SALISBURY — An attempt by Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton to regain some of the control taken from his office by a charter amendment last fall was dismissed by the City Council in a traditional 3-2 vote.
“I’m just trying to gauge if we could meet halfway or partway,” Ireton told the council Monday.
Ireton suggested a new charter amendment placing the city administrator and department heads on “at-will” status. Ireton also asked that his office be granted some say in the hiring and firing of the city attorney and clerk.
According to Ireton, Salisbury felt a “seismic shift” last autumn when the council majority voted to amend the city charter to transfer authority over the city attorney from the mayor to the council. At the time, a petition effort was started to send the amendment to public referendum, spearheaded by Councilwoman Laura Mitchell, who along with Councilwoman Shanie Shields, voted against the original motion.
However, the petition ultimately failed, though narrowly. Ireton’s request this week would serve to bring his office back into the equation regarding city legal counsel.
“Before, we did this together,” he told the council.
While Ireton’s suggestion was aimed at changing the city in the future, as a side effect it also resurrected debate over the original amendment.
Shields reiterated that she felt the council overstepped its bounds by altering the charter last fall.
“I did not agree with this,” she reminded the body.
Council President Terry Cohen tried to steer Shields back into focusing on only the amendment currently on the table. Shields, however, asserted that she would “say what I have to say” regarding her feelings on the original motion. The debate snowballed into Shields and Cohen each attempting to speak over the other. Eventually, Cohen called a brief recess to restore order.
“We made a policy decision,” she reminded Shields when the meeting resumed.
“You made a policy decision,” Shields countered.
Shields added that in light of the original charter change, other department heads may be nervous that they will be switched around as well.
“[Employees] don’t know if they’re coming or going,” she said.
Hoping to mollify Shields, Cohen went on the record stating that she had no plans to amend the charter to swing control of any other departments from mayor to council.
“I have no interest in doing this to other department heads,” she said.
Cohen polled the rest of the council, who unanimously agreed that it had no intentions to do so at this time either.
Councilman Tim Spies opined that he didn’t see any reason why the council should give the mayor’s office more authority over the city attorney or clerk.
“I didn’t actually hear rationale in the mayor’s statements,” he said.
Ireton asked that the council at least consider allowing the mayor’s office more say in the hiring and firing or a city attorney or clerk. This concession was one that the council majority said it may entertain, but not until sometime in the future.
“I would like to evaluate where we are first,” she told Ireton.
Spies agreed and explained that he would like to wait for the “ripples” from the original charter amendment to calm before attempting to modify the charter again. Councilwoman Deborah Campbell expressed a similar opinion.
Ireton, obviously frustrated, emphasized the 3-2 vote that has become a trademark of the current council.
“I understand you have the majority now,” he told Cohen. “Thank you for your time.”