A new Day for Salisbury, and a Council to match

We knew awhile back that Jake Day would Salisbury’s next mayor several months ago when the filing deadline came and went with him as the only candidate in the field. The only question was whether he would get a City Council friendly to his interests, and the answer is somewhat mixed.

With the redistricting set up as it was, it was possible somewhere between one and three incumbents would be elected, as well as the possibility the outgoing mayor would hang around as a Council member. When the smoke cleared tonight, we got the old mayor and two incumbents – one of them, though, is incumbent only a few months as he was appointed to a vacancy last year.

The previous (outgoing) edition of City Council was Day as president, Laura Mitchell as vice-president, and Jack Heath, Shanie Shields, and Tim Spies. We know Day advanced to mayor, while Mitchell was unopposed for her District 5 seat – the only two getting a free pass.

Redistricting lumped Heath and Spies into the same District 3, with Heath getting the victory tonight. Meanwhile, District 1 incumbent Shanie Shields lost her rematch from 2013 with April Jackson, who got 48% of a three-way vote.

In District 4, Jim Ireton prevailed by 53 votes over newcomer Roger Mazzullo, but Muir Boda blew out the field in District 2 – he only got 80 votes but everyone else combined for just 57. Yes, turnout was terrible – initial totals indicate just 1,414 voters bothered to show out of 13,455 registered. Of course, the lack of a mayor’s race – or any race in District 5, which is the largest district in terms of voters – did the most to dampen turnout on what was otherwise a gorgeous day to go to the polls.

With the exception of District 4 I think the Council will be an improvement. Interestingly enough, the newly elected Councilman announced on WBOC-TV he’s already considering another race, perhaps seeking the Democratic nomination for Congress next year. Honestly, for his sake I hope Jim Ireton is kidding because I think the rest of Council is willing to be the work horses rather than the show horse.

A couple other things about the changeover – the composition of the body gets a shade younger because Boda’s relative youth outweighs the age increase between Day and Ireton, who is a dozen years older, and Jackson being a few years younger than Shields. Boda also marks the first elected Republican since Louise Smith served from 2007-11.

So if there’s anything I foresee among City Council, I suspect there will be some tension between former mayor Ireton and new mayor Day. I’m sure there is precedent for former Salisbury mayors returning to government; however, my limited experience with the city means Day is only the third mayor I’ve lived under in 11 years. Previous mayor Barrie Parsons Tilghman has largely avoided the spotlight since she left office in 2009. Whether it’s Ireton’s atrocious rent control idea, his high-strung personality, or his jihad against those who invest in the city as landlords, Jim may be the sand in the gears when it comes to moving Salisbury forward.

With the new rules, the city is now set until 2019 – no more alternating elections in the spring of odd-numbered years. It will make 2017 rather quiet around these parts until the latter half when state campaigns get going.

On a personal note, those who advertised with me went 1-for-2, and while Muir Boda lapped the field I would say getting 44% as a novice candidate against an incumbent mayor with built-in name recognition as Roger Mazzullo did counts as a moral victory. So if you want to increase your market share, you may consider giving this website a try.

Cohen out, so who will be in?

It came as a surprise to many that Salisbury City Council member Terry Cohen resigned with a little over a year left on her term. Citing her family’s “major life changes” she’s resigning as of August 8.

Cohen was originally elected as part of a reform-minded slate in 2007, and found a natural ally in then-Council member Debbie Campbell. And while those who advocated for reform eventually turned on Louise Smith, who was one of the two new Council members elected in 2007, the real change in Salisbury came when current Mayor Jim Ireton was elected in 2009. Campbell and Cohen became more reviled as the obstacles to Ireton’s agenda, eventually leading to Campbell’s defeat by Jake Day in 2013 as well as Cohen’s removal as City Council president, where she served from 2011-13, to be replaced by the newcomer Day.

Of course, the blogs which focus more on local politics are already aflame with comments and suggestions for a replacement for Cohen, with the situation further complicated by Day’s required military reserve service occurring this week – however, they have until September 5 to name a replacement and they’ll begin accepting applications Monday. That replacement will have just 15 months to serve out Cohen’s term before he or she stands for election, if desired.

Two of the names most bandied about to fill Cohen’s seat are Josh Hastings and Muir Boda. As most locals know, Hastings is already running for a County Council District 3 seat as the Democratic nominee while Boda ran at-large and finished third in the Republican primary behind Matt Holloway and John Cannon – respectively, present and former County Council members. There are others who are being mentioned, mainly on the Democratic side, so the obvious question is whether the Democratic-dominated City Council will stay loyal to party or not.

