At Tuesday evening’s final candidate forum before next Tuesday’s Salisbury city elections, there were few surprises; but there were a few. The biggest surprise was that the sponsors of the forum – the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce and SU’s Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement (PACE) – through their chosen moderator, Chamber ED Ernie Colburn, gave up all pretense of being honest brokers in this process. For starters, it became abundantly clear that SOME of the candidates had been provided the questions in advance of yesterday’s forum. Candidates were also permitted rebuttals on a SELECTIVE basis.
The first question posed by Colburn was to council candidates about creating a business-friendly environment for the city. After District 1 incumbent Shanie Shields read her answer from a prepared script, a stammering Colburn interjected that “No candidate had been provided the questions in advance”. District 2 challenger Jake Day also seemed to have his answers well prepared in advance. However, he was not as obvious as Shields.
After the first embarrassment, Colburn followed up by attempting to sandbag mayoral candidate Joe Albero. Colburn stated that Albero had called for the closing of the Salisbury Zoo. Albero was at ease when he corrected Colburn, “I’ve never said or written such a thing. My wife worked at the zoo and she would kill me if I ever said such a thing.” Albero has been a critic of the zoo in the past and has called on the zoo to be more financially self-sufficient. Our research was unable to find any instance where Albero called for the zoo to be closed.
TAG TEAMING CANDIDATES
One new approach in this debate was a “tag team” approach taken by Day and incumbent mayor Jim Ireton. Ireton never referred to Albero. In a weak attempt to tie Albero and Campbell together, he would say “my TWO opponent”, while pointing to both Albero and Campbell. Day attacked Albero directly by claiming that NO ONE has called for 500 affordable housing units to be built on existing downtown parking lots. Ireton’s downtown plan does call for 500 housing units. Speaking on the matter over the past two years he has called for some or all of those units to be “affordable” housing. Even while trying to call Albero out, Day equivocated; saying “I think” and “I’m pretty sure”.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH TRANSPARENCY?
When asked about the proposed business disclosure ordinance, all of the candidates except for Campbell and Albero expressed disapproval. Day’s response was the most interesting – if you had followed him on this issue during the campaign. At the first PACE forum he stated that this (business disclosure) was “unprecedented” and that no municipality in Maryland did this. As the public became aware that Day’s statement was untrue (the city of Frederick, Wicomico County, the state of Maryland, and others already have similar measures) he now tries to paint this measure as too broad and that the limits should be higher (Maryland only requires disclosure if you do $100,000 or more in business with the state). While Albero did not endorse the proposed legislation, he did state that “As an investor in this city, I don’t have a big problem in it”.
IRETON DEFENDS LOCKOUT, ALLIES PILE ON CAMPBELL
While Albero commented on the disclosure ordinance, he added that it was Ireton’s proposed “lockout ordinance” which people should be really concerned about. When asked directly about this proposal, every candidate except Ireton opposed the ordinance.
Ireton went on the offensive claiming that Albero was in favor of the Liquor Licensing Commissioner having the same power, but it was somehow different if the city had the same power. Albero correctly pointed out that the Liquor Licensing Commissioners already had the authority to suspend or revoke liquor licenses. Ireton’s proposal allows the city to shutter a business if they receive two police calls in a two year period.
While this proposal came from the administration, Day and Shields accused Campbell of “playing politics” with the ordinance.
WHEN IS $110,000 MORE THAN $87 MILLION
One interesting note was Day’s insistence that the current city attorney is costing the city more than his predecessor. This is true, although it is difficult to compare legal services from one year to another.
Campbell asked for rebuttal time (which had been given to everyone else during the forum, both before and after Campbell’s request). Colburn denied her request. When asked after the forum what she had wanted to say, Campbell pointed out that the former city attorney (who Day implies did a better job) cost the city $87 million by approving contracts on the failed waste water treatment plant while greatly limiting the liability of the contractors involved. Result – Salisbury rate payers will see their water and sewer rates skyrocket in the future because they are paying for the same plant TWICE.
CITY FOR SALE?
As stated in the lead, there were few surprises. Jim Ireton, to his credit, defended his record without flip-flopping. Ireton did continue to point fingers and argue that any problems with the city were the fault of council because “he doesn’t get a vote”. Mayoral challenger Joe Albero continued to call for a more business-friendly city that can improve its quality of life by helping to foster the creation of new jobs and expanding the city’s tax base.
The District 1 candidates all continued on the same paths they have advocated throughout the campaign. District 2 challenger Jake Day continued to call for subsidized residential development and a downtown-only focus on economic development.
The big surprise came from the usually mild District 2 incumbent Debbie Campbell. On the day of forum, a second mailing from a national real estate PAC hit voters mailboxes calling for them to vote for Jake Day. Holding up both mailings, Campbell asked why a national PAC would be interested in a city council race in a town the size of Salisbury.