Questioning the Salisbury City Council candidates – part 2

This time the questions will deal with crime – which to all candidates responding was their most important issue – and infrastructure.

Since this is the second part, I shouldn’t need any updates for late responses unless Michael Taylor decides to respond. In that case I’ll add him to both this part and part one I revealed Tuesday evening.

We all know crime is a major issue. Do you feel that Mayor Ireton’s ‘Safe Streets’ program, which addresses the issue from the standpoint of reforming zoning laws and strengthening code compliance, is a valid approach to the problem? Why or why not?

Boda: The root cause of crime is Education, Economic Opportunity and a need for a stronger role from our Faith Based Community to offer programs, volunteers and mentors.  These are the three pillars of creating a healthy and strong community, with a message that criminal behavior is unacceptable and not welcome here.  That message must be backed up with strong action and prosecution of major offenders to the fullest extent of the law.

As far as the Safe Streets Legislative package that has been presented, I do not believe more regulation is necessary.  We already regulate the relationships of individuals living in residences in certain areas of our city.  How much more regulation can we stand?  

The other part that concerns me is that someone who is accused must prove their innocence of code violations.  Specifically, on the Non-Conforming use issue, the government has thrown out all of the records from years past.  So you are “Guilty until proven innocent” and the government has thrown out all of the evidence, that sounds like a stacked deck to me.

Another concern with this legislation is forcing property owners to convert these old homes back into single family home.  This presents several problems.  First, where are all these people going to find affordable housing.  Second, the sheer cost of converting these homes back is a huge obstacle.  Third, if they unable to afford conversion, they will be unable to sell a home that  needs thousand of dollars of work done, required by the government.  Fourth, who will be able to afford to live in such a large home, specifically the electric bill and heating bill because many of these homes are not energy efficient.  

These are serious concerns that would need to be addressed before this legislation can move forward.  However, I do believe the council needs to at least bring it to their work sessions to discuss, after that is what they have been elected to do.

Ford: The social value of home ownership is well established through scholarly studies and research. Home ownership creates stable neighborhoods. Home owners have financial interest in their homes and the homes around them and are more likely to report crime and deter negative behavior in the occupants of their own homes as well as that of their neighbors. Homeownership correlates to lower levels of crime, teen pregnancy and social disorganization, and to higher educational achievement, property values and quality of life ratings.

While homeownership rates for minorities have increased over the past decade, they still lag far behind white homeownership rates. Some sociologists draw a connection between lower homeownership rates in African American and Hispanic communities and higher rates of crime victimization and illness in those populations. I feel strongly that any situation that keeps minorities from owning their own homes should be addressed. In my opinion, Salisbury has a dysfunctionally high rate of rentals to home ownership that is contributing to violent crime and blight.

This is NOT to say that I seek to displace renters or feel that renters are the cause of crime and blight. I, like most young adults, rented apartments myself for years. I do, however, feel that having large blocks of rentals in what should be or have been residential neighborhoods creates pockets of what sociologists call “social disorganization” which again lead to higher crime and lower quality of life.

As such, I believe that housing initiatives such as Mayor Ireton’s Safe Streets program are properly considered as crime fighting initiatives. The research is too strong to ignore and other communities that have addressed similar housing issues as Salisbury’s have reduced violent crime and social instability.

As far as Safe Streets itself, I believe it is an imperfect initiative that with mature and careful consideration can be made to address Salisbury’s specific crime and housing problems.

Mitchell: I have read the Safe Streets Legislation proposed by Mayor Ireton. While I do not think it is a perfect piece of legislation, I do believe it is a valid approach. Reforming zoning laws and strengthening code compliance is just one of the components of the legislation. I believe that landlords AND tenants need to be held responsible for the properties they rent. As Chief Duncan recently said during a work session relating to Safe Streets, there is a nexus between homes with code violations and crime; to take care of one issue will aid in the effort to reduce the other. The language used in the legislation requires clarification as to distinguish what landlords and tenants are responsible for in reference to code violations. We must consider the fairness of fining landlords for issues that are the responsibility of the tenants per their lease (i.e. cutting grass or visible trash cans). That does not relieve the landlords of accountability for the properties they own and the maintenance of those properties. Tenants are entitled to a decent standard of living; the proposed “Tenants Bill of Rights” is a good start to ensure that landlords comply with standard zoning laws. It must also be made abundantly clear that the city is not against renters, rather Salisbury embraces its rental community and the intent of this legislation is to implement safeguards to protect them.

We must also realize that property maintenance, while the most controversial section, is only one component of Safe Streets. Reducing other crime such as gang activity, drugs, and prostitution, is another important aspect of the legislation. Chief Duncan is already developing plans to break the two major gangs in Salisbury as well as deter students from joining gangs by starting early intervention programs in the elementary and junior high schools. Better programs for rehabilitation would also be implemented to prevent repeat offenders and help people return as successful members of our community. I believe this is an especially important issue and I am currently working on implementing a new program with a local non-profit to teach basic work place skills to such individuals.

