SALISBURY, Md.- It seems the bickering and conflict between Salisbury City Council members and city officials are getting worse. The latest example involved the council's decision to reject more than $1 million in federal grant money for 12 new Salisbury firefighters. This is not the first time the city's leaders have been at odds. Back in the 1990s, it was a very similar story.
In that case, the city turned to the services of Salisbury University to try and smooth things over. SU's Center for Conflict Resolution stepped in -- something former council members remember well.
Frank Himelright describes the first half of his four-year council term as conflict-free but said it all went downhill from there.
"It got so that it was just turmoil all the time," he explained.
Which is why, according to Himelright, the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce suggested the council seek the help of the Center for Conflict Resolution.
"[It was] because they could see that there was two factions here and we weren't getting along, and they figured conflict resolution would join the two together," Himelright said.
It is a different administration today but nearly an almost identical problem.
"At every given turn, I hit a stop sign and a brick wall with this City Council," explained Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton.
Ireton said he is frustrated with what he calls the "council of no," pointing to such items as the Downtown Revitalization Project, affordable housing on Church Street, the city contribution of $5,000 to the Salisbury Fourth of July fireworks and "Three Strikes" Neighborhood Legislation.
"My job is to be out there, finding out what our citizens want and need, get the available resources, get those partners together, find out what we're going to do for downtown, for affordable housing, for firefighters, for fireworks, and get the job done," Ireton said.
Councilman Tim Spies argues no one is trying to get in the way of getting that job done.
In a statement to WBOC, Spies said, "Elected as non-partisan stewards of the taxpayers' resources, council is tasked with ensuring that the legislation it enacts or approves has passed all of the tests that it must, so that the city will not find itself with more of the sort of financial difficulties that both it and the present administration inherited."
"It is more than unfortunate that council's decisions are politicized for whatever reasons, for that stands in the way of effective city government. As a body, we are not about politics. We are committed to getting the legislative job done right, first time and every time, for the benefit of our constituents and our city. It's what the voters put us here to do," Spies noted.
While Himelright said conflict resolution did not solve the problems of the 1990s, the team at SU is willing to step in if needed.
"In any arena, whether it's in a local municipality, whether it's elected officials, private citizens, business owners, landlord/tenant, something happened in the neighborhood, if folks wanted support having tough conversations, our services are always available," explained Michele Ennis, director of mediation and training for the Community Mediation Initiative at the Center for Conflict Resolution.
Yet the mayor is not convinced those services would work in this situation.
"I'm a trained community mediator and I can tell you that's about everybody coming up with the same answer they can get to, but nobody has to take a vote. This is politics," he said.
As for Monday night's vote on the firefighter grant, Council President Terry Cohen said the application was signed off to the federal government indicating it had been discussed and supported by the governing body when, in fact, that did not happen.
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