SALISBURY – Before the City Council could get down to business this week, Councilman Tim Spies unexpectedly introduced a rather untraditional piece of legislation, a resolution to clarify statements made by the media and Mayor Jim Ireton.
The proposed resolution is in attempts to address certain statements made by the media and by the mayor regarding the position of a majority of council members on a downtown plan advanced by the mayor. The resolution had been drafted by Council President Terry Cohen and written by Spies.
Last Monday, the council examined proposals recently made by Mayor Jim Ireton to revitalize Salisbury’s downtown. These include long-term projects like selling excess parking lots, setting up an EDU-free zone and addressing surplus properties, such as “The Bricks”, through tax sales or potential re-zoning.
After weeks of consideration, the council majority finally voted to “focus on things we’re already doing,” according to Council President Terry Cohen.
This week the proposed resolution stated, certain statements in the local media and in online media made by Mayor Jim Ireton and by the local media itself have been both erroneous and sensationalist, targeting certain council members, creating confusion among citizens who care deeply about downtown Salisbury, and causing an impediment to the ability of the council and certain members to perform their duties.
Councilwomen Laura Mitchell and Shanie Shields felt completely “blind-sided” by the proposed resolution and claimed it to be an “opinion piece” that would be more appropriate to be submitted as a letter to the editor than be a piece of legislation entered into public record.
“This is not just a statement, this is accusations,” Mitchell said. “The mayor and the media itself has been erroneous and sensational, those are accusations and opinions that is not a statement of fact, which is the way this reads. It is your opinion of fact, it is not our opinion of fact and I don’t think it has any place in being in the city records as a resolution, it belongs in the newspaper as a letter to the editor, and if you want your side of the story in the newspaper than answer the phone when they call you, write a letter to the editor, do what you need to do to get it out to the public … this is unnecessary.”
Shields furthered that she and Mitchell had been disrespected by the remainder of the council to have been unaware of the resolution.
“Councilwoman Mitchell and I should have been given the respect of it first being brought forth at a work session like we normally do with resolutions,” she said. “If we did something like this, it would have been thrown out of the chambers. How many work sessions have we had on other issues, and now because you don’t agree with the mayor or the media, that’s childish.”
At that point, the council voted 3-2 to add the resolution to the agenda on Monday night, with Mitchell and Shields in opposition.
“I see this as an official statement … sometimes the media is not completely forthcoming and sometimes it doesn’t tell the whole truth and I think we needed to come back and say what we thought it was supposed to be so that we have balance,” Spies said during discussion. “There has to be a give and take here and when it comes to the media, who is our primary source of information, that is what people hear, that is what people see … the entire population, those who watch television, read the newspaper, read the blogs, should be previewed to the information and the straight stuff from the majority of council as to what the council thinks about an issue rather than having it spoon fed to them perhaps not straightly from the media.”
Council Vice President Deborah Campbell agreed with Shields that the resolution was unprecedented but was still in support of it.
“What has happened is not what I see as name calling or hurt feelings of members of this council, it is a distortion of a public perception that has left the public with a high likelihood of misunderstanding what has actually led to a legislative decision … we have a responsibility to set the record straight and I think that this is a reasonable way to accomplish that,” she said.
Before the council voted, Council President Terry Cohen made a few clarifications of her own.
According to Cohen, she only gets about 500 words printed in The Daily Times a month, her submitted corrections are ignored and she does her best to answer the media’s phone calls with the little to no notice given.
Cohen quoted the newspaper, which had titled the majority of the City Council as “the committee of no”. She went on to list a number of projects the council had voted forward that prior councils would not, such as the Bateman/Onley Road project and the Downtown Arts and Crafts Market.
“I was not elected to spend my time doing press conferences to explain my every word. I was elected to work and I have worked extremely hard to great sacrifice of my family and I expect the representation to be made to the public to me full and accurate, and that’s all I ask,” she said.
Cohen than thanked those who have signed an online petition effort supporting the downtown revitalization project.
“Thank you all, if anybody who has signed that petition has any questions about my decision please feel free to call and thank you for being interested enough to take part,” she said.