Election 2021: Candidates detail their visions, goals if elected to Salisbury City Council

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 19, 2021

SALISBURY — While most candidates seeking Salisbury City Council agree that hiring a city manager, combating crime and further development are major priorities for the next elected council, candidates have different suggestions for how to tackle them.

Four council seats are up for grabs in this year’s election in addition to the mayoral race, with David Post and Tamara Sheffield being the two incumbents. Post is an accountant and lawyer, and Sheffield is an account manager with Frito-Lay. Challengers include Rev. Anthony Smith, a local activist and pastor at Mission House Church; Nalini Joseph, district administrator of the Guardian ad Litem program for families and children; Jessica Cloward, broker with Lantern Realty; Jonathan Barbee, a Catawba College graduate who unsuccessfully challenged Alisha Byrd-Clark in the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education race in 2020; and Harry McLaughlin Jr., owner of McLaughlin’s Grocery and a former U.S. Secret Service agent.

Public safety and crime

As the only candidate who’s taken out search warrants, investigated crimes and pulled a gun, McLaughlin said his experience can make a difference in bridging the gap between the community and law enforcement and working to reduce crime. Additionally, McLaughlin said he can make a difference in ensuring more residents know and can access the city’s resources.

McLaughlin said there needs to be an increased visibility of officers throughout the community. He recalled customers initially questioning the presence of an officer in the grocery store before building a relationship with that officer after his continued presence over time. When trust is established, more people feel comfortable reporting small, petty crimes that might lead to bigger and more serious crimes.

Sheffield said ensuring the city becomes “the employer of choice” with the best recruiting and retention policies will help leaders be able to more strongly support police officers. She referenced an ongoing pay study the city approved in August, which will evaluate the pay and benefits for all positions throughout the city.

Sheffield also referenced the hiring of a human relations manager, victims advocate and homelessness advocate in the Salisbury Police Department, which she said “speaks directly to the needs of branching the community and the police department.” She again emphasized the importance of hiring the right city manager, who is responsible for ensuring accountability along with the police chief, and added that council members can lead with influence and transparency. She calls for continuing to provide proper training and recruitment of the “right people.”

Additionally, talking with the community to find out what those “kitchen table conversations” are can help with bridging the gap of mistrust, Sheffield said.

Smith has advocated for the implementation of a violence cure model when combating crime in the city, which requires the community viewing violence “like a virus” or public health crisis. He said such a model has been successful in places like the South Side of Chicago and even in Colombia. A violence cure model would be implemented separately but in conjunction with the police department, and likened it to the Healthy Rowan initiative of achieving overall wellness for all residents. It requires employing people who are trained in de-escalating a variety of situations in which police may typically respond.

Joseph said resolving the issue of crime and public safety works in tandem with economic opportunity and growth because prosperity and pride for where one lives lowers the rate of criminal activity. She also said it’s paramount for the city to work toward retaining more of its educational talent and providing students with opportunities, particularly in high-tech fields, that have them thinking about Salisbury when they graduate.

“Once you are in a position to attract that talent and attract business to your city, you are in a better position to eradicate crime,” Joseph said. “You’re in a position where crime will decrease by leaps and bounds. You’ll have the resources that you need. You’ll have the tax base and the funding to be able to give to the police force.”

As someone who seeks permanence for children and families involved in abuse and neglect, Joseph sees her ability to negotiate and make fact-based decisions with a number of different entities in her career as a value to the council when it comes to bridging the gap of mistrust while ensuring public safety.

Cloward said both council members and local law enforcement have to build a sense of accountability to the public, and that leaders should lead by wisdom in emotional times.

Barbee said better paying jobs to bridge income equality gaps can help reduce crime. Filling downtown vacant buildings can build up the tax base and provide more money in the budget for police officers.

Economic development and housing

Earlier this year during a city housing retreat, the city cited a shortage of more than 1,700 affordable housing units based on the area median income. Sheffield said she’s excited by the number of projects in the pipeline that will eventually provide a mix of affordable and market-rate housing units and that council members should continue along that path. Among the projects in the pipeline at this time are Shay Crossing on Earnhardt Road, Ashton Manor on Sunset Drive, Brightleaf Terrace and Britton Village on Statesville Boulevard, Salisbury Oaks Apartments between Jake Alexander Boulevard West and South Main Street near Rosemont Street and Tenby Crossing Apartments near Brenner Avenue and Milford Hills Road. 