I must note that I, like many others, struggle with the cost/benefit analysis of the Amortization Provision Eliminating Lawful Nonconforming Uses and I have considered whether an occupancy limit would be preferable. However, I do believe that the idea behind the Neighborhood Legislation part of the Safe Streets package is sound. According to the statistics, and the experts, there is a correlation between the condition of properties and proximal criminal activity. Abandoned homes, and those in disrepair, broadcast the message that no one is paying attention to the property. That can be seen as an invitation to criminals to conduct their illicit activities at such locations. There are issues with the legislation as it currently stands, but I feel that it can be an effective tool for law enforcement and code enforcement once those issues are resolved.

Cohen: At the January 27th work session where the package was discussed in part, I finally got to go on the official public record to some extent regarding these proposals. I encourage the public to listen to the audio, found on the website I share with Councilwoman Campbell,

First, let’s be sure that everyone understands that the Mayor’s proposals are not the same thing as the Safe Streets “Program,” which is a multi-faceted initiative and partnership with the state and allied agencies. His proposals do relate to the goals of the program and support the findings of the Crime Task Force, which has had a highly diverse and broad community and law enforcement representation. This is the reason I believe he introduced them under the Safe Streets banner.

There is value to be had in this package, but it does need work. There is a connection between poor housing practices, declined neighborhoods and crime. At the work session, Police Chief Barbara Duncan not only noted that correlation, but its relationship to putting law enforcement officers in harm’s way.

The Mayor’s goals are to abate crime, restore neighborhoods and recover costs from those whose properties use a disproportionate share of city services. I support those goals, but recognize that zoning law and behavioral law concerning nuisance and criminal behavior are separate from a legal application perspective.

I have often said that we need to stop “breaking” our children with neglect of their neighborhoods and sending them to school for teachers to “fix,” followed by expensive intervention programs when that task proves insurmountable. We have lost six months of valuable time while this package was used as a political football in a public relations war.

There are ways to pursue the related, but legally different goals, as I began to discuss in the work session, including a way to respect the property rights of both nonconforming property owners and conforming property owners. A council committed to both fighting crime and restoring neighborhoods can use this package as a good starting point for development of tools needed by both our law enforcement team and our neighborhoods.

Spies: Crime is a most serious issue in Salisbury.

Crime keeps away business and customers. Crime keeps away good jobs. Crime raises taxes, cuts profits and makes everything more expensive. Crime raises rents. Crime raises insurance rates. Crime degrades quality of life, destroys neighborhoods and makes livable places unlivable. It destroys families, it destroys lives, and it’s threatening to slowly destroy Salisbury. Prospective investors and companies ready to offer well-paying jobs shy away from Salisbury because of the problems that crime causes and will cause. Local real estate professionals adamantly affirm that crime ranks at the top of the list of reasons why potential buyers do not and will not buy in Salisbury, whether it be residential or business properties. No wonder: a national home sales research company recently rated Salisbury the worst of 79 Maryland cities and towns in violent crime.

The worst.

The Mayor’s Safe Streets Initiative

Mayor James Ireton presented to the city council this summer a seven point plan to decrease crime in our neighborhoods and across the city. It has come to be known as the Safe Streets Inititiative, while its official title is The 2010 Safe Streets Neighborhood Legislative Package. Each of its components have been proven to reduce violent crime in areas with populations, demographics and problems not unlike Salisbury’s. Many, if not all, are in keeping with the recommendations of the Mayor’s Crime Task Force, a large multi-disciplined committee commissioned over three years ago by Salisbury’s previous mayor. Together with the already extremely effective Maryland Safe Streets program, which has been in active operation in Salisbury for over five months, the components of the Mayor’s Safe Streets initiative can be useful tools to minimize crime and the impact that it has on our city and us all. They offer, through several avenues, the opportunity to go after crime where it lives. And no one that knows our city can deny that some of our residential neighborhoods are rife with crime and the criminals who commit them.

This is not to say that the package is perfect as presented by Mayor Ireton. Most supporters, including myself, have reservations about portions of the initiative and see that others need adjustment and clarification. And as was demonstrated in last week’s city council work session, this process may take a while. Just the opening discussion of only one of the items took nearly two hours before it was derailed by the council president and put to an as yet unspecified work session. How long the discussions will last once they resume and how many of the seven items of the package will be discussed under Council President Smith’s leadership is anyone’s guess, given her nearly five month refusal to bring them before even a work session. But now that they have been, more stakeholders are talking and more interest is being generated throughout the community: many want to know more, and many want to see the best of it work. The discussions should continue as soon as is possible; additional, extended work sessions seem to me to not be out of the question. Every day they are not is another day with new crimes that might have been avoided, another day of more victims, and another day of putting our sworn officers’ safety at unnecessary risk. The time to fix this to the best of our ability is now. Anything less is unconscionable.