Yet what do I always hear from Democrats when the Republicans are in charge – we need to have bipartisan consensus, they say. Well, here’s an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and select the best candidate out there. (Worth noting: the city elections are non-partisan.)

I believe in having everyone at the table.  All are stakeholders in this city whether you are a homeowner or business owner, landlord or renter, employer or employee, you have a right to be heard.  We all have a stake in this community and passing it on to the next generation better than we received it is not just the right thing to do, it is our duty.

Join me as we bring forth a positive message of healing, reaching out to our neighborhoods that are disenfranchised and opening up our doors for business.  We have so much work to do and it is going to take all of us putting aside our differences to do what is best for Salisbury.

These were Muir Boda’s words in 2011, just before the general election where he finished fourth – it was the same election where Terry Cohen retained the seat she’s vacating, along with Laura Mitchell and Tim Spies. For the most part, the message rings true still today.

As the city moves into a phase where the downtown may be revitalized, I want to make sure that’s not at the expense of the neighborhoods. As a homeowner in one of the city’s most transient neighborhoods – most homes on his block are rentals – Muir has an interest in maintaining the sometimes-neglected corners of the city. I think he would be a fine choice for this sudden vacancy.

Wicomico County loses a fighter

Wicomico County Council District 4 member Bob Caldwell passed away this morning. He was 70.

Caldwell leaves behind a grieving family and community, since he touched the lives of thousands from his term as a Salisbury City Councilman from 1992-96 and his participation in other charitable works around Salisbury as a community leader. After a political hiatus of over a decade – spanning the time he was first diagnosed with cancer – Caldwell ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Salisbury in 2009, finishing third in a four-person primary.

But Bob won his County Council seat in 2010, enduring one of the most closely-fought elections and recounts in memory as he prevailed over incumbent Democrat David MacLeod by just two votes out of over 4,000 cast.

Continue reading “Wicomico County loses a fighter”

Filing deadline looms

Since today was a holiday, tomorrow may be a relatively busy day for City Clerk Brenda Colegrove (or her assistant Kim Nichols, or both.)

Experience tells us that a large percentage of would-be candidates file on the very last day (about 20 percent of those who ran did so for the 2010 primary election) and the recent news that two incumbents, Gary Comegys and Louise Smith, won’t run for City Council again should open up the field to would-be challengers.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the current seven-person field for the March 1 primary swell to ten or eleven since two seats have now opened up. So who would that benefit?

Obviously a larger field will help the lone incumbent, Terry Cohen. It wouldn’t surprise me to see her become the top vote-getter as those who don’t care for her style or voting record split their votes among a larger number of contenders. Others who have name recognition, like previous aspirants Muir Boda and Tim Spies, will also be assisted by a larger field, which may intimidate a number of voters into picking the ones they know.

The other key with a larger field will be getting financial resources to compete. Even those who strive to campaign simply by knocking on the thousands of doors around the district (essentially spending nothing on media) will have to have some funding to purchase literature. Some may request yard signs, and those cost money too. You don’t have to spend the most money, but you need some to be competitive and stand out on a crowded ballot.

On the other hand, if the field stays relatively small and only one or two are eliminated in the primary, that could allow some upsets to occur because most are assured a longer campaign. A lot can happen between now and April 5th, and today’s frontrunner could become tomorrow’s alsoran with a verbal gaffe or embarrassing incident from the past revisited.

But my prediction is that we will see a nine- or ten-person scrum as two or three file tomorrow. I don’t have any sort of insight on who these people would be except that I will not be one since I don’t meet the residency requirement. But we could see a couple of former players jump back in or maybe some exciting newcomers will take their shot.

The campaign will roar to life once the close of business arrives tomorrow. It should be fun.

Smith out, two newcomers in for Salisbury City Council election

Not only will Salisbury City Council have at least one opening for this election, but there will be a new president as well.

According to a published report, at a news conference earlier today Louise Smith declared she wouldn’t seek re-election to the Council seat she won last time around, in 2007. Add in the health issues Council vice-president Gary Comegys is facing, and it’s possible we could have a clean sweep in both Council leadership and a partial removal of a three-vote bloc which has at times stymied Mayor Jim Ireton and promoted what some consider a remnant ‘good old boy’ network dating back to the days of former Mayor Barrie Tilghman.

However, two new filees assured that city voters will eliminate at least one contender on March 1st. Orville Dryden Jr. and Michael Taylor have both placed their name on the ballot and join a significantly more crowded field as the filing deadline looms next week. With seven now signed up, the primary will be necessary to whittle the field to six contenders for the April 5th general election.

