First Salisbury absentee canvass in, results slightly change

I thought this came tomorrow but the update was today.

This will be presented in order of votes acquired today, since the pattern of these absentees may provide a clue as to how the remaining few votes could fall. It may only turn out to be a few dozen votes, but now the split between moving on and moving out is just one vote.

  1. Terry Cohen +51 (now has 583, moves from second to a tie for first)
  2. Tim Spies +43 (now has 583, falls into a tie for first)
  3. Orville Dryden +34 (now has 338, stays fifth)
  4. Muir Boda +29 (now has 409, stays fourth)
  5. Joel Dixon +24 (now has 299, stays seventh)
  6. Bruce Ford +23 (now has 300, stays sixth)
  7. Laura Mitchell +21 (now has 472, stays third)
  8. Michael Taylor +11 (now has 161, stays eighth)

Interestingly, the absentees hurt Laura Mitchell quite a bit as Muir Boda gained eight votes out of the 236 counted. While it’s only 8% of the total vote, these absentees made enough difference that the battle for sixth will remain uncertain until next week.

So it’s pins and needles for both Bruce Ford and Joel Dixon until the count (and perhaps a recount) finally ends.

Unofficial Salisbury City Council results have Dixon, Taylor out

Update: absentee ballots are counted Friday – the only rankings where that could prove a difference are Spies/Cohen and, more importantly, Ford/Dixon.

And then there were two…

If the unofficial results hold up, one of the monoblogue-endorsed candidates will be knocked out in the primary while another finished out of the top three.

According to the Daily Times, here is the unofficial order of finish – I believe this does NOT include absentee ballots since they only had to be postmarked by today.

  1. Tim Spies – 540 (18.4%)
  2. Terry Cohen – 532 (18.1%)
  3. Laura Mitchell – 451 (15.4%)
  4. Muir Boda – 409 (13.9%)
  5. Orville Dryden – 304 (10.3%)
  6. Bruce Ford – 277 (9.4%)
  7. Joel Dixon – 275 (9.4%)
  8. Michael Taylor – 150 (5.1%)

Even with the two-vote margin between sixth and seventh, it’s pretty clear that the real race right now is between two people – Laura Mitchell and Muir Boda. Any of the trio of Orville Dryden, Bruce Ford, or Joel Dixon would have to increase their voter base by half again to have a legitimate shot. On the other side of the coin, it’s clear that Terry Cohen and Tim Spies have worked together to corner a large percentage of the electorate.

What I would be most curious about insofar as the voter breakdown is which precincts were well-represented. I suspect the Camden area turned out well as always, which boosted the totals of Cohen and Spies. And just as it was in the last election the aspect of teams or slates may be introduced: in 2007 the sides generally were considered as Terry Cohen, Tim Spies, and Louise Smith against Gary Comegys, John Atkins, and Don Ewalt. In that case the Camden bunch had the upper hand, getting two of three elected against those candidates considered to be in the pocket of the Salisbury Area Property Owners Association, best known as SAPOA. However, we all know how the 3-2 votes tended to turn out in the last term.

Obviously Cohen and Spies are back, and Laura Mitchell may end up being considered as part of a tag-team against Boda, Dryden, and Dixon (if he can snatch sixth place over Bruce Ford.) Based on tonight’s results Camden could get the clean sweep, which would certainly elevate either Debbie Campbell or Terry Cohen to Council president and likely kill any effort for sanity in Council districts since three members – a majority – would live in the Camden neighborhood.

And now a note on my polling. I was almost vindicated on my prediction of Ford and Taylor being out, and absentees could still hold that true. Obviously Laura Mitchell polled much better once I added the Progressive Delmarva crowd and that aspect held true in the actual election, while Tim Spies also outperformed.

On the other hand, Boda and Dixon did worse in reality than my polling would have suggested, but it pegged Orville Dryden pretty well. I figured Terry Cohen would make it easily and I was right on that one.

So the next step is for the remaining six, five of whom are pretty obvious now, to catch their breath and try to claim a portion of the expanded voter universe – many more voters will partake in the April 5th election. But as it stands the next two years may be open season on the rental industry in Salisbury, and while some would consider this a good thing turning your back on a large segment of business activity may hurt the city in the long run.

A couple scenes from the campaign trail

Just after 3:00 I went to remind myself where my polling place was, for I haven’t voted in a city election since 2005. Along the way I decided to stop by both polling locations to see what was going on outside.

This is across from the Wicomico Presbyterian Church on Broad Street. As you can see, candidate Tim Spies (left, in the hat) is among those out campaigning. It was nice to see supporters of Laura Mitchell and Michael Taylor out there – also covering the scene (but outside camera range) was local blogger Joe Albero.

Over on South Avenue in front of Harvest Baptist Church, several other candidates and supporters gathered. Back along the street is Laura Mitchell in front of Muir Boda (and behind the bearded Spies backer.) Another local blogger, Jonathan Taylor, was on the scene – he’s leaning on the car to the right of the picture.

It should get more interesting as the evening wears on, as peak voting time tends to be after work.

The darkest of horses

Well, it looks like Michael Taylor got as many votes in my poll as he may get in the election at large Tuesday. (I’m only kidding – sort of.)

There are only two conclusions I can draw: either people REALLY liked my interview with the guy I posted Friday or they’re messing with my poll. Aside from the complete outlier of Taylor winning, the other seven candidates seemed to settle into the order they’ve had all along – the other notable trend is the waning popularity of Orville Dryden as he fell perilously close to missing the top 6 in the poll (assuming Taylor was an outlier, otherwise Orville finishes out of the money.) Tim Spies has also seen a downward trend.

My second possibility becomes more apparent when one looks at the pattern of voting – early on Taylor was in his usual bottom slot before he suddenly surged to the top in just a few hours. And once the field began catching him another spurt placed him well ahead again.

I am pleased that this poll had much more interest in a shorter timeframe, as 392 votes were cast.

And the final poll showed some stark differences due to the leftward influence of Progressive Delmarva. (I think it helped Laura Mitchell a lot, too.) Here’s how they stacked up, with their previous two poll finishes in (parentheses) beforehand.

  1. (7,8) Michael Taylor, 85 votes (21.86%)
  2. (3 – tie,2) Terry Cohen, 64 votes (16.33%)
  3. (8,6 – tie) Laura Mitchell, 54 votes (13.78%)
  4. (3 – tie,1) Muir Boda, 51 votes (13.01%)
  5. (1,3) Tim Spies, 48 votes (12.24%)
  6. (5,5) Joel Dixon, 36 votes (9.18%)
  7. (2,4) Orville Dryden, 34 votes (8.67%)
  8. (6,6 – tie) Bruce Ford, 20 votes (5.1%)

I think a more comprehensive (and perhaps realistic) picture occurs when the three polls I’ve done are combined.

  1. Terry Cohen, 143 votes (17.8%)
  2. Muir Boda, 134 votes (16.7%)
  3. Tim Spies, 126 votes (15.7%)
  4. Orville Dryden, 106 votes (13.2%)
  5. Michael Taylor, 101 votes (12.6%)
  6. Joel Dixon, 80 votes (10.0%)
  7. Laura Mitchell, 70 votes (8.7%)
  8. Bruce Ford, 43 votes (5.4%)

If I were to make a prediction, my guess would be that flipping Mitchell and Taylor around would probably put the actual order of finish pretty close – I think Taylor and Ford will be the two odd men out, while the three who have ran before make up your top three primary finishers. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Spies in second and Boda in third, though – it’s a hunch based on Camden’s voting strength. Orville Dryden will probably be the closest to the top three, but Mitchell or Dixon could end up in fourth as well – that order is the most difficult to figure out.

But before I wrap this primary coverage up I want to thank Two Sentz and those over at Progressive Delmarva for their assistance. There will be more polling over the five weeks leading up to the general election April 5th, but I may change a few poll parameters around based on how this went.

For Salisbury City Council

As promised, tonight I’m going to endorse three candidates for Salisbury City Council.

Last night I alluded that I had four candidates I liked and four…well, not so much. While all eight who are running should be commended for stepping up and doing so, the stark reality is that some are more qualified in my eyes than others. There are reasons I wouldn’t recommend voting for these four.

Unfortunately for Michael Taylor, he falls into the category of a really good guy who I simply don’t know enough about in a public situation to know if he’d be a good fit. I simply think this election occurred at a time in his life where he couldn’t make the case for himself due to his job – once we move to fall elections (assuming he remains in his current job at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center) Michael should have more time to wage a campaign in the public sphere.

Having said that, I think when the opportunity presents itself Michael should attempt to become more publicly visible. Taylor has some great ideas and thoughts (and perhaps a few hardy backers.) Hopefully next time around he can have the time to put up a campaign worthy of them.

Tim Spies is sort of a sad case in that I supported him last time. But this time around he seems more bitter and combative; while that can be a good thing at times he’s picking on an industry which, like it or not, should have a place at the table. He’s also lashing out at those he may be working with if he wins.