Code Compliance

I believe that improved code compliance is a feature key to crime reduction. Poorly kept properties invite crime and make it easier for crimes to be committed. A residential building with grossly overgrown shrubbery, broken, dirty and uncovered easy access windows, poorly secured doors, dirty, decaying exteriors, and trash strewn in an unkempt yard with no sign of effort from those who live there to improve those conditions have a well-proven and undeniable negative effect on nearby properties and neighborhoods. They invite criminals because they look like no one cares. They invite criminals because they look like easy targets. And where there’s one easy target, there are very often many.

With crime comes additional neighborhood destabilization, as more and more properties become derelicts and eyesores. Homeowners sell just to get away, but not to those looking for a nice place to live and raise a family. All too often, criminals move in. And the trend, if unregulated and unabated, continues until that neighborhood, and all that a neighborhood should be, is gone. And once it’s gone, it’s very, very hard to get back.

The importance of code compliance was brought home in the statement by our new police chief at last week’s council work session when she firmly addressed Council President Smith: “Madam, I would ask that you take heed of the small things.”

I wholeheartedly agree.

Dryden: I believe that Mr. Ireton is trying to make progress on a very important issue. I do, however, have concerns over the potential for success of the legislation as written. It seems to have divided the citizens and in turn lost its main focus of reducing crime.

Dixon: While I applaud the Mayor for making an effort to address crime, I do not feel his “Safe Streets” Legislative Package is the correct approach because we do not know the financial implications and loss of housing this legislation will have on the City. The legislation in its current form will also duplicate ordinances we already have on the books. It may be more beneficial to the City to enforce and update the current ordinances prior to attempting this package. I believe a different approach is needed. I would support legislation to provide the police department with the resources they need to accomplish their goals. We need to work with the businesses we currently have in the area, while attracting new businesses to Salisbury. Finally, I believe community involvement will deter crime. However, I will say I believe that Maryland “Safe Streets” program has been a move in the right direction in creating interoperability between agencies. The proposed Safe Street Package is very different from those implemented in other jurisdictions.

Taylor: No response at this time.

In the last 24 hours, heavy rain has created a sinkhole along Business Route 13. Other streets are falling apart as well because maintenance has been deferred. Since the “growth pays for growth” approach doesn’t seem to work when you have a lack of growth, how do you propose we pay for needed infrastructure repairs, or is there a different sort of solution you have in mind?

Boda: Infrastructure is a major issue that is often overlooked. We have in our city infrastructure that dates back 50,60,70 years. Salisbury needs to ensure that infrastructure needs are a priority, specifically savings in “rainy day fund” to take care of emergencies. Prioritizing projects (which is being done when referring to our CIP) by categorizing which ones affect health and safety the most and ensuring projects are accomplished without adding to the City’s debt load.

What many do not realize is that Business Route 13 falls under the jurisdiction of the State Highway Administration, not the City of Salisbury.

Ford: First, I would create a prioritized list of infrastructure concerns, with the highest priority being those that affect public safety, such as bridges, electrical safety, lighting, traffic control, etc. With limited funds, we must first address the most critical needs and as funds become more available we can address more cosmetic needs.

Your question of course leads to a discussion of impact fees, or the amount of money that the City charges new businesses when they are applying for permits to cover the cost of water, sewer and road modifications to accept the new business. The idea is that the city has bills to pay, and that a new business should pay its fair share of the costs of the infrastructure from which it will run its business and from which its customers will arrive.

The problem is that in Salisbury right now, impact fees are high and this is creating the impression that Salisbury is not friendly to business.

Impact fees are calculated using a formula set by state authorities and that formula must be applied to all business applicants equally. We cannot pick and choose who must pay impact fees and who does not.

However, this does NOT mean that we cannot reduce impact fees. Any time you have a formula, you have variables that get plugged into the formula. In Salisbury’s case, the reason impact fees are so high is because our variables are high…in particular the high cost of our waste water treatment facility. If we succeed in reducing the variables that go into the formula then the resultant impact fee will also be reduced. We must seek remedies from those responsible for the mistakes that led to the high costs of the waste water treatment plant to reduce the amount the City owes on that project. It will reduce impact fees to new businesses, leading to growth, leading to more revenue for other infrastructure projects.

Also worth discussion is annexing county property into the city. Obviously this is a huge discussion that must reflect the feelings of both communities, but it does seem inherently unfair for city residents and businesses to pay for the infrastructure that their neighbors enjoy but do not pay for. I would strongly suggest using the “Together We Can Build A City” community vision process to discuss this highly charged issue.

Increased territory through annexation means great potential for growth. The City can expand its options for new businesses and assuming the waste water treatment plant could handle the growth, annexation would create additional revenue for the city.