Beginning next week I’ll put together a short set of questions for each candidate to answer – for the first time in six years I’ll have a say in the proceedings. Better to be an informed voter.

Boda announces another Salisbury run

Two years ago, Muir Boda faced off against Debbie Campbell in a two-way District 2 race and lost by a 65-35 margin. But I was impressed by the Libertarian afterward and hoped he’d consider a 2011 run – well, it looks like he’s in.

Via the Maryland Libertarians site (and his new campaign site):

The City of Salisbury stands at a crossroads in her rich and storied history. There are tough choices that lie ahead and they need to be made now. Continually putting off issues has brought us to this point, where gangs are controlling our streets, businesses refuse to come to Salisbury and personality issues hang over us like a dark cloud.

On one hand we can continue down the path we have been steadily going for years. Economic stagnation, rising crime rates, gang problems and an assault on property rights which is fueled by name calling, personal vendettas and an outright refusal of elected officials willing to address the issues that this city faces. We have alienated the business community, neighborhoods and our law enforcement community. Leadership and responsibility have been sucked up into the black hole of gridlock, making our government ineffective on major issues.

On the other hand we have a choice of electing leaders who are willing to put aside personal differences and egos to help move our city forward. We need leaders to reach out to our disenfranchised neighborhoods, embrace our business community and encourage everyone to join together and resist the gang violence and crime that is destroying our city.

I believe a three pronged approach to reducing crime is needed from a City standpoint. Strengthening economic opportunity, providing law enforcement with the tools they need to succeed and challenging our faith based community to step up and support our civic organizations in reaching out to those who need and are crying for help. All of these are intertwined and cannot fully succeed without the other.

The economic situation we face is dire and we need to make changes now. We need to create an environment that is conducive to business and it begins with a welcoming attitude. We need to approach our business community with an attitude of – what can we do for you? One way I believe we can help businesses, is by creating a streamlined process into one office for purposes of doing business in the city. This will reduce confusion and set clear expectations and fix a process that currently drives business away.

There are many more issues that we face and I believe they should be approached with common sense, integrity and a servant’s heart. Public servants are just that, servants. Not Lords or masters, they are here to serve the citizens, taxpayers and all who enter into our boundaries for peaceful purposes.

We have much work to do and I believe it is our duty to pass on this great city better than we received her. We are obligated to make her stronger, safer and more beautiful for the generations to come after us. Leaving her deep in debt, rundown from violence and with less opportunity is not only wrong but I believe immoral.

Join me as we work to restore dignity and pride in Salisbury. We must return civility to our debates and respect to the council chamber. That is where we must begin, that is where I intend to begin.

This should be an interesting race for Boda because the dynamics are completely different. In 2009 he was running against a popular incumbent in a vast district. (District 2 actually comprises roughly 80% of Salisbury since District 1 is drawn as a single-Councilperson, majority-minority district. The other four Council members all represent District 2. Yes, I shook my head too.)

But this time we’ll have a 8- or 10-candidate scrum, with the top 6 from the March 1 primary advancing to a general election on April 5. The top three vote-getters will be sworn in later in April.

While none of the three incumbents have announced their intentions yet, it’s presumed that Terry Cohen will seek re-election. At one point, I believed Louise Smith was planning on just one term but she may have changed her mind since; meanwhile, Gary Comegys has missed some time over the last year with a serious illness so he may opt not to run again.

Having just concluded one election cycle four weeks ago, there could be a little bit of burnout from the turnaround. But for Salisbury voters this will be the last time for the foreseeable future we’ll have to deal with local elections right after state elections – terms for the 2011 winners don’t expire until November 2015. 2013 will be the last spring election.

So Muir Boda will be out in familiar territory once again. It’s beginning to look a lot like a campaign.

‘Safe streets’ or unsafe for landlords?

I guess they are going to keep trying until they get it right.

Salisbury City Council members Debbie Campbell and Terry Cohen are hosting their third public meeting to solicit public comment on the ‘Safe Streets’ initiative at the Government Office Building in downtown Salisbury tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. Despite two packed previous hearings, the legislation is stalled in Salisbury City Council.

In a press release, Campbell and Cohen bill this Neighborhood Legislative Package as a public safety initiative:

“Just today, I discussed the “Three Strikes, You’re Out” proposal with a city resident and what reducing the high-repeat call load from certain properties can mean for making better use of our police resources,” said Cohen.  “It’s astounding when you see statistics like 59 properties in just one neighborhood generating 1,800 calls for service to police in three years.”

