VIDEO UPDATE: Salisbury begins a new leadership chapter as Day is sworn in

 

Salisbury’s renaissance was resoundingly displayed Monday night in a changing-of-the-guard ceremony that blossomed into a community celebration.

Mayor Jake Day and three new City Council members were sworn into office, and what might normally have been a routine enactment of city election procedures instead became a forum in which the community and its leaders heralded the city’s progress and declared further aspirations.

Some 200 people crowded into the city’s Station 16 Fire Department Headquarters for a 90-minute City Council session that only contained four real business items ─ chief among them Clerk of the Circuit Court Mark Bowen’s task of swearing in the mayor and five City Council members.

But the meeting was taken up by addresses made by various public officials, both state and local, who complimented each other, praised one another and took turns championing the city’s progress.

During the entire night, there wasn’t a single second of contention or animosity ─ or even a hint of bitterness or doubt ─ in any of the statements or interactions among either the incoming or outgoing officials.

Jim Ireton was impeccably gracious in handing over the reins of power.

“I’m turning the office over from strong hands to strong-strong hands,” Ireton said to his successor. The he told the crowd: “This is a leader who will unite us. This is a leader who understands there can’t be two Salisburys ─ there has to be one.”

Day, in return, lauded Ireton for accomplishing so much of what he set out to do when he first ran for mayor nearly a decade ago, including lowering the crime rate, cleaning up the Wicomico River and improving the city’s neighborhoods. “You kept all of your promises,” Day proclaimed.

Elected Nov. 3 without opposition, Day becomes the 28th mayor in Salisbury’s history. At age 33, he is one of the youngest of the 26 men and one woman to serve the city’s chief executive in a strong-mayor form of government. With the exception of time away for college and to serve in the military, he is a lifelong resident of the city.

Day, the man of the hour, was humble in his acceptance of the mayor’s post.

Taking the oath of office, Day stood ramrod-straight with his wife and newborn daughter at his side, his appreciation of military decorum on full display.

“We will give you a Salisbury you can be proud of,” he vowed, before outlining his promises from the campaign stump, including to restore pride and prosperity to Salisbury while continuing to lead its economic and reputational renaissance.

There was a Norman Rockwell-meets-2015 feel to Monday night’s proceedings: Held in the truck bay of the city’s sparkling fire headquarters, with seats lined up adjacent to the city’s massive red and black Fire Department ladder truck, the public turned out in surprisingly large numbers to see representative government engaged in transition.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot came down from Annapolis to give the keynote address, and the state’s chief tax collector heaped praise on everyone in the huge room.

“I’m a huge fan of Jake Day and his military service,” Franchot said. “I appreciate the way he conducts himself.”

“Tonight is truly a new chapter in Salisbury’s history,” Franchot said.

The comptroller, whose role in state government is to also closely monitor the regional economy, said that Salisbury is not only rebounding, but headed for better things.

“I get to look at the figures all day and I can tell you this is a city on the rise,” he said. “It will continue its role as a critical player in the economic engine of the Eastern Shore and the state of Maryland.”

Incoming and outgoing council members took turns speaking, with each of them cheering city government staff members and department heads, as well as thanking the voters and lauding their colleagues.

Tim Spies, an incumbent who was defeated by fellow incumbent Jack Heath, was gracious in complimenting Heath as well as his council colleagues.

Spies said that during his tenure, “the city turned to better things than it has in the past,” and the level of cooperation within the leadership ranks was a key.

In the crowd showing his support was Kevin Lindsay, who finished third in the District 3 contest.

Shanie Shields, defeated for re-election at the hands of April Jackson, promised to continue her involvement in city issues, but “from the public comment side” of the council meetings.

Jackson responded that she wanted Shields’ participation, and would work to serve District 1 residents as well as Shields had for more than a decade.

Later, a tearful Jackson recalled her late father, Billy Gene Jackson Sr., a beloved community leader who mentored hundreds of young people in the community.

“I wish my father could be here to celebrate this moment with me,” she said. “He was an important role model in my life, keeping me going in the right direction.”

Some of the more enthusiastic applause from the evening was directed at Muir Boda, who sought a council seat three previous times before winning.

Day saluted Boda’s tenacity and said his determination will only help serve with more ability. Boda, at one point exclaimed: “I’m finally here!”

City Council members unanimously elected Jack Heath to be their president; Laura Mitchell was again elected vice president.

Heath, a retired engineer and business executive, told the story of his entrance into politics, saying he used to attend rather dysfunctional council meetings, and then would go home to his wife and complain about the city group’s actions.

“She told me, ‘Why don’t you do something about it, instead of complaining?’ ” he said.

Heath wore some emotion on his sleeve at various times during the night ─ he reminded himself out loud at one point: “OK, breathe” ─ and promised that civility would continue within the council chambers and all sides would always receive a fair airing.

“We will remember when we vote that we represent your voice,” Heath told the crowd. “There will always be mutual respect and inclusion,” he told fellow council members.

 

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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