Mitchell: That particular sink hole was on a State owned road, however, it could just as easily happen on a City owned street. As I mentioned earlier, I believe that we must be proactive in bringing new business to Salisbury in such a way that growth does pay for growth and helps to revitalize our infrastructure at the same time. I have detailed three methods that could help jump start that growth on my website on the “Make it Your Business” page. Those are the strategic use of Enterprise Zones, proper use of the Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) program, and possibly the use of the Invest Maryland program. If approved by the Maryland Legislature, the Invest Maryland program would provide seed money for start-up business and funds to help established businesses expand and possibly relocate. Each program requires considerable explanation that would take up considerable space here, so I will refer interested parties to my website at for those details. I do note that there have been unsuccessful uses of TIFs in Salisbury in the past; however, they can and have worked very well in other jurisdictions and could work here if done properly.

Cohen: Salisbury joins virtually every other municipality and government in grappling with this issue, compounded by previous decisions that added to the unsustainability of the infrastructure. There are no easy solutions, especially when there are multiple contributing factors.

First, we need to assess the size of our “infrastructure deficit,” and to our Public Works Department’s credit, this process has been under way, especially in the last couple of years. Second, we need to consider various revenue generation proposals and weigh carefully both their ability to help and their varying degrees of pain. Third, we need to think strategically about how we can “unburden” the existing infrastructure to help it last longer, which is possible in a number of ways.

Finally, we need to set some realistic expectations with our citizens that there will be trade-offs in dealing with this staggering issue. Involving them in the process will help toward that end.

Spies: Answered the question as part of Question 1.

Dryden: To answer the question Rt. 13 is a State highway. However, the question brings up a good point. Growth pays for growth doesn’t work when there is no growth. Salisbury has become known as a tough place to do business which results in a lack of growth. Even in this economy, businesses are still opening. They just aren’t opening here! This is partly due to the high cost of opening and operating a business in Salisbury (ie. excessive impact fees, slow approval processes, and a general anti-business climate). We must change that mentality in order to have the necessary growth to increase our taxable base to allow us to maintain our infrastructure.

Dixon: As everyone knows, the economy is down, but keeping up with infrastructure is vital to the City. The City needs to continue to review its budget, cutting unnecessary expenses, postponing projects that are not vital at this time, and streamlining processes. If grants are available I see no problem with attempting to secure the grants to prevent putting a larger burden on our citizens or business owners. It goes without saying that every major city in the country is facing similar problems with aging infrastructure and a lack of funds to address it.

Taylor: No answer at this time.

Look for part 3 to appear next Tuesday evening. In the meantime, I’ve found out there will be another City Council candidates’ forum on Thursday, February 18 at high noon at the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce building (144 E. Main Street.) That brings the list I’m aware of to three:

  • February 18: Chamber of Commerce (details above), 12 p.m.
  • February 23: Americans for Prosperity (Brew River, 502 W. Main Street), 7 p.m.
  • February 24: NAACP (St. James AME Zion Church, 521 Mack Avenue), 7 p.m.

Questioning the Salisbury City Council candidates – part 1

This evening I kick off a four-part series where I ask the eight people seeking to become members of Salisbury City Council questions on what I feel are some of the top issues facing the city – a city where, as of last month, I became a resident.

All eight candidates had the same questions provided to them via the e-mail address they gave to the City Clerk upon filing. I have decided to list the answers in the order they were returned back to me – since Muir Boda and Bruce Ford were the first to respond their answers are listed first. If I haven’t received a response by press time this will say so; however, I’ll go back and add late responses retroactively to allow a candidate to set the record straight.

Because there’s a lot of candidates in the race, I decided to make this a four-part series where I ask two questions at a time – otherwise I may have a 10,000 word post and that’s way too long. I didn’t give the candidates a word limit on responses so they could answer as completely as they felt they needed to.

As I alluded to above, Muir Boda was first to the post, followed by Bruce Ford. The remainder are revealed in the order of reception, with seven of the eight represented – Michael Taylor has not responded as of this writing. Responses are edited as needed for formatting only.

Note: Joel Dixon got his answers to me shortly after I finished this early Tuesday evening. As promised, his responses are added to this post and will be sequential in future chapters. Tim Spies also sent in his answer to question 2 after the deadline for publication. Good thing this isn’t the print media!

Part one will deal with the first two questions I asked, beginning with this one.

1. If you were to prioritize the issues you’d like to address as a member of City Council from the group listed below, in what order would you place them (rank these 1 through 6):

  • Cleanup of the Wicomico River
  • Crime
  • Infrastructure
  • Job Creation
  • Revitalizing Downtown Salisbury
  • Taxation


1. Crime.
2. Job Creation.
3. Taxation/Regulation.
4. Infrastructure.
5. Revitalizing Downtown.
6. Cleanup of the Wicomico River


1. Crime – Salisbury is in a crisis regarding crime.  Any other meaningful initiatives require us to reduce violent crime in the city first.   

