SALISBURY — In light of concerns raised over the election redistricting proposals last week by the Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Salisbury City Council intends to meet with the organization’s representatives to go through a “more formalized process,” according to Council President Terry Cohen.
The council hopes to iron out any issues with redistricting plans that could drag the matter through a lengthy court process, though officials warn that redistricting will end up in front of a judge no matter how polished it is.
“There is legislation pending,” city attorney Mark Tilghman reminded the council.
Last week the ACLU sent a letter to the city critiquing the three redistricting plans being offered by Mayor Jim Ireton and offering three of their own proposals as alternatives.
“They don’t really endorse any of the mayor’s proposals,” said Tilghman.
There were a variety of reasons for the ACLU’s pushback against Ireton’s drafts.
“Essentially, [the ACLU] doesn’t support any at-large districts,” noted Cohen.
One of Ireton’s plans does call for a seven-member council, with five district seats and two at-large seats open for anyone in the city, which the ACLU opposes as traditionally unfair to minorities.
Other problems the organization took with Ireton’s proposals included the fact that they left elections staggered, as they currently are, so the whole council would not come up for re-election at one time. Additionally, there were complaints about how three of the council incumbents would be bunched into the same district under some of Ireton’s plans, forcing them to run against each other for the same seat.
“You don’t want to use an ‘administrative scheme’ to break [incumbency] up,” noted Cohen.
On the heels of the letter, Councilwoman Shanie Shields was all for setting up an official meeting with ACLU representatives to gather their input and insight on redistricting.
“That would be a step that I would take,” she said. “I was hoping the council would do that first.”
Councilmember Deborah Campbell reminded Shields that the council has already held a number of public work sessions and hearings where members of the ACLU could have chimed in and discussed redistricting, but chose not to.
“This is the time for that kind of input and dialogue to take place,” she said.
Cohen agreed that community interest in the issue seemed tepid at best.
“During the public forums, we didn’t exactly get our doors beaten down,” she said.
However, Councilwoman Laura Mitchell argued that there was a difference between opening the floor to the public and actually reaching out to the ACLU as an organization.
“I think it is incumbent upon us to invite them to a meeting,” she said.
As far as cooperation goes, Mitchell felt that the council has made gestures but not yet fully committed.
“We’ve said it but we’re not walking the walk,” she said.
After deliberating in closed session, the council agreed unanimously to extend a formal invitation to the ACLU asking them to weigh in on re-districting.
The council also decided that, no matter which proposal is eventually adopted, the city would like to eliminate staggered elections so that all council seats are up for re-election at the same time.