Campbell said that the previous two meetings, both with overflow attendance, yielded useful feedback on possible changes to the legislation.  “This legislation could provide substantial benefit to the public and contribute to the overall Safe Streets initiative already under way, thanks to our law enforcement agencies in partnership with the community,” Campbell explained.

In reading the seven portions of the proposed legislation, I fail to see how many of the new laws will reduce crime. It seems like much of the legislation instead is a broadbased effort to both wipe out many of what the city considers ‘nonconforming uses’ which have been around for years or even decades and in the process make a little bit more money in licensing fees and fines from landlords.

There’s no question there are landlords who don’t do their due diligence, instead succumbing to the allure of the almighty buck. Yet they are in the minority, and the proposed laws are akin to taking a sledgehammer to an ant hill. Those who live in houses adapted decades ago or who bought a property intending to become an entrepreneur and landlord may find themselves facing the prospect of extensive and expensive repairs if they can’t convince a judge that the use predates an arbitrary deadline. Obviously they will be stuck with a property which has lost its appeal and value to prospective buyers and face financial ruin.

Like it or not, Salisbury will be a rental haven for years to come due to a combination of a growing university where demand for housing outstrips on-campus availability and a crashing housing market which forces former homeowners to become renters. Soon the largest group of new homeowners may be financial institutions, and certainly they’re not going to be interested in following these regulations – instead, houses may sit empty and become tempting targets for crime. That defeats the purpose of the bill!

This bill, which is strongly backed by Mayor Jim Ireton, can’t move forward because Council President Louise Smith won’t put it on the Council’s legislative agenda for a vote. Likely this is because the bill as written has little chance of passage – Smith and fellow City Council members Gary Comegys and Shanie Shields seem to be immovably against the bill. With just one City Council meeting remaining on the docket this year, all are marking time until bill co-sponsor Terry Cohen (along with Smith and Comegys) have their seats come up for election next spring. After the holidays, the city’s campaign season will begin in earnest as the filing deadline is January 18.

While Cohen and Campbell may be trying a TEA Party-style tactic by holding frequent public meetings to denounce the lack of progress, the political reality is that this change isn’t desired by a large percentage of Salisbury residents. They want real, tangible answers for crime, and picking on landlords won’t make a difference in the perception that Salisbury is a drug and gang haven. It’s no wonder people flee to the county the first chance they get.

Something to watch for

It doesn’t seen possible, but shortly after the holidays we will once again be subjected to what I call the “90 Days of Terror,” better known to most as the Maryland General Assembly session. While Governor O’Malley pledged the budget would be “balanced without tax increases” that doesn’t mean he won’t be hunting for new sources of revenue. And even if he doesn’t, municipalities which have felt the pain for the last few years won’t be spared from the budget axe.

That’s where this comes in.

You’ll notice that O’Malley is being cagey. Perhaps he won’t increase taxes, but I’m sure he’d quickly sign this enabling legislation. The Maryland Municipal League (MML) was also making sure they had the votes rounded up.

This didn’t come up in any forum I attended but I’m sure the MML is buttonholing election survivors to see if this is doable.

So cities and towns are crying poverty. But what such enabling legislation would do is place those who live in municipalities in situations where they are quite possibly triple-taxed by the state, county, and city. Of course, eventually that drives people and businesses out of the cities and into unincorporated areas of counties.

Why is this important here in the Salisbury area? Because our City Council approved a Resolution over the summer expressing its support. Here is Resolution No. 1977.

It was approved on a 3-0 vote: Cohen, Shields, and Smith in favor. Campbell and Comegys did not vote.

While this resolution was approved a few months back, there’s little possibility of the actual legislation being enacted by the Maryland General Assembly before the next City Council election next spring. Therefore, this Resolution can and should signal the willingness of those who approved it to raise taxes on Salisbury residents who are already being slammed with several consecutive years of property tax and water/sewer rate increases.

Of course, the MML states the case of cities and towns who are scrambling to make their budgets stretch out through the fiscal year. But this resolution received little attention in the midst of a state election campaign and it may belie the rhetoric of those who would otherwise claim to be taxpayer-friendly budget hawks.

In 2011, the seats of Terry Cohen and Louise Smith will be up (along with Gary Comegys’ seat), and chances are both will seek re-election (Shanie Shields is in office until 2013.) Their willingness to support the mechanism for a tax increase should be a campaign issue and a legitimate question to be asked of others seeking those City Council posts.