2. Job Creation – Once law enforcement agencies chase crime out of the city, which they will do, we MUST fill the void with hope.  Not only do law abiding citizens deserve stable, well-paying jobs, jobs also allow the city to divert our at-risk populations from criminal activity towards employment and self-sustainability.

3. Taxation – Being careful stewards of the citizens’ tax money means both 1) reducing expenses wherever possible and spending wisely and 2) increasing tax revenues by attracting businesses and homeowners to the city. 

4. Infrastructure – Modern business needs modern infrastructure.  In my opinion taxation and infrastructure are closely related.  I see infrastructure as an investment in business and quality of life in our neighborhoods, both of which mean increased tax revenue and decreased expenditures for upkeep of our municipal systems.

5. Revitalizing Downtown Salisbury – Revitalizing Salisbury as a place to raise a family will ultimately require revitalizing the Plaza and downtown Salisbury.  I feel strongly that Salisbury is squandering its most unique and vital asset, it’s waterfront.  One of the reasons I am promoting the “Together We Can Build A City” initiative is to develop large city-wide momentum behind expansive multi-year projects like developing the city’s waterfront and tying it into the Plaza and the City Park.  There is too much value and potential in our waterfront to leave it ignored.  With that said, the prior four priorities must logically be addressed first to create the framework upon which to develop the waterfront and downtown.  

6. Cleanup of the Wicomico River – I value our environment and feel we should be good gatekeepers for the Wicomico River Watershed and the Chesapeake Bay.  In terms of cleaning up the river itself, this requires multi-jurisdictional efforts with municipal, county, state and federal efforts.  It can be done with vision and planning.

Mitchell: This is a little challenging because it is a lot like asking which of your children you love most. Nonetheless, I have ranked the items in the order I believe they should be addressed because of their interconnectedness and logical progression, rather than their relative importance. The rationale behind my “ranking” is as follows. We will have a difficult time bringing new businesses to Salisbury if we do not control our crime. Beyond that, I believe we have to be assertive in finding businesses that are willing to relocate to Salisbury. Even if they are not looking to relocate, they may be willing to do so if we create the right business environment and living conditions for the families of their employees. We already have a fantastic location and wonderful amenities here and in the surrounding area. Salisbury is a great place to be, but we have to market the city in such a way as to draw more businesses to Salisbury that will create those well-paying jobs. Bringing new business to Salisbury, which could help to infill the downtown business district if planned well, will help to improve our infrastructure. That will, in turn, attract more businesses. It is a concept known as “leapfrog” development. With increased revenue from the increased growth, we can minimize the need for additional taxes to pay for operating and capital expenditures. The increased income could help pay for special projects like cleaning up the Wicomico River, a move that has the potential to attract still more growth and tourism.

  1. Crime
  2. Job Creation
  3. Revitalizing Downtown Salisbury
  4. Infrastructure
  5. Taxation
  6. Cleanup of the Wicomico River


1. Crime
2. Job Creation
3. Taxation
4. Infrastructure
5. Cleanup of the Wicomico River
6. Revitalizing Downtown Salisbury

While I have other issues I believe are priorities as well, I chose the order of this specific group for the following reasons (in brief):

Number 1, Crime, affects lives at the deepest level (including those of our police officers), impacts the daily life of our citizens and inhibits our businesses from realizing their greatest potential. It discourages economic development, degrades quality of life and sucks our treasury dry for its abatement. It is a huge factor in being successful in achieving Number 2, Job Creation. Companies don’t want to locate in crime-riddled areas. Some say jobs reduce crime, and there is truth to that, but with the level at which Salisbury experiences crime, it needs to be reduced and removed as an obstacle to job creation. Number 3, Taxation, is somewhat vague as a topic, but I think of it as a focus on fiscal responsibility, an initiative for which I am already known in my actions on council. It also encompasses fairness for city taxpayers, revenue generation and wise use of resources.

Without a focus on these first three, it will be an even greater struggle to make progress on the next three. Whenever we work on an issue, let’s work smarter and not harder by accomplishing more than one goal at a time. I will be discussing all six of these in greater detail over the course of the campaign and on my website.


1 – Crime
2 – Infrastructure
3 – Job Creation
4 – Taxation
5 – Revitalizing Downtown Salisbury
6 – Cleanup of the Wicomico River

1 – Crime

This is the issue upon which so many others depend.

While crime occurs throughout our city, a disproportionate share of our public services and tax dollars are diverted to areas and properties that have chronic crime problems. Ironically, many of those properties pay some of the lowest residential taxes. Those who shoulder a greater property tax burden, whether they be home or business owner, could be seen as actually subsidizing chronic problem properties with their tax dollars. Without a decrease in the crime that plagues us, more crime related services will be necessary, taxes will rise in reflection and everyone will pay more, including renters, as rents will increase to offset the landlords’ new property tax obligations.

