Salisbury Petition Drive Comes Up Short

SALISBURY — A petition started by Salisbury Councilwoman Laura Mitchell to have a charter amendment come for a public vote fell short of its minimum goal by about 200 signatures last week.

Mitchell, however, doesn’t see the petition as a failure and believes it served its purpose in raising public awareness. She also promised not to give up on her goal of seeing the issue come to a referendum.

“[People] are paying attention,” she remarked. “They’re watching closely.”

Mitchell launched the petition in October after three out of five members of the council passed a charter amendment that would take authority over the city’s legal counsel from the mayor and shift it to the council. According to Mitchell, the amendment was rushed and a power grab by the council majority.

To meet the state required minimums, Mitchell needed to collect signatures from 20 percent of registered voters, or 2,539 signatures, in the 40 days immediately following the passing of the charter change.

“It was a monumental task,” she said.

Enlisting the aid of volunteers and local businesses, Mitchell came close to her mark, but eventually failed. When the dust settled, she was able to turn in 2,325 signatures. It should be noted, though, that if she had reached the minimum number, all of those signatures would still have to go through an individual verification process.

Mitchell compared the signature gathering process to “hiking up Mount Everest”, but said that even though she failed, given the same scenario presented to her last month, she would repeat the petition effort.

“If the same thing happened tomorrow, I’d be back on the street Friday,” said Mitchell. “The only failure for me would have been if I failed to act.”

Council President Terry Cohen, who voted to pass the original charter amendment, has maintained that the majority neither rushed the process nor had a hidden agenda when passing the ordinance. She noted that all state laws were followed regarding how long the ordinance was advertised and was dismissive of Mitchell labeling the act a grab for power and instead asserted that giving council purview over city legal counsel would be only a matter of convenience and accessibility.

Despite the failure of the petition, Mitchell confirmed that she still plans to pursue her end goal of having the charter change put up for a public vote. She told The Dispatch this week that she will ask Cohen to place the item on next Monday’s meeting agenda, where the council would then have an opportunity to vote on whether the amendment should go to the public ballot next election as a referendum question.