SALISBURY – After three years of mapping, the Salisbury City Council approved moving to five municipal election districts starting next year.
The council held a public hearing this week in considering adopting a resolution that would amend the City Charter to create five new election districts to replace the existing two election districts. One council member would be elected from each district.
According to City Administrator Tom Stevenson, the amendment would provide for five districts with two encompassing a majority-minority population.
The resolution states, “beginning with the election of November 2015, the City Council has determined that it is in the best interest of the citizens of Salisbury to create five new Council Districts to replace the existing two Council Districts, pursuant to the 2010 Census, and to elect one councilmember from each district.”
Salisbury resident Kay Gibson was the only public speaker during the hearing.
“By splitting it up into five districts, it will encourage people in Salisbury to get involved, and elect representatives that will bring the neighborhood issues to the forefront,” Gibson said. “I want more citizen involvement. Maybe if you elect a representative that represents the issues in your neighborhood, you will have support and have something to say. We need citizens input … we need you to come and voice your opinion.”
Councilwoman Shanie Shields agreed with Gibson.
“One of the reasons I support this is better representation of the neighborhoods in Salisbury, and hopefully it will encourage the people to get more involved, to vote, and exercise their rights,” Shields said. “Another reason is to get more candidates to run in these districts. We have growing populations of minorities that I would like to see get behind this desk … to give them the opportunity to represent their culture and their people.”
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell said she has supported the five election district plan since day one.
“I hope that this will quickly get sent to the court and get moved through. I am very hopeful that this will encourage more involvement. Knowing that you can walk down the street to see a representative and not have to get in the car to drive to other side of town to get to a representative I think will help get more people involved,” she said.
Councilman Tim Spies disagreed with his colleagues and favored the previously proposed plan where District 1 would expand and the area allocated for District 2 would reduce with two councilmembers elected in District 1 and three Council members in District 2.
“I suspect instead of having the desired effect of an increased opportunity for African Americans, who are the recognized minority in terms of the court case that mandated this change, I feel that they are going to be disenfranchised. I think that District 1 will remain to have an African American representative on City Council, however the remaining districts will be overwhelmed by the money that non-African Americans put into whatever candidate they desire to put out there. I think that we will perennial see four white faces here with one black face, and I don’t think that is going to change because of any of this,” he said.
Spies warned the public future candidates will be funded by special interests that are out to acquire land or change city ordinances to benefit their own interest.
“I leave you with this grand experiment, and I know this term will be my last because Councilman [Jack] Heath, Councilman [Jake] Day and myself all live in one district according to this new map, so if I were to go up against Councilman Day it’s a done deal. Councilman Day is coming back or chances are Councilman Heath will come back, and I will retire into obscurity but that doesn’t matter to me so much. What matters to me is the future of this city. So, keep an eye out and make sure you’re not being pulled by the nose by somebody that has a special interest,” Spies said.
In Heath’s opinion, it is the council’s obligation to provide an equal opportunity for those to be elected.
“We need to make sure that those people who want to run, and represent the people in their district get the opportunity to do that. Beyond that I have no control over who is giving what to whom but I think if you have a reasonable platform and you are a reasonable human being that can work with others then you will get elected no matter what,” said Heath, who was appointed last month to replace Terry Cohen, who resigned her seat due to personal reasons.
Day concluded the council works at its best when operating equally.
“Morally, I think it is the right thing to do because you are giving people a greater chance to be elected and serve their community from their neighborhood, and a greater chance to access their elected official and their representative,” Day said. “Three people will run for one seat, and I still support this regardless even though that may mean an end to my short political career. I fully acknowledge that but I think it is still worthy for the larger purpose … after nine public hearings and three years I will call the question.”
The council voted 4-1 with Spies opposed to approve the resolution establishing five districts with one council member to be elected from each district.