I will speak more about crime in coming weeks. In the meantime, I invite you to go to my website,, to read more about how I feel about it.

2 – Infrastructure

To look at it one way, our city’s infrastructure is what keeps us healthy (water and sewer), safer (streetlights) and mobile (streets). With each is the cost of operation, maintenance, replacement, repair and expansion of services.

We are fortunate that our water quality is excellent. While our water pressure is currently adequate, additional demand will require attention in the form of at least one additional water tower. The remainder of the water delivery system, primarily the underground mains, is old and frequently in need of repair. Much of it should be replaced, hopefully in concert with the large number of streets that are in need of resurfacing.  Water and sewer funds are separate from the general fund, to which most taxes and fees are sent.  We must find additonal funding from whatever source to enable us to complete the upgrades of our mains.

Highway User Funds, the money generated by motorist fees that comes to us through the state, were slashed by $450 million in 2009 to suit budgetary shortfalls. And in 2010, we saw a reduction of between 75 and 90% of municipalities’ funding all across Maryland, again to offset deficits. In response to this loss of working funds, funds on which we rely to care for our roadways, city government in late 2010 created and passed Resolution 1977, urging state administration to include in its annual budget full funding of highway user revenues for municipalities. We, along with many other Maryland cities and towns, await a definitive response from the state. Until then, as difficult as it may be, it looks as though we will have to continue to work with our limited resources while we strive to find more funding sources.

Streetlights are now in the process of being repaired and upgraded by both the city and Delmarva Power.  If you have an non-operating streetlight on your street, get the number from the pole and report it to Delmarva Power or public works

I will later discuss the wastewater treatment plant. 

3 – Job Creation is difficult when crime frightens employers away and unnecessarily stresses those already here. With economic times as difficult as they are, employers look for sites that offer minimum risk to ensure that their overhead remains the lowest it can be. We must use every tool at our disposal to reduce crime to sane levels, and continually look for, find and adapt new crime fighting strategies to fit our needs.

Meanwhile, we must otherwise become and remain prepared to suit new employers in other aspects: a population of job-ready candidates, educated and trained by our secondary schools and three nearby colleges, ensuring that those educational facilities and programs are attractive to employers in their own right; present a healthy infrastructure that will support the needs of industry; offer modest tax incentives to attract start-up companies and those wishing to expand their already existing businesses; investigate pay-as-you go possibilities for those requiring infrastructure additions and changes; maintain our city’s eye appeal so that a drive through is attractive rather than repellant; aggressively search for and be open to new ideas from all sources, in and outside of the box, and; encourage local businessmen with financial resources to stimulate interest and create new retail and service jobs with the understanding that their wealth depends on the health of our city and that they, as long-term stakeholders, may have a particular obligation to assist their city during troubled times, troubled times that will certainly pass more quickly with their help.

I am particularly encouraged by and use as an example the recent negotiations between the city and the Knorr brothers of Southern Boy Concepts, the gentlemen who operate a wildly successful brewery in Delmar and several popular restaurants in and nearby the city. By thinking outside of the box, an agreement was reached with Salisbury government that will not only bring new jobs to Salisbury, but an increased city tax revenue stream, a new, attractive destination for those who spend money here, and change a highly visible property from a potentially blighted one to one that speaks of thoughtful entrepreneurship and will to succeed even when the negatives seem to outweigh the positives. The creation of this craft brewery and attached restaurant in a high traffic area can serve as a positive model of successful partnership and understanding between business and government. I hope that others will follow suit and present ideas that are as original and that can take as full advantage of existing infrastructure and opportunity as this one has.

4 – Taxation

In a nutshell, here’s how I feel about taxation:

– Reel in foolish spending and we’ll have fewer obligations for which to tax;

– Spend on important things first, like our infrastructure and public safety;

– Borrow only when necessary and only in amounts that will be necessary to meet our needs and improve our revenue base. Leave extravagance at the doorstep.

5 – Revitalizing Downtown Salisbury

The bringing to life of our downtown is an issue that has many puzzled, and, frankly, I’m one of them. We’ve had lots of plans, but they don’t seem to spur the will of sufficient numbers of those movers and shakers who have the financial ability to carry them out. Why is that?

On the bright side, I am pleased to hear that a very successful local and regional business is considering opening a themed restaurant in the Downtown Plaza’s City Center. If it is all that it can be and creates a solid and expanding clientele base, it can act as a much-needed anchor for downtown, drawing more foot traffic and the strong and possibilities of more commerce.

While there have been improvements in the downtown scene in regards to activities, retail and community response, I would like to see more, and not just on Third Friday. We have a retail, arts and entertainment, residential and business corridor at our fingertips, ready to fill with people who seek something different. Bring on the ideas. Bring on the enthusiasm. Bring on the money.