The clincher, though, was saying we may need a tax increase at the AFP forum. With the state eagerly seeking ways to extract more money from our pockets yet again the last thing we need is someone who’s only too happy to raise taxes and fees.

In the next case, Orville Dryden seems to fall back too often on the mantra of “working together,” and the impression I get is that he’s not completely thought through some of the issues he’ll have to face should he win. I know he lives right in my neighborhood and it would be nice to have someone on this end of town represent us, but it should be the right person and he doesn’t strike me as the right person.

Similarly, if Bruce Ford doesn’t care if he wins or loses, neither should I. But I think the worst offense he made during the campaign was when he responded that, “I believe that housing initiatives such as Mayor Ireton’s Safe Streets program are properly considered as crime fighting initiatives.” I don’t, because I haven’t seen Ireton’s neighborhood initiative as much as a crimefighting tool, but more of an effort to damage a number of small business people who may only own a rental house to help with their income. The larger players could afford these restrictions, but not the small fry.

So those are the four I don’t support, meaning my choice comes down to Muir Boda, Terry Cohen, Joel Dixon, and Laura Mitchell.

I liked Muir Boda enough in the 2009 campaign that I openly wished there were two seats available for both he and Debbie Campbell (and I sold him advertising space for this election.) While Salisbury made a bad overall choice two years ago they have the opportunity to begin to rectify that oversight and I recommend they do.

In Terry Cohen’s case, while she hasn’t always made moves I agree with I can’t see a reason why enough of the challengers would be an improvement. She is a quite thorough person (almost to a fault) when it comes to city issues and the city would be served best to give her another term.

So it comes down between the two political newcomers, who both would bring a fresh perspective sorely needed by a new City Council. They both have experience the City Council could use, as Laura Mitchell has a financial background while Joel Dixon has worked in public safety and serves the city as a volunteer firefighter.

In truth, the biggest difference between the two lies in their support (or lack thereof) for Mayor Ireton’s neighborhood initiatives – Mitchell is a supporter while Dixon is against them. And since we already have two Council members who serve well as fiscal watchdogs, the public safety perspective will be an important one. This tips the scales to a bright young man who’s willing to listen and grow on the job.

In the end, there are three people who deserve your vote on Tuesday for Salisbury City Council. To move Salisbury forward and begin the attack on problems which face the city (albeit we can’t get more help in that respect until two years hence) I’m voting for the following three people and believe you should too:

  • Muir Boda
  • Terry Cohen
  • Joel Dixon

See you at the polls!

The NAACP forum and the campaign tone

Update 12 p.m. – Tim Spies replies to my questions – see end of the post.

Last night the final major forum before the primary election was held at the St. James AME Zion Church, sponsored by the Wicomico County chapter of the NAACP. It was taped for later broadcast on PAC 14, although editing the tape in time could be a challenge!

Ignoring the irony that the forum was held in a district which won’t have a say in the matter, seven of the eight candidates came to engage moderator Orville Penn and each other in a discussion which started out rather freeform as forums go but became more constrained as the evening wore on. For example, each candidate could make as lengthy of an opening statement as they wished but by the time closing statements were uttered, they were limited to one minute.

A focus of the forum was on civil rights issues, so the line of questioning was a little different than in other forums. After the opening statement of why each candidate was running they answered a number of questions briefly described as follows:

  • The most challenging civil rights issue the city faces
  • On crime, how the candidates stood on racial profiling
  • Whether they would agree with subdividing the city into five separate Council districts (this was a question I supplied, so I’m saving it for last)
  • How they would place work sessions at times more convenient to the public
  • Their opinion on trying to override Mayor Ireton’s veto of rescinding health benefits for certain members of Council via charter amendment
  • Civility, in general
  • Employment and attracting jobs
  • A closing statement

The loose format meant there was no set order to deliver the opening statement so the first person to speak up went first, and that’s the order in which I’m going to summarize the performance of each participant. Bear in mind, though, that some questions have such obvious answers that I may not necessarily go through each answer. Instead, I’m just going to go over the highlights of the evening as provided by each along with the impressions I received.

This means I get to start with Tim Spies.

In a relatively lengthy opening statement, Tim explained his military background before working his way into some of what drew him into the political scene. He told the audience that his Camden neighborhood was “sort of in the middle,” caught in a transition period where the two rentals on his street present when he moved there over a decade ago had evolved into over half the street now. “(That) doesn’t make for a stable neighborhood,” he added.

One mention in his opening statement aroused my curiosity. If, as he said, he had resigned in the middle of his third term as the Camden neighborhood association president to run for Council this time, why didn’t he do so in 2007 when he first ran? Since I know he reads my site (as I’ll bring up later) perhaps he can explain.

Spies mentioned his Weed and Seed experience when pressed on the civil rights issue, calling the afterschool programs sponsored by the group “a haven” for at-risk youth. On that same token, he later said in replying to the racial profiling query that there’s “close to a dozen” gangs in the city and we need to “embrace the (gang) problem as our own.”

One interesting idea Tim brought up in response to the work session question was changing the location of sessions to neighborhood venues. It’s worth considering on a trial basis, although it would also mean members would have to be more prepared because they wouldn’t be close to their offices in the Government Office Building.

Tim may have been responsible for the forum’s most heated moments, though. In responding to the health insurance question he chided fellow Council members for their politically motivated votes, calling it “a slap in the face.” He then chided outgoing Council President Louise Smith in his next answer, calling her “responsible for a great deal of incivility” and drawing a pointed response from NAACP head Mary Ashanti, who briefly halted the proceedings to remind participants to be respectful of those attending – among them was current Council member Shanie Shields, who Spies would have to serve beside should he be victorious (her term expires in 2013.)

But Spies wasn’t quite through with the cutting remarks, stating in his closing that, “my goal is to see that the things that happened in the last twelve years don’t happen again.”

Now, allow me to digress a moment.

As most of the candidates did, Spies had literature for distribution at the forum. One of his pieces was a partial reprint of my recent post called First reports. In it, he cited the fundraising figures and my assertion that perhaps three of his opponents could be considered SAPOA candidates based on who contributed to them. Fair enough.

But Spies opted to omit the following paragraph regarding his fundraising alliances with Terry Cohen, the latest of which is detailed in this press release turned Daily Times article. (I received the same release earlier today.)

However, it can also be shown that Cohen and Spies are running as a team of sorts, with the most obvious sign being a joint fundraiser. Thirty of their contributors gave to both (mainly as a result of the joint effort) but only one maxed out to both so far: Anita Malik of Salisbury. Other significant contributors to both Cohen and Spies are Mary Gibson of Salisbury ($100 each), Dorothy Truitt of Salisbury (also $100 each), P. James Doyle of Salisbury (also $100 each), David Suiter of Salisbury (also $100 each), Patricia Derrick of Salisbury ($100 to Cohen, $250 to Spies), and Gail Reilly Cross of Salisbury ($100 to each.) Whether that is enough for them to help the candidates or if they are holding money in reserve for the general election that both should easily qualify for is the question, and one which won’t be answered until late next month when general election reports are due.

I understand the business of politics, but I also have to ask if that’s an omission which would be made if Tim didn’t feel the need to hide that fact.

Still, Tim provided most of the exciting moments. That’s not to say others didn’t contribute.

Laura Mitchell “never thought I’d be doing this.” But she’s running for Council for her children and grandchildren.

She made a remark in her opening statement that I’d love to have clarified, telling us that she had been politically active on the state level. But she didn’t say in what manner, just that “voting is not enough.”

For the civil rights issue, Mitchell pointed out that we need affordable and livable housing, which most would agree with. But she also revealed as part of her answer that she’d grown up in “an abusive house” and was “determined not to repeat the cycle.” That was a surprise for most, including me, and something you rarely see in a politician.

She asserted that racial profiling “does occur (and) has occurred in the past.” We need a zero tolerance policy toward profiling, along with better training and incentives to keep officers on the city force.

In an echo of Spies on the health benefits issue, she believed that the City Council was trying to bypass the rules by proposing a charter amendment because they didn’t have a 4-1 majority to override Mayor Ireton’s veto. There were rules of order which needed to be followed to promote civility, she continued in answer to that question.

Turning to job creation, Mitchell also opined that we had overused enterprise zones during the boom times, but we could use them on a more limited basis for infill purposes.

Afterward, Laura informed me that I’d made an erroneous assumption in the “First reports” post, as her January event was not a fundraiser as I’d believed. (I’ve changed the post to reflect this.)

I already knew from previous forums that this was a city Muir Boda loved. But he was first to jump on the civil rights question, pointing out that it was a question of economic opportunity and among the measures to employ it were faith-based items. Considering the forum was held in a church and opened with a brief prayer, that was a winning answer. Even Tim Spies, who answered next, agreed.

He also had a little bit of a different perspective on the racial profiling issue since he worked so often with law enforcement – Boda said the situation was “getting better.”

Muir also expressed his disagreement with the health insurance charter amendment, saying it promoted an “atmosphere of contention.” He got points from most of the women in the room, though, when he remarked on civility that his wife is more right than he is – Laura Mitchell, for one, agreed it was a smart answer.

