Salisbury Seeks To Ease Housing Board Credentials

SALISBURY — A perceived lack of interest has the city of Salisbury’s administration looking to lower the qualifications necessary to sit on the Housing Board of Appeals. The City Council, however, expressed some worry that lowering the needed qualifications could allow for bias to form on the board and cost the city the valuable insight it has had traditionally.
The board has some tight requirements and accepts individuals with certain backgrounds in fields such as planning and health. This can be a good thing, but also makes it harder to find qualified candidates.
“There seems to be a lack of interest in being on the board, especially in those individuals who have the qualifications to satisfy an appointment,” said Acting City Administrator Tom Stevenson.
What’s more is that the qualifications aren’t entirely justified for something like the Housing Board, Stevenson continued.
“Unlike the building code, for example, where it might make more sense for you to have an engineer or an architect on the building code, the property maintenance code is relatively straight forward, and all we’re really asking these individuals to do on this board is to make a determination as to whether or not the housing official has properly interpreted the code,” he said.
Calling the requirements “too lofty,” Stevenson suggested that the council consider opening the board up to at-large appointments, which is how many neighboring municipalities operate.
Council President Jake Day agreed that the qualifications for the board, which he has sat on, could be a bit extensive and that most residents who were able to understand the code could be expected to make a fair ruling.
“We mostly dealt with commonsense issues on the housing board, really, judging facts,” Day said.
What did concern Day about the proposal was the timing. The Housing Board recently made a controversial decision regarding the excess materials leftover after a construction project at the mall. Day felt that the move to change board requirements now looked like the city wanted to punish that decision.
“I’m not sure I understand the urgency then, if it’s not to say, ‘we want to clean house.’ What’s the urgency since we did just put some new members on the board?” he asked.
Stevenson asserted that the city is not being prompted by the recent vote but has been looking to lower the board requirements for years.
The rest of the council was as skittish as Day to fix what they aren’t sure is broken. Councilmember Laura Mitchell argued that the qualifications are a good thing and bring experience and intuition to the board.
Councilmember Tim Spies fears that making it easier to become a member could allow accidental bias to form, such as five landlords all being on the board at one time.
The council asked Stevenson to take note of the concerns and re-visit the topic in one month at a December work session.