6 – Cleanup of the Wicomico River

Ranked last of six not because it is unimportant, but because progress is being made and is high on the Mayor’s priority list to continue. With the recent removal of several sunken abandoned barges from the North Branch, it’s evident that the Mayor is keeping his promise of a clean Wicomico inside of ten years. I trust that his efforts will continue.

Stabilization of the river and tributary banks with native grasses and trees began as part of the Living Shoreline program in 2008. These plantings add erosion control and a biological filtration buffer, capturing multi-source contaminant runoff before it reaches the river. River water quality is affected by many factors, including the tidal nature of the river itself, surface stormwater runoff, upstream and downstream agricultural, industrial and residential chemical use, illegal and improper drainage and the discharge from our troubled wastewater treatment plant. All are currently being addressed.

I will keep close tabs on the Mayor’s continued efforts, and will pay close attention to recommendations of environmental experts and advocates. Should improvement efforts falter, I will be there to support their resumption at a level that befits our community’s desire to see the Wicomico healthy.


  1. Crime-is my number one concern for the city of Salisbury.  I would like to work closely with the Chief of Police, the State’s Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement to confront this issue head on.
  2. Job Creation- if we can become known as a place that is a forward thinking, streamlined, and business friendly city, the end result will be a higher standard of living for our residents.
  3. Infrastructure- given the current budget restraints, It is going to be necessary to focus our resources on the most basic needs over the next few years while planning for the future.
  4. Revitalizing Downtown Salisbury- another issue that will only come to pass by inclusionary policies like inviting our local business people and residents to come to the table with a vision and creative ideas to bring back a local treasure.
  5. Wicomico River Clean-up – having grown up on a farm I have a great respect for the environment and realize that living on the Eastern shore is a gift and the Wicomico River deserves to be taken care of.
  6. Taxation – this is on the bottom of my list because new taxes are not a priority.  Low taxes are a priority.


1. Crime
2. Job Creation
3. Infrastructure
4. Revitalizing Downtown Salisbury
5. Cleanup of the Wicomico River
6. Taxation

Taylor: No response at this time.

2. The wastewater treatment plant renovation has, simply put, been an unmitigated disaster for the City of Salisbury. How can City Council do a better job of oversight on this and other large-scale capital projects?

Boda: This is certainly a very sore subject.  Simply put the City trusted the engineer and approved the project on good faith.  It was most certainly a difficult decision and the decision was also based on regulations that were in place at that time.  

We now have several things going against us. The upgrade has not performed as we were told it would. Second, the State of Maryland changed the law after after completion of the project and are demanding we be in compliance. We need to be tapping the resource of our elected representatives in Annapolis to help lobby on our behalf in either changes to the law or a special exemption due to our circumstances.

As far as large scale projects in the future, we need to make sure we have all the information before us with a variety of options. We need to make sure that everything is in compliance and wee need to know if there are any changes in the law or regulations looming in the near future.

Ford: The cardinal sin of making mistakes is to make the same mistake twice.  To avoid the mistakes made with the WWTP, projects of any significant size and scope must be monitored by multiple sources of oversight.  The cost of the WWTP has shackled the city for years if not decades and left many disturbing questions in its wake.

In the judiciary, judges recuse themselves when there is an appearance of impropriety even if they know in their hearts they can be impartial.  This is to protect the integrity of the judiciary as a whole against the impression that it makes decisions based on factors other than the law. 

Large projects must begin with a competitive proposal and bidding process, period.  We must have experts review the proposals, then testify before the mayor and council to teach us how to make informed decisions on the material we are reviewing.  A $40 million waste water treatment plant is an incredibly complicated and technical undertaking.  We as citizen representatives must acknowledge our own limitations.  The monumental cost of mistakes at this level more than justifies the cost of these oversight procedures.

City Council members in my mind are very much like judges.  Our job, especially on projects like the WWTP, is to hear testimony and gather information from multiple sources and make informed decisions in the best interest of those we represent.  If we do not accept input from all sides, we are doomed to make bad decisions. 

Oversight mechanisms likely already exist for major projects in the city…competitive bids, audits, expert reviews, public input and so on.  Those systems failed here because elected officials made poor, uninformed decisions.  The ultimate oversight is the vote.  Exercise it.

Mitchell: I would like to see, and have begun making investigatory contacts toward creating, a volunteer Citizen Review Panel to review and provide input on significant projects involving taxpayer funds. This panel would consist of professionals including, but not limited to, engineers, architects, accountants, realtors, developers, environmentalists, bankers, geographic information system (GIS) experts, information technology (IT) consultants, etc. While this panel would have no authority to accept or reject projects, their recommendations would be highly valued by the Council. Of course, alternates would be required because no person or company could consult on a project with which they are otherwise involved. The panel would meet as needed to review project proposals from an independent, professional standpoint to alert the City of potential problems or shortcomings in the plans. In the case of the WWTP, such a review panel would likely have caught sight of some of the red flags and design flaws and been in a position to alert City officials to the potential problems before the contract was even signed, certainly before the plant was built.