When Boda talked business, he believed that we needed to both reach out to the business community for ideas and take a page from the success of Berlin and its mayor, Gee Williams. We could also take advantage of Delegates Norm Conway and Rudy Cane, he thought. (Sorry, Muir, I see them more as roadblocks than problemsolvers.)

Finally, Muir told his fellow candidates that he appreciated the respectfulness they have exhibited as they were passionate without being personal. Afterward, he cleared up a question I had received from a previous commenter on the First reports post.

In essence, I thought Bruce Ford started out like he’d say a lot but really didn’t. “I need to make sure this community is viable” as a place for his kids to grow up in, he began. He had seen 13 years of “slow decline” in the city based in part on the negative coverage we get on the televsion news and local paper.

But one question which sprang to mind was when he spoke about “a lot of major concerns I need to look at” and then brought up the fact he works 80 hours a week at times. How does that affect his commitment to the job, particularly when he said in closing, “this is more important than me being elected…we need to ask is what we do right?”

Ford saw the Safe Streets initiative as a “first step” in addressing civil rights. But then he tossed out another idea, asking why some would pay rent that equals his house payment. Perhaps we could look into arranging financing?

If Bruce is saying what I think he is, well, our economy hit bottom in part because government tried to address this on a national scale.

Among the other questions, Ford believed it was “inappropriate” for the outgoing City Council to try and couch the health insurance issue as a charter amendment. He also had an idea about forming a committee to look for businesses appropriate to lure to the city.

If anything, though, Bruce was one of the candidates who seemed to always be a responder after the first one, so he couldn’t add a lot of new ground to the questions. He doesn’t seem very talkative to begin with, and being one of the later to answer didn’t help him in that respect.

Incumbent Terry Cohen spoke of her “culture shock” upon moving from Texas to Salisbury as a young teenager but realized “Salisbury is a town of potential.”

A couple items which helped her in politics was her membership in the Salisbury Business and Professional Women’s club (20 years) and the work ethic she inherited from her father, who worked for the Piedmont family of air carriers until the age of 86. I didn’t know she had served under two governors on the Maryland Commission for Women.

And she could use her incumbency to advantage in answering questions. She distinguished the roles of state and local government when it came to civil rights issues, while saying that “we break our kids” and tell teachers to fix them. When we neglect neighborhoods, we break our next generation, said Terry.

Since the relationship between the minority community and the police was “an important bridge,” Cohen praised new police Chief Barbara Duncan for being sensitive to those issues – she came from a community with numerous ethnic groups. Cohen also encouraged interested members of the public to attend the upcoming Citizen’s Academy to learn more about police work.

Obviously Terry was the target of the health insurance question, and she had to mainly recuse herself from answering. She did bring up a provision in the Maryland Constitution which prohibited a change of salary or benefits due a public official during a term in office.

Cohen also brought up a three-pronged approach to civility during Council sessions – prioritize issues, scrap the time limits as necessary to get the job done, and enforce the rules equally. (It was another, more subdued, slap at Council President Smith.)

Regarding business development, Terry contended “we can incentivize ourselves into a hole.” We need a diverse set of industries to create jobs.

She closed by reminding those attending that she had a track record of accomplishments, including the Maryland Safe Streets Program.

Joel Dixon seems to be a man of few words, and generally had some of the shorter answers.

But his reason for getting into the race – having $2,000 worth of property stolen “upset me a lot” and drove him to “go out and do something” is as sound as anyone else’s.

It was “ignorance between cultures” which helped aggravate our civil rights situation, and we needed to “break down barriers” to help fix it via interaction. “Racial profiling is wrong,” he added later.

Dixon didn’t agree with the charter process to address the health insurance issue either. Instead, civility dictated we follow the Golden Rule and “set your pride aside.”

He shined best on the business question, providing an example of where Salisbury didn’t promote a business-friendly environment and calling on the city to “market our strengths until we fix our deficiencies.” The campaign has been a learning experience for him, Joel concluded.

While Orville Dryden recounted his term as local postmaster-turned-bailiff to note on the crime problem, “it’s not all rosy out there,” he only vowed to work with other law enforcement agencies to tackle the problem. He seemed to retreat to the idea of “working together” a lot rather than propose more specific solutions. “I don’t know if crime has any color” probably wasn’t the answer those attending were looking for on profiling, for example.

Dryden may have ruffled the feathers of one of his opponents, though, when he asked why we should provide health insurance for City Council members when other employees are being furloughed.

Yet he was behind the curve a little when discussing the idea of spreading out impact fees over a period of time, as the city’s already taken steps in that direction.

Perhaps the one area he spoke differently was in asking people to get out and vote. He had the final word in the affair so that would be what stuck with the crowd most about him. “Make this one beautiful city,” Dryden concluded.

Finally, this brings me to the discussion of my question on redistricting.

As it stands right now, all five Council representatives live in an area west of Division Street, four of them live south of Business Route 50, and two live within blocks of each other in the Camden neighborhood. Admittedly, this situation could change for the better since all but Terry Cohen and Tim Spies live in other hitherto underserved portions of the city, but we could have three Council members in the same neighborhood if Cohen and Spies join Debbie Campbell on the City Council.

Not surprisingly, Tim Spies was dead-set against the reditricting idea, claiming it would “fragment the city.” Bruce Ford was also leaning against the idea, while Terry Cohen was open to a “robust” discussion of the issue and mentioned the fact similar changes were discussed at a work session.

The supporters of the idea had different approaches. Muir Boda would support the move, as well as having four Council districts and electing the Council president at-large. Laura Mitchell had a similar idea using Business Routes 13 and 50 to divide the city into quadrants. (That probably won’t work for equal population, though.) Joel Dixon and Orville Dryden also supported it, with Dryden saying that he may finally get a snowplow for his far east-side neighborhood. (As it turns out, he lives on the street behind me.)

Perhaps I have muddied the waters with the long post, but with five days to go and counting I’m still considering each candidate – even Michael Taylor, who missed the NAACP forum due to work reasons and didn’t answer my questions. However, later today I will put up a 20-minute audio interview I conducted with him earlier this week, which may clarify some of his positions.


I got an e-mail this morning from Tim Spies regarding the Camden Neighborhood Association presidency and his citation of my material.

In answer to your as-yet personally posed question regarding the presidency of the Camden Neighborhood Association, the association’s by-laws do not specify what actions are to be taken when an officer is a candidate for public office.  In 2007, I stepped aside for the duration of the campaign, the vice president ascended to the presidency and an interim vp was elected.  When the city election was over, the interim vp decided on his own to resign and I resumed the presidency by popular request.  We decided to do it differently this time, although, again, there are no rules to abide by.  I have resigned my position as president, effective as of our January 2011 meeting, the first meeting after declaring candidacy.  At that meeting I proposed no new business except to complete that resignation process.  In my ex officio capacity, I have no more control over the association than any other member at large.

Regarding my leaving out the last paragraph(s) of your council report on campaign contributions when providing it to forum spectators/participants, I felt that it was common knowledge that Councilwoman Cohen and I are sharing and contributing efforts toward one another’s campaigns.  We share many of the same opinions, but we are not connected at the hip – we have disagreements, but come to accord on virtually all of them.  We decided early on that a united front would better serve the purpose of meeting the sleaze and misinformation that characterizes the well-funded campaigns previously orchestrated by SAPOA.  As you can see from your own report, those contributions indicate the very real possiblility that several candidates are essentially fully funded by dollars donated by SAPOA members and/or “friends”.  I highly suspect that more maximum donations will come to those who seem to be SAPOA’s candidates of choice, possibly under individual and business names that are more or less unknown to the local public – from outside the city and even the state.  The rental industry in Salisbury has, at minimum, an annual income of $96,000,000.  As an organization, it exists, according to its opening website statement (which may have been softened since I first read it), to minimize the effect of government and community on its industry.  What better way to minimize government’s effect than to control it? 

I look forward to dialogue with you regarding this campaign and city government.

Tim, let me tell you – if it were “common knowledge” that you were coordinating efforts with Terry, it would have been just as common to know that SAPOA was backing some candidates as well – particularly when the forum is held in the part of town where many don’t own their homes.

And I’m curious – why are you turning your back on a $96 million industry? To get the same economic impact, we would have to import 1,920 jobs at $50k apiece. (Granted, a large portion of that money goes elsewhere but there will always be a rental industry here since it’s a college town. And a fair sum of that money comes right back to the city in taxes and fees.)

Waging jihad on SAPOA isn’t going to get the city anywhere, particularly at an economic period when homeownership is down.

Since I presume, by polling and other indications, that you’ll survive the primary election I look forward to continuing the debate.

