Thanks to the growing popularity of mail-in ballots, the wait for this year’s election results had to be agonizing for the candidates in tight races. Though the District 3 race was close as Eric Fiori won the seat by 37 votes, the tightest race by far was in District 4 where two-term incumbent Ted Elder retained his seat by just six votes over a familiar foe. The race was tight across the board with the four candidates for District 4 separated by just 20 votes with Elder securing 239, 16-year Commissioner Virgil Shockley getting 233 votes, followed by Nancy Bradford’s 221 and Jeff McMahon’s 219.
The matchup of Elder-Shockley — two former school bus drivers — has been one of the most interesting political rivalries in recent history. After knocking off incumbent Jim Barrett in the Democratic primary for the then-District 2 commissioner seat back in 1998 when it was a five-member board, Shockley was re-elected in 2002 in the newly created District 4 as a seven-member body. The 2006 election marked the first of the five run-ins with Elder. Shockley won easily, winning 62% of the vote, 1,419 votes to Elder’s 862. Four years later, Shockley again won but it was closer with just 90 votes separating he and Elder, 1,278-1,188. In 2014, Elder flipped the table on Shockley, winning 53% of the vote, 1,368 votes to Shockley’s 1,192. In 2018, Elder had an easier time, beating Shockley with 53% of the vote and a margin of 209 votes, 1,672 to 1,463. Prior to this year’s election, Shockley changed his party affiliation to Republican, recognizing party affiliation mattered. He helped him narrow the difference, but it wasn’t enough in the end to unseat Elder.
Looking ahead to 2026, I don’t expect to see Shockley or Elder on the ticket, but Bradford and McMahon could be in the running again, as they both had favorable runs in their first campaigns. Four years is a long time, though.
It was a surprise to some – including Berlin Councilman Jack Orris who articulated the concern at last week’s town meeting – that an inclusive playground is the top park/recreation priority for the town. It was believed by many a proposed skate park was the top item, thanks to private fundraising dollars rolling in and a favorable feasibility analysis being prepared by the Business Economic and Community Outreach Network at Salisbury University.
After last week’s meeting, where he said he was frustrated by the skate park being listed second on the town’s priority project list for Program Open Space funding in fiscal year 2024, Tony Weeg, founder of We Heart Berlin, asked community members to email town officials to restate their opinion on a skate park. In addition, an online survey was released asking town residents where they would like a proposed skate park to be located – Henry Park, Heron Park or “other,” such as Decatur Park. As of mid-week, more than 200 people had participated in the survey.
After hearing from town citizens, Mayor Zack Tyndall took to Facebook to ensure the public is aware it’s not the renovated playground vs. the skate park as far as future priorities. He said the town can “pursue both projects at the same time.” He said an inclusive playground moved up to the top priority, however, because an inspection report found numerous safety concerns with existing pieces of equipment. At the meeting last week, he encouraged Weeg to present the skate park proposal officially to the Parks Commission, but Weeg feels like the skate park momentum was already beyond that phase. He was under the impression the next step was for the council to decide on a site, adding he favors Henry Park. Tyndall wants the parks commission to review the skate park proposal at its next meeting in September. The parks commission is expected to be in attendance at next week’s council meeting to furhter discuss the Program Open Space priority list.
It seems to me the backing is there for a skate park in Berlin and the feasibility study supports it as a community asset, but even the most ardent of supporters disagree on exactly where it should be located. To me, Heron Park is out considering the town is trying to sell the property. Whether negotiations on a sale price will be successful with the favored developer is unknown at this time, but no matter the course the town has secured a demolition grant for the buildings on the property. A skate park on that site will be problematic for years to come even if there is a smooth transition of the property ownership. While Weeg supports Henry Park, there are concerns about young kids crossing Route 113 to skate. Some folks wants to see it added to the open parking lot and grass area to the north of Decatur Park.
It was interesting note the findings in the feasibility study, which was finalized last month. It concluded, “We have estimated that there are 126 casual and 44 core skateboarders in Berlin. If 50% of the casual skaters and all of the core users visit the skatepark weekly, the skatepark would get 107 visits per week from Berlin residents, with additional traffic from the surrounding area. …. The community benefit of a skatepark is significant. The Berlin population does not have adequate access to a skatepark facility negatively impacting the ability of youth and young adults to be able to safely participate in the local skateboarding community. While a location has not been determined, the William Henry Park appears to have capacity for a Skatepark, and is located in an area that would be worthwhile to the youth population of Berlin.”