SALISBURY — With the results of the 2010 Census in the book, Salisbury will have to, at a minimum, redraw its City Council election districts, but Mayor Jim Ireton this week threw his support behind a dramatic change to how city voters choose their representatives.
Based on the results of the Census, Salisbury’s population has grown to 30,607 in the last 10 years and minorities now make up 44 percent of the city’s population. As a result, Salisbury will have to make adjustments in the boundaries of the city’s election districts and there are a handful of proposals on the table.
The current system in place divides the city into two large election districts from which two council members are elected, along with three at-large members to complete the five-member council. The first proposal on the table, so-called Plan 1, would divide the city into five election districts, two of which would be minority-majority districts.
The plan calls for making adjustments in the election schedule to allow for a staggered turnover among the five districts. After a couple of two-year terms to get the new election system on schedule, council members would be elected to four-year terms with three seats coming up in one cycle and two seats coming up in the next cycle.
The second option on the table, Plan 2, would reflect the most dramatic change and include a move from the current five-member council to seven members. The plan would divide the city into five election districts, including two minority-majority districts, and add two at-large members, creating a seven-member council.
Plan 3, the simplest on the table, would maintain the current five-member council system. The only significant change between Plan 3 and the current is system is that the boundaries would re-drawn in the two districts to reflect population changes.
While the redistricting plans are just now surfacing and there will be a considerable debate and a public hearing process, Mayor James Ireton, Jr. is already throwing his support behind Plan 2, which would expand the number of council seats from five to seven, among other things.
“Plan 2 modernizes our election districts to reflect our evolution into a larger city and our increasing diversity,” he said this week. “It allows every city voter the opportunity to vote in every city election that occurs and it provides an opportunity for every voter to have a say in the election of four representatives.”
Ireton said while the proposed Plan 2 increases the number of seats and divides the city into smaller election districts, it preserves the elections of the current council members because of the plan to stagger the elections during the phase-in period.
“It honors the elections of all presently sitting city council members and it localizes elections in our neighborhoods, which should increase participation,” he said.
Finally, Ireton praised Plan 2 for its potential to present greater opportunities for representation for the town’s growing minority population. According to the 2010 census, Salisbury’s population is currently over 55-percent white and nearly 45-percent minority, with African-Americans making up just under 34 percent.
“It is progressive in that it creates a second minority-majority district, which helps close the disparity gap created by the current election system,” he said. “Under this proposal, we could see a second African-American elected, or the first Latino elected, to the council. Creating the two at-large seats also provides for a citywide perspective on the council. I highly recommend this plan as the one that will serve the city well until the next census in 2020.”