First reports

This morning the City of Salisbury released 37 pages of candidate financial reports which cover fundraising for the pre-primary period. So who’s winning the fundraising race? Well, in order of finish for the period:

  1. Tim Spies, $2,360 from 45 contributors
  2. Terry Cohen, $2,155 from 49 contributors
  3. Orville Dryden, $2,100 from 9 contributors
  4. Joel Dixon, $1,850 from 9 contributors
  5. Muir Boda, $1,635 from 9 contributors
  6. Bruce Ford, $310 from 2 contributors
  7. Laura Mitchell filed her report stating, “contributions to date are insufficient to require a full report.” However, she did hold a fundraiser in early January so presumably she has raised a little money – just not up to the $600 threshold. (In speaking to Laura after the NAACP forum, she informed me the January event was not used as a fundraiser, so I stand corrected.)
  8. Michael Taylor filed his report with the same message, but listed contributions as zero.

Perhaps my polling isn’t so far off after all based on monetary results – the five who are leading the pack have significantly larger financial resources than the remaining three.

And if you look at the contributor lists, some interesting alliances occur.

Seven of the nine contributors to Orville Dryden maxed out their contributions to him (the city allows only a $250 contribution per candidate.) All nine also gave to more than one candidate:

  • Charlene Lococo of Berlin gave $200 each to Dryden, Muir Boda, and Joel Dixon.
  • Bret Hopkins of Fairfax Station, VA gave $150 each to those three.
  • Bryan Fox of Lexington, SC gave $250 each to Dryden and Dixon.
  • Paul Allen, also of Lexington, SC gave $250 each to Dryden and Dixon.
  • Gabriel Investment Company of Salisbury gave $250 each to Dryden and Boda.
  • Lauren and Keith Fisher, both of Salisbury, gave $250 apiece to Dryden and Boda.
  • Lynne Smith of Salisbury also gave $250 apiece to Dryden and Boda.
  • Susan and Arthur Spengler together gave $250 apiece to Dryden and Boda.

While I don’t know what each of these contributing individuals do for a living, one could construe this as evidence these three are the so-called “SAPOA” candidates. Boda only had two other contributions from individuals and Dixon received much of his other support from his family.

However, it can also be shown that Cohen and Spies are running as a team of sorts, with the most obvious sign being a joint fundraiser. Thirty of their contributors gave to both (mainly as a result of the joint effort) but only one maxed out to both so far: Anita Malik of Salisbury. Other significant contributors to both Cohen and Spies are Mary Gibson of Salisbury ($100 each), Dorothy Truitt of Salisbury (also $100 each), P. James Doyle of Salisbury (also $100 each), David Suiter of Salisbury (also $100 each), Patricia Derrick of Salisbury ($100 to Cohen, $250 to Spies), and Gail Reilly Cross of Salisbury ($100 to each.) Whether that is enough for them to help the candidates or if they are holding money in reserve for the general election that both should easily qualify for is the question, and one which won’t be answered until late next month when general election reports are due.

I should also send kudos to Brenda Colegrove, the Salisbury City Clerk, for making these reports available in a timely manner. It’s nice to get this information before the primary to assist in this important decision.

Informing the electorate

We know that the race for Salisbury City Council is a non-partisan one, and I’ve asked the candidates a number of questions which touched on how they would approach city issues.

But there is also a question of underlying political philosophy, and one answer where this is best expressed comes from which party they are registered with (if any) and which candidates or causes they’ve contributed to over the last few years. Are they already politically active in that respect or not?

So I asked a friend who had the registration records for a hand in determining their age, voter registration information, and what elections they participated in, then went to the Maryland Center for American Politics and Citizenship website to look up a few pieces of information on each candidate regarding their political contributions. While most had contributed to some candidates or causes, none came close to the maximum $4,000 per candidate or $10,000 per cycle allowed for each four-year electoral cycle. 

Muir Boda

Age: 37 (38 on General Election Day)
Registration: Libertarian
Voting Pattern: General Election 2006, 2008. (The Libertarian Party has no primary.)
Contibutions: Mike Calpino $25 (1 occasion), Libertarian Party of Maryland $180 total (4 occasions)

Terry Cohen

Age: 53
Registration: Democratic
Voting Pattern: General Election 2006, 2008; Primary Election 2006, 2008
Contributions: Jim Ireton $25 (1 occasion)

Joel Dixon

Age: 25
Registration: Republican
Voting Pattern: General Election 2008; Primary Election 2006, 2008
Contributions: Anne Arundel Fire PAC $270 total (8 occasions)

Orville Dryden

Age: 64
Registration: Republican
Voting Pattern: General Election 2006, 2008; Primary Election 2006, 2008
Contributions: Ron Alessi $100 total (2 occasions), Bob Ehrlich $45 total (2 occasions)

Bruce Ford

Age: 50
Registration: Democratic
Voting Pattern: General Election 2006, 2008; Primary Election 2008
Contributions: none on record

Laura Mitchell

Age: 45
Registration: Unaffiliated
Voting Pattern: General Election 2006, 2008 (no primary for unaffiliated)
Contributions: Martin O’Malley $20.10 (1 occasion)

Tim Spies

Age: 59 (60 on General Election Day)
Registration: Democratic
Voting Pattern: General Election 2006, 2008; Primary Election 2006, 2008
Contributions: Jim Ireton $30 (1 occasion)

Michael Taylor

Age: 52
Registration: Republican
Voting Pattern: General Election 2006, 2008; Primary Election 2006
Contributions: none on record; although there are several Michael Taylors in the state database none are from Salisbury.


So we have a nice variance of ages (from 25 to 64) and affiliations here: three Democrats, three Republicans, a Libertarian, and an unaffiliated voter. Something for everyone I suppose.

Admirably, they all seem to be relatively active voters as well.

If this is a help to your decision, that’s a good thing. I’m sure someone will criticize me for bringing party into a non-partisan election but it’s worth remembering that people change affiliations all the time (this information provided to me on voter registration is from July, 2010) and not everyone marches in lockstep with party philosophy – many Democrats in these parts cross over to vote for Republicans but we saw a number of Democrats win in 2010 and it couldn’t have been all Democratic voters pulling them through. Most voters cast a ballot for the person.

But in case you’re wondering, the two who will remain on City Council are both Democrats so if you want party balance that could factor into the decision.

Second C of C forum…well, it was different than the first

New moderator, new cast of characters, new questions – it was an interesting mix at the second of two PACE/Chamber of Commerce Salisbury City Council forum kicked off at noontime yesterday to a cast of onlookers which included the Daily Times, WMDT-TV, and two bloggers (although the other just took pictures.) The four gentlemen in the hot seat this time were Muir Boda, Joel Dixon, Tim Spies, and Michael Taylor.

Matt Creamer, who was supposed to moderate last week until he fell ill, did the honors this time after thanking Mike Weisner for handling part 1.

After each candidate had five minutes to deliver an opening statement, the questions dealt with health insurance for City Council members, the prospect of user fees for stormwater expenses, fire calls, non-resident accidents, and the like, afterschool programs, nonconforming uses, and a quick closing question on whether there should be a skateboard park in City Park along North Park Drive.

As I did last week I’ll go through each candidate in turn, with Michael Taylor drawing the first slot.

Taylor literally came from work to play his part; his task today was helping to set up the Civic Center for tonight’s Fernando Guerrero fight. He works for Wicomico County, but ran for Council to “help the city of Salisbury the best I can.” One piece of his past he pointed to in his opening statement was a background in construction.

Since Michael was brief in his opening statement and had allotted time remaining, Matt Creamer opened the forum to questions specifically for Taylor. I asked, given his construction background, whether he had any insight into improving business and development. Permitting and licensing could be “more user friendly…(it was) very, very difficult” to secure permits. However, Michael’s experience was that Salisbury wasn’t much different than other cities for permitting. (Perhaps this “streamlining” could be something we can take advantage of.)

Taylor “would say no” to part-time Council members getting health insurance paid for. He’d also say no to user fees unless they were “necessary, fair, and equitable.”

Michael informed the questioner regarding afterschool programs that the county already performs these tasks. “Having somewhere for kids to go is paramount.”

To Taylor, the mayor’s neighborhood housing initiative was “essentially killing an industry.” Instead, each of the seven parts should be passed on its own merits after some necessary “tweaking.” He added, in response to another audience question directed specifically at him, that we need a “balance” of places to live because many in the working class lack their own transportation, thus they live close to work in the city.

Finally, Taylor agreed the need is there for a new skate park, and the county’s parks and recreation department is looking into suitable venues for one.

Following Taylor in his opening statement was Muir Boda. Boda went over his background and work experience in his opening statement, pointing out that 1/3 to 1/2 of his current job deals with criminal activity. But he was running because “I love the city of Salisbury.”

“We all get frustrated with the political environment,” continued Muir, who called on the process to be “inclusive, not exclusive.” He applauded the current Council’s decision to spread out capacity fees over 24 months as “a wise decision,” and saying people affected by City Council “need to be part of the process.” He wrapped up the statement (and his time) by challenging the faith-based community to step up.

He agreed that City Council members don’t need to have their health insurance paid for, and while we could pick through the budget to question specific items from the past (as Tim Spies did in answering before him) the Council should have benefits similar to those of other part-time positions in the city.

Boda believed we could look into a stormwater fee, but the fire department could benefit from a system similar to Worcester County’s. There each department gets a base contribution but additional funding depends on the number of calls serviced. Muir also thought it time to take a fresh look at the tax differential.

