City Council seems headed for clash on districts plans

The city is weighing whether, and how, to redraw it's council districts.

The city is weighing whether, and how, to redraw it’s council districts.

The Salisbury City Council’s pending decision to either retain two voting districts or change to five won’t impact the 2015 election and isn’t as important as downtown revitalization.

That’s how Council President Jake Day feels, especially since this week he’s been at the Smart Growth America Local Leaders’ Conference in Washington, D.C.

With him were officials from Cincinnati, New York and San Diego, all discussing the best methods to build and maintain towns and cities.

“Downtown revitalization is so important to Salisbury. Really, redistricting only matters politically and I am not interested in playing politics,” Day said.

But Councilwoman Terry Cohen this week said City Council should vote on redistricting as soon as possible, so as not to jeopardize next year’s election.

Day countered it isn’t at all in jeopardy.

It’s true the city is required to send its final proposed plan to the U.S. District Court, but none of the proceedings could hurt the election, he said.

“We have a plan in place,” he said, explaining that, two years ago, the City Council voted to have two districts.

The mayor has since proposed a five-district plan, and the council will vote on which to adopt, but there is plenty of time.

Day and two council members – Shanie Shields and Laura Mitchell — favor going to five districts and two – Tim Spies and Terry Cohen – want only two. They would have boundary adjustments made to reflect demographics that have changed since 1987, when today’s districts were first designed.

Like Day, Spies said there is no hurry to decide. “Our pants are not on fire for this thing,” he said this week.

He believes two districts “makes it equitable for everybody” and said there are no restrictions for anyone who wants to vote, or run for office. When any municipality redistricts, he said, it should be done with as little disruption as possible, and making five districts would be disruptive.

District 1, the Minority Majority District, is represented by Shields. The other four council members represent District 2.

Shields said five districts would take the city “in the right direction.”

“To be well represented, five districts would be the ideal answer to the concerns of our residents who live in different parts of the city.

“People who live in the north might be concerned about the growth and the traffic and people who live near the park might have their concerns. We have a young man who was found dead at the park this week, so there might concern there about safety. This would give people from every district their own council member to talk to,” she said.

“Five districts would help with fairness of Salisbury. It would be more personal between the residents and the representatives,” Shields said.

Day and Mitchell have said a five-district system would better represent the entire city.

Cohen said she extensively and open-mindedly studied redistricting and concluded five districts aren’t necessary and, in fact, could be detrimental. For example, if the representative for a district is unresponsive, “who do you turn to?” she asked.

Going to five districts would be expensive, confusing and divisive, she said, adding she has not heard a compelling reason to make the change.

“People don’t vote based on geography,” she said. “They vote based on the issues.”

 Contact Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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