By a 4-1 vote, the Salisbury City Council changed the number of voting districts from two to five at their Monday meeting.
Only Councilman Tim Spies was opposed.
The plan now has to be approved by the U.S. District Court, according to City Council President Jake Day, and new districts must be in place by the November 2015 election.
Under the new plan, each of the five districts will have about 6,000 residents and in two of them, the population will be at least half African-American.
City leaders voted to have two districts two years ago. District 1, the Minority Majority District, has been represented by Councilwoman Shanie Shields. The other four council members have represented District 2.
Mayor Jim Ireton then proposed a five-district plan. Day and council members Shields and Laura Mitchell have been in favor, while Councilman Tim Spies and Councilwoman Terry Cohen were opposed.
Cohen resigned in early August and her seat was filled by Jack Heath, who voted with the majority, for five districts, at the Sept. 8 meeting. This week he said the new plan “allows better representation from each of the areas in city.”
“Our responsibility is to afford individuals the opportunity to be elected and represent their districts,” he said.
Day has said the new districts’ boundary adjustments would reflect demographics that changed since 1987, when the two-district plan was designed.
But Spies maintained two districts “makes it equitable for everybody” and said there are no restrictions for anyone who wants to vote, or run for office.”
“Breaking it up into pieces will allow the voters to be more easily manipulated,” he said this week, adding about 70 percent of Salisbury residents are renters, often transient and not particularly interested in city government.
“Diversity can be helpful but there’s a great opportunity for those who want to take over the vote to do it,” he said.
When any municipality redistricts, he said, it should be done with as little disruption as possible, and making five districts would be disruptive.
Shields said she is pleased with the vote and that it will “give people in the city an opportunity to run for office and vote for people in their district.’
Day called it “the right solution.”
Ireton issued a letter congratulating the City Council for adopting five districts.
“It has been four years since Planning and Zoning Director Jack Lenox, staff member Frank McKenzie and I began the process of creating a map that would allow election districts to accurately reflect Salisbury’s population. I believe this map will serve the city well over the next 15 years, and a 4-1 majority did as well,” Ireton wrote.
“The increasingly diverse city population of 34 percent African American, seven percent Latino and 3 percent Asian, changing our elections and election districts, was inevitable, he wrote.
He called Shields’ support “crucial” and characterized Day’s decision to put the matter on the Sept. 8 meeting agenda “a sign of brave leadership since three members of the City Council now live in one district.”
He lauded Heath for voting for the new plan, especially since he lives in the same district as Day and Spies, District 2.
“With the support of voting rights groups and civil rights watchdogs, Salisbury has brought itself into the present by supporting these election district changes. Though we don’t know who will run in each of the five, we must commit ourselves to reaching out into the districts to find citizens whose civic duty never crossed with politics before,” the mayor wrote.
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