Muir was familiar with some youth programs through his church, which served as a mentorship to WiHi. Government could create the environment but needed to identify partners to lend a helping hand.

The neighborhood housing initiative was an example of legislation crafted without input, Boda believed. He also opined that Salisbury was using the wrong comparison models – instead of Dover and Annapolis, he thought better comparisons would be Morgantown, West Virginia and Blacksburg, Virginia – towns which house West Virginia University and Virginia Tech, respectively. They have relatively similar renter to homeowner ratios as Salisbury’s.

Boda would only support a skate park if the residents wanted it.

Tim Spies described his experiences in the Navy and with returning to the Eastern Shore after his military service. In the early ’90’s he bought a house he described as a “fixer upper” and eventually he became involved with the Camden Neighborhood Association. He’s contributed “ideas, time, and energy” to the city since.

Crime was at the “forefront” of issues and the crime rate was “rather embarassing,” but “employers are what we need here.” And while crime was down 11 percent, as a questioner claimed, it’s gone up “400 percent” since he came to the city.

In responding to the question about health insurance for City Council members, Spies pointed out previous foibles like the acquisition of the Cypress Street property for the new Station 16 for $660,000 shortly after a previous owner bought the property for $175,000. “The foolish spending has to stop,” said Spies, but “$10,000 (to cover health insurance for Council members) is paper clip money.”

“I think you need more incentive (to run) than a $10,000 salary,” said Tim.

But when it came to a response fee for those from out of town who were unfortunate enough to cause an accident, Spies borrowed a familiar phrase. “You betcha,” he said. In addition, a stormwater fee wasn’t a bad idea but it had to be “scientific,” based on the total property area and impervious surface. “There is money to be generated,” he said.

Spies also reflected on his previous experience running the “Weed and Seed” program in answering the afterschool activity question. “We can’t have enough afterschool programs,” Spies enthused. He added that faith-based organizations have their place too.

The “seventh and most deadly” part of the neighborhood housing initiative turns out to be the nonconforming use provision. Spies doesn’t support it “to this point.” Compromise with the housing industry on that portion and get the other six parts rolling, pleaded Spies.

And build the skate park – just not in a dense residential district, concluded Tim.

Our final contestant in opening statement order was Joel Dixon. He drew the last position in his first public campaign event.

In his opening statement he passed around a prop – a chart from the Salisbury Police Department showing a 29.4% drop in Part One crimes vs. the total one year ago. It’s a “good step in the right direction,” said Dixon, a firefighter by trade who works in Anne Arundel County and volunteers here on his off days. He’s a volunteer lieutenant at the aforementioned Station 16.

He jumped into the race as a victim of crime. “I didn’t want to sit back and complain about it,” said Dixon. He also felt that his age (25) brought a different perspective than the others would have.

Since he also came in under the five-minute wire in his opening, Joel got the opportunity to confess his ignorance about a nearby community center in his first answer. But he promised to look into what was offered there.

On several of his answers, Joel came across as a fiscal conservative. For example, paid health benefits for City Council members would be “a good tool” but right now wasn’t the time for that.

“I don’t think I could support any new fees at this time” was his succinct answer to the fee question, although he conceded Anne Arundel County is implementing accident fees similar to what the questioner proposed.

Community-based and citizen-based afterschool programs could create the proper atmosphere for youth, Dixon argued. He also opined on the Neighborhood Housing Initiative question that there was no plan for relocating those affected and asked if they could afford the newly created single-family units.

In his final answer, Dixon echoed Muir Boda (who answered first) in leaving the question up to those affected. Joel’s answers were usually the most brief but generally conveyed the points he wanted to make adequately. (This also tended to be true in his responses to my questions.)

Upcoming forums include the AFP effort at Brew River next Wednesday and the NAACP forum at the St. James AME Zion Church the next night.

Boda surges to lead in new Salisbury Council poll

Well, the results are in from my second Salisbury City Council poll, and the winner is… my advertising fund. Well, how else would one explain Muir Boda moving from a tie for third in the first poll from late January to first place this time? At today’s Chamber forum Boda confided he had seen a good amount of traffic to his website from here. (That’s called a hint. I don’t guarantee any of the other seven would have the same result, but there is an ‘ads’ tab above.)

In truth, the poll showed essentially the same contenders as before, although instead of what looked like a four-person race it’s now perhaps five as Joel Dixon made a solid upward move to close the gap on the frontrunners. Conversely, the one who may need to worry most based on results would be Orville Dryden. His good first impression may be fading, although he still looks primed to survive the March 1st primary. And the survivor out of the bottom three (Ford, Mitchell, Taylor) has a steep uphill climb to make in the final five weeks if this poll is any indication of eventual results.

This poll was a somewhat shorter effort than the last one but there were still 162 votes cast. The order of finish is listed here, with the previous poll finish, percentage and percentage change from the initial poll following:

  1. (3 – tie) Muir Boda – 37 votes (22.84% – up 4.37%)
  2. (3 – tie)Terry Cohen – 33 votes (20.37% – up 1.9%)
  3. (1) Tim Spies – 30 votes (18.52% – down 0.76%)
  4. (2) Orville Dryden – 25 votes (15.43% – down 3.45%)
  5. (5) Joel Dixon – 20 votes (12.35% – up 2.71%)
  6. (6) Bruce Ford – 6 votes (3.7% – down 3.13%)
  7. (8) Laura Mitchell – 6 votes (3.7% – down 0.32%)
  8. (7) Michael Taylor – 5 votes (3.09% – down 1.33%)

A few other notes of interest:

As you’ll see in my rundown of today’s Chamber forum tomorrow, the format and questioning were very different from the initial effort last week. It’s possible that, with two remaining forums next week (AFP and NAACP) the finished product between the two for PAC-14 may not be aired until after the primary and edited to cut out the two bottom finishers. It was hoped, though, that the editing would be done for Tuesday.

I finally caught up to Michael Taylor today and he apologized for not answering my questions. I may do an audio interview (you could call it a podcast) with him early next week. However, it probably won’t take the exact same form as the questioning I gave the other seven. He may remain the lone candidate in the race without a website or Facebook page, though.

Having the split forum before the poll hurt most of the candidates who participated in round 1 – only Terry Cohen increased her percentage from the last poll. Meanwhile, my top gainers were two who participated today.

I’m working on enhancing the poll and broadening its scope for the final effort before the primary. Stay tuned to see if my effort bears fruit.

Questioning the Salisbury City Council candidates – part 4

The last part of the four; here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 if you want to catch up. To wrap this we talk about the nuts and bolts of city finance then the candidates make their closing arguments.

The city seems to depend a great deal on help from the federal and state levels to pay its bills – for example, we always seem to be on the hunt for grant money to address some issue, such as the recently-purchased fire boat. Do you think there is a way to wean ourselves off this dependence on state and federal dollars (which are in short supply) and is there some other method of financing we could explore?

Boda: Grants are not something we should be depending on for our day to day expenses.  It is not free money. Private, non-government grants I feel are more fiscally responsible for certain projects, such as for the Zoo, Dog Park, Skate Parks, etc.  

The city government should be focusing on maintaining our basic services as efficient and cost effective as possible. Often times we need new ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, dump trucks and other day to day items our city employees need to carry out their duties.  

I do feel the acquisition of the new Fire Boat is one that should have been looked into more.  We were recommended this particular boat because the Coast Guard wanted one with it’s capabilities in this region. Certainly there is a boat with the capabilities that we require that could have cost us less.  

I certainly respect the fact that we are the second busiest port in Maryland and there are tremendous amounts of fuel that move up and down the Wicomico River.  I trust the fact that we need a new boat with better capabilities than what we have now.  However, the boat that is currently being purchased would be better suited for Crisfield or Ocean City, not Salisbury.

Ford: First, let’s delineate between “bills” and “one-time purchases.”  Bills to me are the expenses related to operating the city; salaries, benefits, daily operations, utilities, etc.  I feel strongly that true bills should be paid for by steady, dependable revenue sources.  

However projects like the fire boat are not in my mind “bills.”  These are purchases that would not be purchased at all without the granted money.  Granted projects enhance safety, infrastructure and quality of life by addressing needs far beyond the city’s financial capacity.

My second thought is that federal and state aid is in fact our own tax dollars returning to us, so we should continue to aggressively seek grants lest other communities get them instead.  We paid the taxes, we should receive the grants.

With that said, free money is not free money.  When seeking granted money, we should always address our highest priorities first as identified by the community vision. 

While I am a career Paramedic/Firefighter in Berlin, I actually do not participate in the Salisbury Fire Department’s operations or administration.  Salisbury Fire Department is a combination career and volunteer department which makes it complicated to judge how grant monies are applied to specific projects.  For example, many fire companies across the Lower Shore have received Homeland Security or FEMA grants for specific one-time equipment requests, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Without these grants, many communities would lack modern fire and rescue equipment. 

