Salisbury Petition Goal Called ‘Within Reach’

SALISBURY — With her 40-day deadline coming tomorrow, Salisbury Councilwoman Laura Mitchell believes her petition to have a charter amendment stalled and placed on next year’s ballot for public scrutiny has a good chance of collecting enough signatures to pass.

“We’re within reach,” she said Wednesday, reporting the petition was nearing 2,000 signatures out of the 2,539 needed.

“I have 1,600 in hand,” said Mitchell.

Though short of the goal, Mitchell pointed out that collecting roughly 1,600 signatures from registered voters is nothing to scoff at, considering that only about 9 percent of voters turned out for city elections last spring.

“One thousand six hundred is nearly double the number of votes anyone [on the council] got in the last election,” she said.

Besides the 1,600 confirmed, Mitchell estimated that there might be approximately 500 more signatures that have been collected by others but not yet turned in. If her estimate is correct, 2,100 signatures would put Mitchell within striking distance of her goal. Mitchell added to that number yesterday by holding a “drive-up” signing at the Sage Diner, where petitions were made available at the north side parking lot from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

If successful, a charter amendment approved by the majority of the council last month would be stalled until next year, when Salisbury voters would be given a chance to weigh in at the polls. Mitchell has campaigned against the amendment, which would place city legal counsel under the purview of the council instead of the mayor. She explained that the entire operation felt rushed to her and could be viewed as a power grab by the majority.

“The citizens of Salisbury deserve to have a voice in this matter. I do not feel that I had a voice in this matter, so I know that the average citizen did not have the opportunity to voice their opinion in the seven days it took to pass this amendment with only four days public notice,” Mitchell said. “The refusal of the council majority to allow additional discussion of the matter at the Oct. 10 meeting at which the resolution was passed thwarted our democratic process. A referendum vote will restore democracy in Salisbury.”

For her part, Council President Terry Cohen has said repeatedly the council majority wants authority over legal counsel as a matter of convenience of access, not to seize additional power. She also stressed the majority adhered to state law when enacting the charter change.

Nonetheless, Mitchell maintains that the city has an “ad hoc process that can be done at a whim” when it comes to changing the charter. She has argued that the city should make its own rules regarding changes stricter than the state minimum.

While Mitchell is hopeful enough signatures will be generated to pass the petition, she does feel that the rules governing petitions like hers need to be changed. To pass, the petition requires 20 percent of registered voters in Salisbury to sign, an archaic rule according to Mitchell.

“Our voter registration rolls are bloated,” she argued, reiterating that only 9 percent of registered voters even participated in the last election. “The other thing is we have to do it in 40 days.”

Though she considers the deck stacked against her, Mitchell noted that her petition is attracting a lot of attention and has received the support of Mayor Jim Ireton, Delegate Norm Conway, Councilwoman Shanie Shields and former Council President Louise Smith.