Sides Agree Divided Body Needs Better Relations

SALISBURY — Tensions continue to mount between Salisbury’s administration and the City Council majority. With conflicts beginning to disrupt meetings, the question of how to address the problem remains open.

Ever since the changing of the guard that took place last spring when the council saw the induction of two new members and the election of a new president, the council majority and Mayor Jim Ireton have been at odds.

“They’re pushing buttons on both sides,” said Councilwoman Laura Mitchell, a member of the council minority.

Ireton has made a number of allegations against the council majority and President Terry Cohen specifically. He has accused the group of attempting to obscure facts and cut the public out of government. Additionally, Ireton claims the majority has purposefully been dragging their feet on a number of perennial city issues, such as defining a police towing ordinance and making decisions regarding the intersection of Onley Rd. and Bateman St.

Sparks flew Monday when, after asking Cohen to clarify some facts about Firehouse 16, a publically owned property, Ireton was vocal about his dissatisfaction with the response, calling it “long-winded.” The comment snowballed into an argument between Ireton and Cohen, with Cohen eventually calling an unscheduled recess.

“At this last council work session, the mayor took council’s limited time away from discussion with its invited professional guest and would not yield the floor when asked by the chair. His outburst was unprovoked,” Cohen said.

It was just the latest in an ongoing serious of clashes between the administration and council majority. Two weeks ago, Ireton issued a press release denouncing the majority for missing an opportunity from Wal-Mart to use off-duty police officers as security on Black Friday. According to Ireton, the majority delayed because of political reasons to a point where Wal-Mart withdrew the offer.

Cohen immediately responded with her own press release calling out Ireton for a number of misrepresented facts in his statement. She also denied his allegation that there were any politics involved in the majority’s decision not to immediately accept the offer from Wal-Mart.

According to Cohen, the majority has been open in its practices and does not seek to keep anything hidden from the public. She also asserted that the conflict is one-sided, and it is Ireton’s constant accusations that are becoming disruptive to government.

“From the beginning of its term in April, the council has made clear its desire to work collaboratively with the mayor and made numerous accommodations,” Cohen said. “The answer in the short term is for the mayor to refrain from unprofessional behaviors that hinder the work of the council.”

While Mitchell acknowledged that Ireton is usually the one to make accusations, she expressed displeasure with the way Cohen and the majority often respond and said in some cases she considers it passive-aggressive.

“It’s unprofessional and it’s a disappointment,” she said. “We’re the city’s leaders. We were elected to be city leaders. We cannot act like children. We need to lead by example.”

Ireton could not be reached for comment.
Mitchell recommended both sides come together to seek some form of conflict resolution counseling.

The conflict between the two sides is surfacing more often and Mitchell stressed that some kind of truce needs to be reached before government efficiency is impaired, whether that ceasefire be found through group conflict resolution attempts or some other strategy.