SALISBURY — A resolution to amend membership requirements for Salisbury’s Housing Board of Adjustments and Appeals (HBAA) failed to advance to a legislative vote again this week as more questions arose over how much expertise the board needs and how much authority the City Council has in its stipulations.
The debate over what changes are needed in Salisbury’s HBAA began earlier this winter with the city administration pushing for looser standards. The council has considered several possible changes, including dropping all professional requirements from the board, which currently has members with health and architectural backgrounds.
“I didn’t feel there’s a strong argument to be made for keeping the health professional or the architectural professional on the board,” said Council President Jake Day Monday. “Having sat on the Housing Board I think it requires a reasonable person more than it does require a particular set of professional knowledge. That was something that I felt strongly about.”
The council so far has been split over completely eliminating the need for some HBAA members to have some kind of relevant background to housing and development. One possible re-work of the board would have it composed entirely of renters, property owners and a landlord. However, Councilwoman Terry Cohen questioned whether the council could actually demand a property ownership requirement.
“This is an appointed public office. Can we legally require that people own property?” she asked. “It seems to me that might be kind of a Jim Crow-ish law.”
Cohen was not able to get an answer at the meeting, with City Attorney Mark Tilghman noting that it was something that he had not been asked to research and would do so immediately. However, Day doubted that requiring some members of the HBAA to be property owners would in any way be a violation of anyone’s rights. But it was worth researching, he added.
Other new questions which came up this week include whether there should be a minimum requirement of years as a Salisbury resident to sit on the board and what the administration would do if the HBAA “overstepped its bounds” again. Both questions came from Councilman Tim Spies, who reminded the council that there have been some serious issues with past iterations of the board.
“What we’re dealing with here are our reminisces of, to put it bluntly, the fox in henhouse syndrome, which is what we thought we had over the past 15 years,” Spies said.
Spies asked Acting City Administrator Tom Stevenson what options the city would have if the HBAA overreached or was otherwise found to be out of line. If that should occur, Stevenson explained that the city would have the option of appealing a ruling or action to the circuit court.
On the topic of residency, the council was inclined to add that any potential HBAA member be at least registered to vote in Salisbury before they would be considered for appointment. Several on the council also expressed an interest in adding stipulations mandating that board members keep up to date with the most recent training in the field.
A reasonable person with training shouldn’t have any trouble making a HBAA ruling, according to Day.
“The job is to weigh the case presented by the city and the case presented by the homeowner or landlord or whomever it may be,” he said.
No action was taken after the discussion except to ask the administration to incorporate what the council discussed into a new draft. The matter will return to the council’s next work session.