Beyond what I have read in the media, I am not familiar with the project proposal for the Salisbury Fire Boat.  I know that other jurisdictions use fire boats for fire suppression of other vessels in harbor and at sea, for fire suppression in buildings near or on the water, and for search and rescue missions.  Salisbury is Maryland’s second busiest commercial port and enjoys heavy barge traffic including petroleum barges.  A fire on a floating petroleum barge could present an incredible hazard to a large portion of the city.  A fire boat would allow for fire suppression before the barge reached land. 

With that said, I feel that grant money in general should be used either for one-time expenses (the purchase of a specific piece of equipment) or to start a project that will sustain itself through other sources of revenue (creating a promenade around the waterfront which would attract taxpaying businesses.)  Depending on grants from year to year to pay for “bills” is fraught with peril. 

I would also ask any recipient of grant money to spend that money as if they had earned it through sweat and labor.  Grant money is too often taken for granted.

Mitchell: State and Federal grant money is a return of our citizens’ tax dollars to their community on a competitive basis. I do not feel that we could or should eliminate grant funding, as we are reclaiming our State and Federal tax dollars to put them to work for us in our community. The caveat there is that we must ensure that we are not dependent upon that funding for normal operating or capital improvement expenses. We must make sure that we are consistently funding routine maintenance and growth from local funding sources. That means that we must be diligent in reducing expenses not only to match revenue, but below our expected revenue levels. The annual difference should be added to a “rainy day fund” for emergencies and to level out the economic peaks and valleys we invariably experience in our economy.

Ideally, I prefer a codified requirement that a percentage (at least 2%) of all General Fund revenues be committed to the contingency fund in years where revenue exceeds the previous year’s revenue by 4% or more. Further, that a percentage (not more than 3% annually) be withdrawn from the fund to be added to the budget in years where revenues are 4% less than in the previous year. This will avoid situations where any sitting Mayor and Council do not use contingency funds, even when they are needed, for fear of political ramifications. Using those funds will help fill in some of the deficits that could cause the delay of routine equipment maintenance, infrastructure preservation, or cuts of critical personnel. Additional debt is undesirable and improbable as we are currently at 67% of our debt threshold, meaning that we cannot borrow much more. Instead we must strive to reduce our debt. One thing that we should pursue more vehemently is payment in lieu of taxes from the County and the State for those properties that are exempt from property tax by virtue of being government owned. That is nearly 6% of our total land area.

Cohen: Early in my council term, I was shocked to learn the City invested no local dollars in our road maintenance program. When our state Highway User Funds were cut last year, we as citizens all got a bigger shock. Steps were taken to cope, so we know we can and must “get weaned” or suffer “cold turkey.”

We can and should continue to “hunt” for grant money, but not for non-necessities like the fire boat that, like some donations (“Bricks,” Linens of the Week), could cost us dearly in the long run. Instead, we should focus on our priorities with a zero-based budget process with the dollars we have, then identify projects with real potential for a return on investment of grant dollars – there’s nothing wrong with getting our share of that pooled taxed money if it is for a community-valued effort.

There is also private foundation money available that could be leveraged for such projects by partnering with non-profit entities. That would help return the city to its municipal mission of providing core services.

Fiscal responsibility in our government has been a primary pursuit of mine on council. We don’t need glitz, our names on a legacy, status symbol pictures on magazines – we need common sense and to do the basics well so that we have a strong foundation upon which a good quality of life can be built.

Spies: Wise local governments use grant funds to improve their infrastructure so that business can be more easily attracted and accommodated; to provide adequate health and sanitation, public safety, and roadway maintenance; to ensure a level of education that can best deliver a ready and able next generation workforce, and; to provide for a continuous enhancement of quality of life of their citizens and marketability of their counties, cities and towns.

Far too many take any money that comes down the pike, regardless of implications for increased responsibility and expense. This is often foolish and self-defeating. Many municipalities have bankrupted themselves by taking on too many responsibilities coming with grants with too few resources to afterwards manage them. The days of accepting grants based on thinking “we have to get it before somebody else does, no matter what it is” and “it’s free money” without determining actual needs and closely weighing future obligations should come to a close here and elsewhere. 

Some solutions to reducing grant dependency, while still maintaining and improving an infrastructure are not attractive: large tax increases; new taxes; a city going into private enterprise’s territories for profit; large fee increases. I don’t recommend any of these.

The only wholly acceptable solution for us is to make Salisbury once again a city home to industry. Real industry, with jobs that pay a living and not just subsistence wage, industry that provides careers and futures. With the increased tax revenue and good wages that industry provides, the needs of our infrastructure and city’s needs can be more easily achieved without the level of dependence on federal and state money that we now have.

Dryden: I think it is more important than ever to work towards needing less State and Federal dollars. Fiscal responsibility is extremely important to me. It was in my career with the federal government as well as my personal finances. I feel that government needs to operate within it means. Consistent management of taxpayer dollars is a top priority.

Dixon: The City of Salisbury does apply for multiple grants that help the City’s various departments with their needs that would otherwise be cut from the budget. I would rather see the City apply for grants then entertain the idea of a possible tax increase. The atmosphere of funding and providing grants comes from the federal and state level and until this attitude is changed on a higher level, our tax money will continued to be used for grants, whether they are needed or not. All citizens pay taxes at a multitude of levels; on the local, state, and federal level, and I would rather recoup the money through grants for local improvements than have the available grants be paid out to another part of the country. However, I would like to see Salisbury eventually become more self-sufficient, although I do not feel that higher taxes are the solution. I feel that all avenues need to be explored to include continuing to cut unnecessary expenses from the budget.

Taylor: No response at this time.

What aspect of your background or experience sets you apart from the competition?

Boda: I believe my experience of working with hundreds of different people and encountering thousands of people over my 18 years at Walmart brings a unique skill set to the Council.  I currently work as an Asset Protection Coordinator which requires management of shrinkage, risk control, OSHA regulations, auditing and a variety of issues that require us to work with law enforcement on a daily basis.  

Our three basic beliefs at Walmart are Respect for the Individual, Service to our Customers and Striving for Excellence are values that I have lived and worked by for the past 18 years.  Those values have served me well in the many experiences I have gone through in the many positions I have held there.

I was the Tire and Lube Express Manager in very busy and very diverse automotive center at Sterling, VA Walmart.  I had individuals from Somalia, Jordan, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, and Latin America working for me.  The biggest issue was the different religions working together, there were Christians, Muslims, Jews, Singhs, and Hindus all working together. It was a very contentious work environment to say the least.  

Using the Three Basic Beliefs and focusing on Respect for the Individual, we were able to put aside our differences, focus on the task and job at hand and develop some very strong friendships.  When the most difficult part of your job in that environment is ordering pizza, we realized we can accomplish anything.

Ford: I want the voters to know this; this is not a win-at-all-costs election for me.  I have a wife of 13 years and four daughters that I have to look in the eye when this election is over.  For this reason, I have not accepted campaign contributions from any special or vested interests and I will continue to answer questions openly and frankly.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with all of my feelings and ideas but I do want to emphasize that I will vote in the best interest of the citizens of Salisbury and not in the best interest of any special interest group.  I will give my full effort to the City if elected, but I want the voters to know that I am not willing to compromise my principles to win this seat.

I am running for City Council because I truly care about the future of the city that my family calls home.  A couple months ago, my daughter left me a drawing of some buildings with the words, “Together We Can Build a City.”  It was such a simple idea, but it got me thinking…what if Salisbury created a vision and community roadmap?  It’s been done before, here and in other communities, but those plans get dusty and forgotten.  I want to see the community create a vibrant, living vision that guides the most active citizens of the city to work in the same direction and I will fight to keep that vision in the forefront of Salisbury civic efforts for many years to come.

Together we can build one Salisbury.

Mitchell: I have a wide variety of work experiences including waiting tables, retail sales and management, municipal accounting software training, and adult education. I have undergraduate degrees in accounting and business management and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and I am a C.P.A. exam candidate, which I plan to complete in 2011. Perhaps the thing that sets me apart is that I have governmental accounting experience. As a municipal Finance Officer, I was responsible for the preparation of the budget from creation to presentation to the Mayor and Council, as well as day to day administration and compliance after adoption. I believe that gives me unique insight into municipal financial operations which could be useful in identifying ways that the City of Salisbury can maximize the return on each taxpayer dollar.

Finally, I am open to hearing, not just voters, but all stakeholders in the community to find the answers we need to diminish our crime, retain existing and attract new businesses, improve our infrastructure, and restore our sense of community. I believe that, collectively, our community has the solutions to many of our problems but we must be able to bring those stakeholders together to have civil conversations to identify and implement those solutions. I have already begun to establish the lines of communication with each of the candidates by initiating meetings to discuss our motivations and aspirations. I am also doing riding tours of Salisbury with various stakeholders and community leaders asking them to “Show me YOUR Salisbury”, so that I may see the issues from their perspective. This process continues to be very enlightening.