Cohen: Oversight is an important component of a council member’s job, despite accusations of “micro-managing.” As elected representatives, council members are accountable directly to the public for their decisions, unlike the staff. The mantra of “trust the staff” does a disservice to both elected officials and appointed or hired staff. Through well-defined policy and oversight, staff is empowered to do its job better, with clear direction. Good communication from the administration can help council create the framework for better risk management.

We have had some forward movement in this area, but not enough. The WWTP taught the City the importance of evaluating liability clauses in contracts to ensure better protection of the citizens’ interest. Thanks to a conversation I had with a gentleman in the construction trade, I urged that performance bonds more consistently be included in the City’s contracts. The City must be a fair, but firm, negotiator with vendors. I’ll continue to pursue and encourage improvements in our contractual processes.

Spies: Looking back, the wastewater treatment renovation served us a lesson that we’ll live with for decades.

Looking forward, we need to keep those lessons in mind through each step of the process, including the adequate vetting of new technology and, certainly, minimizing our financial risk should there be a performance problem after the fact. I believe that what one pays for, one should get, and that those contractually providing a product or service should be held to standards that sufficiently protect the public dollar and the public at large.

Dryden: Spending tax payers hard earned money is difficult under any circumstances but certainly something of this magnitude merits much time, research, and effort.   Perhaps with future large scale projects the City of Salisbury may need to establish a new system of checks and balances with a specific plan for obtaining the proper advice necessary to make informed decisions.

Dixon: The City Council, as well as the Mayor’s Office, can do a better job of oversight on large-scale capital projects by doing their homework on the project. That includes researching the company, looking at projects completed by cities comparable to Salisbury, and more carefully reviewing contracts prior to awarding bids. There should be no contract clauses limiting the vendor’s liability. After the project starts the company working on the project, as well as the department involved, needs to be held accountable to see it through to successful completion.

Taylor: No response at this time.

Three old hands, one newcomer dominate Salisbury Council poll

While this is far from a scientific poll and it was possible to stack the deck, the best-known names tended to dominate my first Salisbury City Council survey. Here are the results:

  1. Tim Spies – 48 votes (19.28%)
  2. Orville Dryden, Jr. – 47 votes (18.88%)
  3. Muir Boda – 46 votes (18.47%)
  4. Terry Cohen – 46 votes (18.47%)
  5. Joel Dixon – 24 votes (9.64%)
  6. Bruce Ford – 17 votes (6.83%)
  7. Michael Taylor – 11 votes (4.42%)
  8. Laura Mitchell – 10 votes (4.02%)

Among the finishers, I wasn’t surprised to see the incumbent and previous candidates finishing in the top tier. But Dryden’s support was surprising and if he can parlay that into actual votes he’ll easily advance through the primary.

In the bottom half, Dixon and Ford did a little better than Taylor and Mitchell yet lagged far behind the top four. That’s a trend which tends to occur in Salisbury races – while six advance, the winners have generally come from the top four. It’s tough for the #5 and #6 finishers to leap over two or three others to win, although it could conceivably occur in a close race. If this poll reflects the actual results, though, I would peg the contest as one of four people seeking three spots.

I’ll probably do another survey in the latter half of February – in the meantime I’m awaiting answers to my questions from a number of candidates. So far only Muir Boda and Bruce Ford have replied, so the other six better get cracking! How about reminding them, readers?

Filing deadline looms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cohen to file for Salisbury post

It’s not a particular surprise, but today the first of a possible three candidates to run for re-election to Salisbury City Council will file her papers.

Citing the “special significance” of the date (it was the date of her father’s 2006 passing), Cohen spoke about her roots in the city but concluded with a forward-looking statement:

Even with the problems and challenges it faces today, Salisbury still has incredible potential – the kind worth the long, late hours and dedication I’ve given it for nearly four years.  It’s a labor of love – I do it for my children, for families of all kinds and sizes, for the hard workers like my parents were, for the wise seniors they grew to be, for the young adults yearning to discover their own opportunities.

I can’t think of a better day to renew my commitment to making Salisbury the best it can and should be than the birthday of my father, who in partnership with my mother, moved our family from a big city halfway across the country to a relatively small but growing town and achieved a richness in quality of life that everyone should be blessed to have.

Cohen becomes the first incumbent to join the field which now includes challengers Muir Boda, Joel Dixon, Laura Mitchell, and Tim Spies. Her campaign website will again be and it will become active later this week.

In other candidate news, fellow candidate Laura Mitchell holds a candidate meet-and-greet tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at Flavors Restaurant on Main Street downtown.

The filing deadline for prospective candidates is January 18th. Assuming more than six candidates file for the election, the primary will be March 1st.