SALISBURY — A potential leak in Salisbury’s Neighborhood Services and Code Compliance (NSCC) had several members of the City Council calling for a crackdown this week.
In 2009, Councilman Tim Spies’ Virginia Ave. home reportedly failed a building inspection and since then has been embroiled in a series of re-inspections, controversial extensions and citations. One such citation was received late last month. What made this one, a complaint regarding Spies’ fence, unusual was that the press got wind of it before it was even issued.
“How does the newspaper write about something that hasn’t occurred yet?” asked Council President Terry Cohen.
Spies asked the same question. He told the council that he learned his property was inspected on Jan. 17 and problems with the fence were discovered. The fence was torn down the next day and footers were installed on Jan. 19. That same day, Spies said he was contacted by The Daily Times and asked about a citation lodged against the fence.
According to Spies, that was the first he heard of any violation and did not receive a written copy until Jan. 21. It was dated Jan. 20, three days after the original inspection.
“Well that’s not proper,” asserted Councilwoman Debbie Campbell.
The council agreed and wondered why the code enforcement officer had delayed writing the citation for several days. Spies noted that the citation has since been voided because the fence issue that it was meant to address was fixed before the actual ticket was written.
While the incident was relatively minor, some on the council worried about what it represented. Information regarding a person’s property being leaked to the press before the owner was even aware of the situation spoke badly of the city in Spies’ opinion. He pointed out that even if he were not on the City Council but simply a resident, he would expect better.
“I just want to be treated as a tax payer,” said Spies.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell didn’t believe that the leak was as serious as the rest of the council portrayed it to be.
“I think it’s been blown out of proportion,” she said.
Mitchell theorized that anyone in the NSCC office might have noticed notes on Spies’ property which may have been lying on a desk and passed that information on to the daily newspaper.
She didn’t regard it as the conspiracy that some others on the council seemed to fear, though Mitchell did agree that releasing that information to the press before Spies was aware of the problem was unusual and improper.
“I think everyone is entitled to privacy,” she said.
However, Mitchell pointed out that the citation was public information and the only oddity was that the press was aware of it before Spies.
As for Spies’ request to be treated just like any other tax payer, Mitchell stressed that members of the council had to be held to higher and more transparent standards than the average resident.
“Everything we do is supposed to be done in a fishbowl,” she said. “We have to do things in a transparent way.”
There are already murmurs coming from different parts of the state, according to Mitchell, about how opaque the council is when making decisions. The perceived lack of transparency, she said, could cost Salisbury trust and therefore funding from state sources.
“Those people write the checks that fund our projects,” said Mitchell.
It should be noted that Cohen has maintained since the formation of the current council last spring that public transparency is one of her major goals and something she believes has improved from the last version of the council.
Cohen recommended that Spies issue a “general personnel complaint” to Mayor Jim Ireton in response to the incident. Spies agreed to do so.