Salisbury Nixes Staggered Elections

SALISBURY – The City Council cast its final vote to adopt a resolution amending the Salisbury City Charter to eliminate staggered elections as well as change the election districting.

By November 2015, all five council members and the mayor will be elected at the same time to serve four-year terms. The next election will allow for the mayor to be elected and run until November 2015.

Also, pursuant to the 2010 Census, District 1 will be enlarged to provide for the election of one council member from that district, and District 2 to be decreased in size to also provide the election of one council member from that district. Both council members elected will have their terms end in November 2015.

November 2015 elections will further increase District 1 in size with two council members to be elected from that district and District 2 will be further decreased in size with three council members elected.

According to the Census, Salisbury’s population has grown to 30,607 in the last 10 years and minorities make up 44 percent of the city’s population.

Many redistricting options were reviewed throughout the lengthy process. Mayor Jim Ireton proposed three options. Out of the choices Ireton was in favor of dividing the city into five election districts, including two minority-majority districts, and add two at-large members, creating a seven-member council, but the majority of the council was not in favor of the recommendation.

The council also took into consideration concerns expressed in a letter received in April, written by Deborah Jeon of the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Christopher Brown of the law firm Brown, Goldstein and Levy, and the Wicomico County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The letter pointed out that Salisbury’s minority population has risen to equal 48.2 percent of the total population and proposed three plans that addressed the change, which were two five voting districts and a seven-district plan.

Council members Laura Mitchell and Eugenie Shields were not in favor of the majority of the council’s final decision.

“They want a five district,” Mitchell said speaking for the majority of the voters she had spoken with. “They want a single-member district, with their council members close to their home, spread out throughout the city, and with polling places likewise. Therefore, I will not support this charter amendment tonight and I will not support its judicial process through court.”

Mitchell added that the plan the council was voting on did not receive adequate public input as the other plans proposed did.

Shields also agreed with having five districts over two.

“The only thing I do support that was changed was eliminating the staggered elections, which allows the voters in District 1 to vote the same time as those in District 2, so it’s fair,” she said. “However, I cannot vote in favor of this charter amendment because I agree with Wicomico County NAACP and ACLU on eliminating the two districts and giving Salisbury five districts, which is fair for all voters in Salisbury.”

As the final vote approached, Council President Terry Cohen took the opportunity make a few clarifications.

“I feel comfortable in the decisions that were made to be respectful of the community’s interests and of the neighborhoods here in this town, and do not try to create decisive lines unnecessarily unless there was some driving rationality to do it,” she said. “We have a lot of different mechanisms within the city to do outreach to our neighborhoods very specifically and I certainly was not elected to represent just my neighborhood, nor have I … I think of Salisbury as a city.”

The council voted 3-2 to approve the final decision on election districting, Mitchell and Shields were opposed.