Cohen: Given that I am answering this just a couple of weeks past the filing deadline and we are all just getting to know what the candidates offer, I’ll leave the comparison making to the voters. However, aside from the obvious fact that, as an incumbent, I have direct experience the other candidates do not have, I offer the following for consideration.
Long before I even thought of running for council the first time, I was involved with legislative issues and visibly speaking up for people, both locally and throughout Maryland. I have a valuable combination of experience in government, business and nonprofit sectors, so that broad background gives me a good sense of the “big picture,” in addition to my reputation for paying attention to important details.

As a small business owner, I know the agony of a contract opportunity going to India and the joy of success in seeing a software program or a training session help a company, agency or military installation work more productively. My prior work with Fortune 500 companies and other large corporations in developing profitability through customer service technology increased my analytical skills and experience for application to what I do on council. Having worked with thousands of diverse people in the workforce gives me an incredible perspective on a variety of problems and solutions.

With policy-making experience before I even came to council, I understand why we must be diligent about precision in law making. When a missing comma can lose you a case in court, you not only don’t progress toward a goal, taxpayer money is lost.

Mine is a proven track record of common sense, fiscal responsibility and a focus on the citizens’ priorities, not those of special interests. After four years of some successes and of mitigating some damage, I hope to accomplish more in the next term in a council committed to getting the people’s work done, in an open environment that will exercise my versatile experience and organizational skills on behalf of the citizens we serve.

Spies: I have managed over a thousand people under some of the most stressful circumstances imaginable, moving them from a domestic peacetime to a foreign combat zone environment and back again. My performance was such that I was chosen to lead again and again by my peers and superiors.

I have been successfully responsible for the management of several public fund budgets, ranging from $1.2 million to $9 million.

I have been very active in Salisbury community affairs for over a decade, including those dealing with crime and law enforcement, city-university relations, city improvement, neighborhood advocacy, and health and welfare, among others.

I listen to people when they speak, and ask questions when I don’t have the full picture. I make my own decisions only after adequate information gathering and deliberation, and encourage others to do the same. I read, research, investigate. I look for answers, both inside and outside the box. I try to make things work as well as they possibly can. And along the way, I respect the thoughts and input of others and expect that they will return the courtesy.

Dryden: I feel that my over 40 years of experience in working with the public, handling budgets and managing revenue will benefit me as a council member. I further believe that my common sense approach to problem solving will appeal to the voters. I am not a person that is going to lie to you and say that I know every answer to every issue that the City of Salisbury currently has or ever will have. I am willing to listen, work hard and keep an open mind if you choose to elect me to City Council. It is my hope that by electing someone who is not a “politician” we can begin a new era that brings integrity, respect and prosperity back to the city of Salisbury.

Dixon: I feel my age sets me apart from the other candidates running for Salisbury City Council. I believe my age allows me to have a different perspective and present a different point of view, while representing a different part of Salisbury.

Taylor: No response at this time.


In closing, I’d like to thank the seven candidates who participated in this question-and-answer session, and I’d like to thank you, the reader, for taking the time to be more informed. When I said 10,000 word post at the start I wasn’t kidding since the actual total is somewhere north of that.

We have critical choices to make on March 1, in order to weed two candidates out of the process, and April 5 to select the final three. I was made aware after a previous installment that the Chamber of Commerce forum is actually in two parts, so an updated forum list is here:

  • Friday, February 11, noon, Chamber of Commerce (144 E. Main Street) – 4 of 8 candidates are invited.
  • Friday, February 11, 6:30 p.m., Mallard Landing (1107 S. Schumaker Drive) – Laura Mitchell and Bruce Ford.
  • Wednesday, February 16, 6:30 p.m., Mallard Landing (1107 S. Schumaker Drive) – Terry Cohen and Tim Spies.
  • Friday, February 18, noon, Chamber of Commerce (144 E. Main Street) – remaining 4 of 8 candidates will be invited.
  • Wednesday, February 23, 7 p.m. at Brew River (502 W. Main Street) – the local Americans for Prosperity chapter is host, all 8 candidates are invited.
  • Thursday, February 24, 7 p.m. at the St. James AME Zion Church, 521 Mack Avenue – the NAACP invited all eight candidates.

Last night Muir Boda and Orville Dryden, Jr. participated in the first Mallard Landing session.

Questioning the Salisbury City Council candidates – part 3

If you’re new to the series, here are part 1 and part 2.

We pick up here with questions on development of jobs and of downtown Salisbury.

There’s no question that a standard answer for making a community more business-friendly is to eliminate red tape – we all know that. But a better question is what sort of incentives can we bring to the table to attract businesses and what sort of businesses do you feel would be the best fit for the city given its location and workforce?

Boda: First, it begins with attitude and how we approach the situation.  Approaching the business community and asking “What can we do to help?”. Retaining business is priority one in my opinion.

Creating a clear, concise formula when presenting extraction or impact fees for new businesses will provide a clear understanding of what is expected.  Instead of demanding it all up front, create a flexible payment plan that offers options on how and when fees need to be paid.

Identify where we want growth, create a plan with developers and members of our business community, and execute it.  The execution of our plans are key, because we have had many studies and plans over the years with very little execution.

Ford: First, we must create a community vision plan.  My “Together We Can Build a City” initiative aims to bring together stakeholders from across the city in a professionally, independently facilitated forum to identify a common direction for the city.  As an example, I have heard a lot of discussion about the untapped potential of the waterfront, but over the last 20 years, disorganized, piecemeal development of properties on the water has created stagnation for the city and those that have invested in those properties. 

A community vision could serve as an encouraging roadmap for businesses around which to create their business plans.  If a business owner knows, for example, that the city is going to concentrate its efforts in the waterfront area, he or she will have incentive to fall in line with the collective progress and develop a business that fits in with the others around it. 

Individual businesses will not and have not succeeded in the downtown area.  It will take a joint effort of multiple forces to create the synergy needed to develop and revitalize the center city area. 

As far as businesses throughout the rest of Salisbury, we must create a level playing field between county and city tax rates.  The City of Salisbury is a checkerboard territory with pockets of county property scattered throughout its boundaries.  Literally, neighboring businesses pay significantly different taxes.  This is counterproductive, discourages businesses from locating within city limits and deserves discussion.

Salisbury’s unemployment rate is actually lower than the national average right now, but our economic challenges are a product of national and international forces. As such, our job is to prepare for the larger economic recovery and capitalize on its arrival.

As far as what types of businesses are best for the city, I believe fundamentally that a healthy economy requires diversity.  We have learned the hard way what it means to rely on one or two keystone businesses.  When those businesses leave or close, the whole community stagnates.  I would like to see Salisbury seek a combination of large businesses that employ many people and smaller businesses that can respond quickly to change.

I would like to see Salisbury capitalize on the bookends of the community, namely Salisbury University and Peninsula Regional Medical Center, to create a regional economic hub centered around medical and technological industries, including green technologies.  I would like to see manufacturers relocate to Salisbury.  While high tech and green jobs do not directly address the blue collar workforce of Salisbury, those industries do support the related service industries that support them…hotels, retail, hospitality and service jobs. 

Mitchell: It is good practice to eliminate unnecessary barriers to attracting and securing new businesses in Salisbury, as you said. The City now has an Information Technology department that is working to restructure the City’s official website and move it to a new server. These steps should make the site more operational, and with the input of the business community I believe we can make it more user friendly. I would like to see a site where prospective businesses could find access to most everything they need to establish a business in Salisbury, from licensing requirements and applications to scheduling inspections to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy. The State of Maryland is also taking steps to improve access by restructuring the State website to allow more business startup transactions to be completed online.

As for the incentives, I like the program that Cambridge MainStreet conducted last fall. To attract new businesses to downtown, they held a contest to award the winners 2-3 months of rent free storefront downtown to allow them time to make a profit during the holidays. The hope is that those businesses will now have enough cash to operate through the leaner months until shopping (traditionally) rebounds in the spring. I will also refer back to the TIF, Enterprise Zone, and Invest Maryland Fund programs outlined in question four above. The State of Maryland is also taking steps to improve access by restructuring the State website to allow more business startup transactions to be completed online. These are by no means the only things we can do, but they are options we should carefully consider.

I feel that Salisbury can accommodate nearly any type of business. We need to entice businesses that can utilize the over 1,800 educated minds that Salisbury University graduates each year. Biotech, clean energy technology, green chemistry research firms, and pharmaceutical companies are some examples of high tech industries with well-paying jobs to which SU graduates could contribute. Manufacturing jobs are also important to employ both skilled (welders, electricians, etc.) and unskilled (assembly, maintenance, etc.) labor. The talents in this community are unlimited so we should not limit ourselves in the types of businesses we seek to utilize those talents.

Cohen: At a number of work sessions, I have raised these issues. We want to be careful with “incentives,” using them wisely and in a limited, targeted fashion. Otherwise, we end up with a mini-Chicago/Illinois version of a TIF nightmare (tax increment financing) and other fiscal problems.

Tailoring incentives to supportive locally born business in a fiscally responsible way would be one place to start. Rather than more giveaways, revolving loan funds and creative ways to help smaller businesses survive that crucial first one to three years of start-up or expansion should be considered, the latter already being the case with the reuse of the old Messick Ice Plant.