Sheffield also credited the council with creating the Fair Housing Committee in 2018, which includes representatives from the Housing Advocacy Commission and Human Relations Council. Sheffield is the HAC council liaison. She said council members must continue bringing in jobs that don’t already exist and help young people and families feel that Salisbury is a feasible and attractive option.

McLaughlin said addressing the issue of affordable housing will require council members to get creative, which may include considering historic buildings for housing. Additionally, the city can’t allow the rate of rent downtown to “price people out.”

Joseph said instilling pride in the community can help resolve issues of homelessness and crime. That can be done by enhancing the city’s green space in neighborhoods to boost morale and expanding programs like the annual BlockWork and the city’s Salisbury Community Development Corporation.

Smith sees the need to implement more public-private partnerships to create more space for young people who may have interested outside of athletics. Using the same strategy and intentionality seen with Bell Tower Green Park, Smith said city leaders can evaluate what neighborhoods may need these spaces that can provide youth with creative outlets, the ability to build relationships and mentorship.

Additionally, Smith said city leaders should be prepared to shape and tame economic growth so that it doesn’t come at the expense of overall wellbeing of the community. He called for following the lead of corporate companies throughout 2020 that enacted policies shifting focus to equitable and forward-thinking solutions.

Barbee said the city needs to enhance its partnerships with the county to take advantage of future opportunities, and consider establishing business incubators. He also proposes more development near the Mid-Carolina Regional Airport and attracting high-tech and aviation businesses, for example, that aren’t already present.

Barbee said affordable housing issues seem to have accelerated due to insufficient wages, and those issues have resulted in higher costs and market rates for those in the middle-class as well.

Post and Cloward both see their backgrounds in real estate as particularly useful when making decisions related to zoning and planning, and working with developers who may propose bringing housing to the city. Cloward said the city needs to build awareness of the resources available to first-time homebuyers, such as the NC Housing Finance Agency, because she’s met residents who didn’t know they could become homeowners with assistance. Post said it comes down to more economic development, especially in the downtown area, to build up the tax base and grant more money in the budget to tackle issues like housing.

Additionally, Post advocates for improvements to the city’s public transit system by transitioning to smaller, more energy- and cost-efficient buses and expanding routes to service more residents. And as more development comes, Post sees parking as a problem the next council should address.

Cloward also said the city needs to build its partnership with the county to combat the issue of homelessness. She referenced Salisbury Police Department’s hiring this summer of a homelessness advocate and said the city is making progress.

Sheffield added that the Kesler Mills site, which is still in the process of being cleaned out, shows promise of another big development.

Vision 

Cloward aspires a council that’s united in its decisions and leadership. Being a Spanish speaker from Puerto Rico, Cloward said she can be an ear for the Hispanic community and help them to feel like they’re part of the city, too.

“I want to set a standard,” Cloward said. “I want a city council that, despite our differences or our disagreements, we’re still united.”

Barbee said he’s someone who enjoys listening to various groups of people and coming up with new ideas to approach issues.

Post said he’s a candidate who “focuses on specifics and not platitudes.” He credited himself with accomplishing most of what he set out to do when first running for office in 2015. Those include improving the city’s Fibrant Fund by leading the transition to lease broadband with Hotwire, promoting a separate mayoral and council election and establishing the KIVA microloan program for woman and minority entrepreneurs.

Sheffield said voters have had the chance to know her during her time on the council, and she invites them to check her record. She credited herself with being approachable and relatable, someone who pushes the council to stay on the issues and someone who makes fact-based decisions with a level-headed approach.

Joseph said as the daughter of servant leaders in India, she’s dedicated herself to “galvanizing people” to help children and families in some of their most vulnerable moments.

“I’ve decided to give myself to Salisbury and put myself out there as a person who has a lot of leadership abilities and skills in bringing people together,” Joseph said.

Smith said contracting COVID-19 in 2020 that led to a heart attack and bypass surgery “awakened something” in him to scale his service and activism to a higher level where policies are made.

“What is Salisbury became one of the most safest, innovative and equitable cities in the Piedmont region,” Smith said. “I believe we can do it.”

McLaughlin said he knows he can make a difference.

“I’d be the only one on the council with law enforcement experience, that’s carried a weapon, that’s done search warrants, has arrested people,” McLaughlin said. “In addition to that, I’m one of the few people who actually owns a business and understands how to budget, how to manage, how to go with the times. I have competitors all over. I understand what it takes to reinvent yourself and have to come up with new ideas.”