My Turn, Michael S. Young: City Hall has bunker mentality, not a jobs program

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 15, 2022

Dear Mr. Green,

There was a time when I believed that if I ate my vegetables, exercised and got plenty of rest, I would live long enough to see the completion of many goals set by City Council to make our downtown safer and more vibrant. A place where pedestrians did not fear crossing the street so that they would walk further. Where connectivity issues were addressed.

They talked about calming speeding traffic, developing more parking, replacing failing light poles, adding street furniture, art and amenities to make it a place where people would stop, linger, shop and return. We discussed how the city’s One Stop Shop would make it easier and faster for property owners and developers to invest in downtown buildings, where a customer service center would be a fast and efficient way to handle your utilities.

That was 35 years ago. I am questioning my beliefs. Maybe I should have eaten more red meat.

When making an inquiry or suggestion to City Hall, I could always rely on the mayor, council and staff to reply with platitudes of thanks followed by pandering and excuses about what the city can’t do. As of late, we only hear of how overburdened council and staff is … if a reply at all (crickets). I miss the pandering. I long for a discussion about what the city can and will do.

The One Stop Shop is now affectionately called the Stop Development Shop, where developers and property owners wait 12 weeks to four months for zoning plans to be approved. God forbid make a change to your plans during construction and get sent back to the end of the line. The new name would be funny if the time crime was not so financially costly. The cardinal rule of customer service is to never make your problem, the customer’s problem. It is a real problem.

Traffic engineering claims that worn out cross walk markings and speeding cars are an anomaly and pedestrians don’t fear crossing Innes St or the turning traffic at intersections. They too say that burned out street, pedestrian and landscape lighting doesn’t exist. And that it is normal for light poles that are rusted out at the bottom to fall. A discussion about replacement of the poles and traffic calming started in the mid 1980s. I wonder, if we won’t maintain our downtown streets, parking lots, alleys and parks, will the same fate come to Bell Tower Green?

Too few people carry most the weight. Quality of life, economic development and safety decisions are being made by traffic engineers and bureaucrats. It is a bunker mentality at City Hall. City Hall is not a jobs program. I am ready for and embrace some progressive creative change. As our new City Manager, I hope that you pick your own staff and pick them wisely. I am sick of eating my vegetables and want to see some results. Soon!

Good luck sir.

Michael Young, a former Main Street manager, currently works as a consultant and developer. He lives in the Historic O.O. Rufty Building in Downtown Salisbury.