We can better attract businesses here by focusing on our assets and building our quality of life up. Businesses, while happy to take incentives or use them as a deciding point between two comparable locations, look for whether an area has a market for their product or service or a sustainable area for operations. Companies want to find locations with low crime, good schools, an educated labor force, housing availability and choices for their employees, and a community commitment to quality of life.

As I’ve noted before, among the types of businesses we should try to attract include those in the bio- and eco-research, product and service areas. With the natural assets of our region and demographics, companies in these fields should be attracted by those assets and would find a skilled labor force among our local college graduates, as well as offering a diverse set of jobs for those without higher educations. There are other “good fit” types of companies we can talk about, as well.

Spies: As we all know, well-paying jobs are necessary to our city’s growth and survival. One up and coming industry stands out in my mind as one that will remain vital and grow through upcoming decades and that would be an easy fit for Salisbury: the production of alternative energy source equipment, including, but not limited to solar panel and wind turbine technology.

Excellent and available manufacturing facilities lie within our city’s borders that can rapidly and easily be retooled to suit those industries’ needs. Attractive tax incentives are and can be can be at the forefront of the city’s encouragements to companies looking for an area with a moderate personal income levels, good transportation resources and a ready, well-educated and technologically experienced workforce.

Dryden: If it is decided that impact fees are necessary, then at a minimum, they should be set up in a way that would allow them to be staggered over time to avoid a business choosing a different town due to fees. We have the benefit of being at the intersection of two major highways so we will continue to experience retail growth in the future but we should continue to make every effort to attract manufacturing and technology employers to bring higher paying positions for our highly skilled workforce. In the end, changing our perception will be a good first step toward bringing in new business.

Dixon: Our City has gone from allowing new businesses to open with no fees or changes to demanding an outrageous amount for both. In order for the City to become more business-friendly, we need to take a more open and welcoming approach. The City needs to have a set and reasonable structure for all fees pertaining to all businesses. We need to regulate and revise those fees, consider short term moratoriums on certain fees and incentives (waivers) to bring businesses here. Many businesses do not start to turn a profit in their formative phases. I would like to implement a policy creating a reverse pyramid payment plan. Using this reverse pyramid scale allows the owner to know the amount due upfront, there by lowering the startup cost by paying a small payment in the early stages of the business. I also feel that by working in cooperation with the County Council, current businesses, prospective businesses, and area organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, we can work to streamline a variety of processes and duplication of services.

Taylor: No response at this time.

For decades, people have made grandiose plans to redevelop downtown Salisbury – closing the plaza blocks to vehicular traffic was one proposal which didn’t work so well. How would you propose to create a downtown area which is busy on a 24/7/365 basis and doesn’t roll up the sidewalks at 5 p.m.? And what steps can the city take to help private investors make the downtown a more active area?

Boda: Interestingly other Cities and Towns in our area have successfully revitalized their downtowns.  Cambridge and Berlin are two prime examples of success stories. Looking at what they did in specifics, is going to be key.  Mayor Gee Williams did a spectacular job of bringing in the business community and asking “What can we do to help you?”. I couldn’t agree more with his sentiment and their success, net loss of 9 businesses to a net gain of 16, sure says they did something right.

I do believe the mantra of beds and heads is only part of the plan. I believe we need to attract two to three anchors, national chains such as a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Pottery Barn, Borders Bookstore, to complement the unique local businesses that are must. Working out waivers on extraction fees for businesses that wish to come in to the downtown is a must and working out deals to keep businesses already there.

Another idea is to expand Third Fridays from once a month to eventually every weekend. Making Downtown a destination point and generating traffic is what will attract the attention of businesses that will provide jobs and services to our community. 

Ford: I basically answered this question with my answer to number 5, so to recap, I feel that step one is to identify a community vision, step two is to use that vision to create a synergy of effort in the areas surrounding the plaza, and step three is to foster the actual realization of the vision plan.  Vision plans tend to arrive amid excitement and then fade away because no one protects them from obscurity.  I personally love the architecture of the Plaza, but realistically it may not be large enough to support itself.  Developing the waterfront would bring new life and energy into the city center area. 

Mitchell: It should be noted that some of the current programs downtown are working, such as Third Friday, and these programs need to be continued. We should encourage expansion of these programs along with scheduling more arts and cultural events downtown. I also agree with Chief Duncan and State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello’s proposal of installing safety cameras and motion activated lighting throughout the downtown district in an effort to deter crime and increase safety.

Parking on the Plaza is an issue; however, there is plenty of parking on either side of the buildings that line the plaza. There are some concerns about passage through to the plaza (depending on where you park) that may be helped with cameras and lighting in the passageways that lack those amenities. I do not believe that our downtown can or should be a 24/7 hub at this point because of the number of residents that live above the storefronts on the plaza. However, I do feel that we should encourage existing and future businesses to extend their hours to 9:00 p.m. so that visitors can come down after work to eat, play, and shop downtown. Public/private partnerships have great potential to revitalize much of our city, including the downtown area. The program that MainStreet Cambridge used downtown is a great example in that the private owners of the storefronts could waive the rental fee for a few months and may get long term tenants in return. The public part came from MainStreet Cambridge marketing the contest, accepting, reviewing, and selecting the applicants’ business plans to select the winners. Similar partnerships exist in Salisbury and can be expanded if we bring interested parties together for civil discussions to determine when and where to collaborate.

Cohen: In the short term, “busy on a 24/7/365 basis” is not likely to be a realistic goal. One factor is, a large portion of Downtown real estate is taken up by governmental entities, such as the state court building and the health department. Downtown faces other logistical obstacles as well.

One place to start is with code compliance and property standards. Poor property maintenance was a problem even before the economic nosedive, which is detrimental to those owners, managers and businesses making serious efforts.

The Town Gown Committee of Salisbury University formed an ad hoc group to take a look at what the University might do to foster revitalization of Downtown. They are thinking in terms of “baby steps” at this point.

Such involvement and “baby steps” are a good thing, but let’s think something in between “baby steps” and “grandiose,” too. When just one new business comes in at a time, there is often not enough activity around it to help it hold on until another arrives. Looking for ways to create a cluster of activity at once will help businesses sustain.

This question begs a comment about Old Station 16, the sale of which has served to further divide people rather than build a community. This is a perfect opportunity for the people of Salisbury to work together to develop “a sense of place” and create a real “public-private partnership.”

Soliciting thoughts from a wide spectrum of people, I found there is a lot of support for using the old firehouse as an open market showcasing local food, quality crafts and the arts. Instead of a “pennies on the dollar” giveaway involving Program Open Space riverfront property that was not surplused nor advertised for sale, the city taxpayers can hold onto their valuable asset during a recession – one that has historical value and great meaning to many — while private enterprise is nurtured in a mini-Reading Terminal Market.

This would serve a diverse market base, from upscale professionals to low-to-mod income area residents, and harness thousands of people who work downtown in the government buildings and at the hospital as an economic engine. This city needs a project everyone can be part of and this certainly would afford that opportunity.

Spies: Arts and entertainment are high on my list as those business types that can generate sufficient interest to a customer base that has money to spend and time to spend it. I also believe that the customer bases we need to greatly develop are family and youth oriented. With the library close at hand and hundreds of children and parents visiting each day, we should take advantage of the opportunity with restaurants and activities attractive to them. With our zoo and city park just blocks away, out of town visitors can be encouraged with signage, brochures and incentives to visit downtown with their children and to extend their stay with fun and affordable lunch, dinner, additional entertainment (live and other types) and retail. The marketing possibilities could be enormous. A possible slogan: Salisbury – Make a Kid’s Day!

The youth-oriented concept would also dovetail nicely with Salisbury’s 2010 designation as an All-America City®, which addressed, among the city’s most pressing challenges, youth issues. This retooling of downtown’s image would be an investment not only in our financial future, but also in the future of our youth.

The city can offer its assistance through additional advertising, promotion and tax incentives. With the theme of downtown being youth-oriented, especially if educational aspects are included, grant funding from state, federal and private sources will be more available than for many other types of projects.

Dryden: To begin with, I would like to get feedback from the downtown businesses to find out their concerns and recommendations. I would suggest considering the reduction or possible removal of parking meters and more convenient, well lit parking for business patrons. I would continue to encourage current activities such as the “Third Friday” events.

Dixon: I feel that in order for the Downtown Plaza to be a successful area 24/7/365, we as a community need to establish a welcoming atmosphere which includes residents feeling safe and secure. Furthermore, in order for the Plaza to generate more business, I feel that we need to attract multiple types of businesses, such as entertainment, restaurants, shops, and a variety of offices. The City can help with this by supporting Chief Duncan and her plan for the “Safety and Security of Downtown.” The City could also look into placing more lights in the area as well as making the plaza more accessible. The citizens of Salisbury and the surrounding areas can also take a stake in this process by taking the time to explore what the Downtown Plaza has to offer and stepping up to the plate. Rehabilitation of the downtown is a complex and difficult issue and requires a concentrated community effort to make it happen.

Taylor: No response at this time.

The fourth and final part will be put up on Thursday night.