for the boards where they serve as a liaison. Council member Tamara Sheffield suggested both Hugo Correa and Lewellen Padgett be reappointed for another term on the Community Appearance Commission. She also nominated Salisbury-Rowan NAACP President Gemale Black and local Lorenzo Debose to serve a term on the Housing Advocacy Commission.

Heggins commended both the Human Relations Council and the Tree Board for having a diverse makeup. Members approved two motions from Heggins to reappoint John Schaffer as well as appoint Nicholas Hill, Alissa Redmond and Colleen Smiley to the Human Relations Council. The City Council also reappointed Melissa Eller, Melisa Williams, Jonathan Barbee and Katherine Boyd to the Tree Board.

Mayor Karen Alexander suggested both Russell Smyre, an African-American, and Jon Post, who’s Jewish, be reappointed to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

All council members approved. Heggins added, “Please take it in the spirit in which I say it: People who are Jewish are a minority by, many times, their religion, but they are not a minority by race.”

Heggins did not support council member David Post’s suggestion to reappoint Jon Palmer, an architect, to the Alternate Methods of Design Commission, criticizing that particular commission for being all-white and all-male. She preferred waiting to “at least try to recruit a woman or person of color who can fill that seat,” but the motion passed 4-1.

Council members also approved the reappointment of Levi Coldiron, Cristina Rodriguez and Laura Schmidt to the Transportation Advisory Board. An additional member is still needed, and there are six applicants.

Council member Brian Miller said he agreed that representation is important when these boards are making decisions on behalf of the entire city. But he didn’t want Tuesday’s discussion to deter any qualified white man from applying for vacant seats.

“I’m interested in the right combination of a balanced board but also folks who have expertise in the subject at hand,” Miller said. “I don’t want someone who happens to be a white male to not apply simply because we’re having this discussion. I think our boards and commissions should be representative of the whole community.”

Heggins thanked members for the discussion, adding that “these are difficult conversations to have.”

Before the meeting, there were at least 40 vacant seats, with 25 members eligible for re-appointment. Following 18 appointments Tuesday, there are still more than 20 open seats. Those interested in applying can visit salisburync.gov/Government/City-Council/Boards-and-Commissions.