Council Rejects Mitchell’s Plea For Referendum

SALISBURY – With standing room only in City Chambers on Monday evening, Councilwoman Laura Mitchell put forward one more attempt to stop a charter amendment from moving forward but was shut down as her proposal was considered not of emergency nature.

Before the Salisbury City Council could adopt the legislative agenda on Monday, Mitchell got right down to business.

“I would like to make a motion … a resolution that the City of Salisbury place a non-binding referendum question on the ballot be added to tonight’s agenda immediately following the consent agenda,” she requested.

Mitchell’s request follows over a month’s work gathering signatures for a petition to put a stop to a charter amendment that would have the city attorney and other legal counsel report directly to the council instead of the mayor as it has for years.

According to Mitchell, more than 2,300 people signed the petition asking that the council give the decision to determine the structure and operation of their government back to the voters. The petition fell short by a little over 200 signatures of the required amount of signatures in the 40 day time period. It’s worth noting the petition signatures were not validated by the local elections board because the effort fell short.

The charter change was passed in seven days with a 3-2 vote on Oct. 10. Mitchell has argued that the amendment was passed too quickly without providing enough time for the public to provide input.

During Monday’s meeting, Council President Terry Cohen responded that Mitchell’s request violated the council’s rules of order.

“Except in the case of an emergency or in time sensitive nature, no matter will be discussed in a council meeting which was not reasonably described in the published agenda for such meeting in accordance with the city’s open meeting rules,” City Clerk Brenda Colegrove read.

Mitchell argued that the resolution is a time sensitive matter since the charter amendment was scheduled to go into effect the very next day, Tuesday Nov. 29, which is the required 50 days after the amendment was approved.

City Attorney Paul Wilber said the non-binding referendum request for the next scheduled election was not a time sensitive issue.

“The election isn’t for more than a year away so there is not an emergency,” Cohen said. “We cannot change the path of the charter amendment taking effect tomorrow and to try to do so would be a conflict with state law, it would be illegal.”

Mitchell furthered that she had originally made the request to add the resolution to the agenda the week before, on Wednesday, and had submitted the resolution on Friday afternoon before deadline.

“We received the resolution itself at about 3 on Friday on a holiday weekend and the offices here were closed,” Cohen said. “To ensure that we can have that discussion, have it in the briefing book, and have the public aware, that would be the appropriate channel for something that is not time sensitive or of urgent nature.”

Cohen added that the proposed resolution will be added to the Dec. 5 work session agenda for discussion and then presented during Dec. 12 legislative meeting.

“Well I apologize to all of the public that this is not urgent enough that it be put on the agenda for consideration,” Mitchell said. “A charter amendment that was passed in seven days with four days’ notice was sufficient to pass it but it is apparently not sufficient to get it on the agenda for consideration by the voters to decide.”

Cohen responded that the charter amendment followed the council’s rules of order by it being included in the briefing book prior to it being discussed and it was announced in the paper that it was going to be brought forward.

“It was the opinion of the city solicitor just a few moments ago that this is of not an emergency or of time sensitive nature,” Councilman Tim Spies said. “So that is just the way it is folks. Those are the rules so I hope you can all live with it.”

Cohen did not accept Councilwoman Eugenie Shields second to Mitchell’s motion to add the resolution to Monday night’s meeting since it was not in accordance with the council’s rules of order.

“I think the petition spoke, whether we won or loss, the voters spoke when they signed the petition and I think the voters should have a right to put it on a referendum,” Shields said.