Todd Paris, Staff Writer and Salisbury Attorney
♦ For the first time City Hall made a stab of openly admitting the extent and depth of violent crime and gangs in Salisbury, N.C. Editor Steve Mensing’s unceasing fight to bring the reality home of how truly dangerous Salisbury is in all its communities for several years now is heroic. He let the citizens of Salisbury, NC know we suffered from mushrooming gang and drug problems. My own calls to replenish the failing Fibrant deficit deprived Salisbury Police Department appear to be at least being partly heard. We also recognize Carolyn Logan, Kenny Hardin, and other folks from neighborhoods who spoke out about the violence in their neighborhoods. (Click on Map Below to Enlarge)
The RFP’s continuous calls to unload Fibrant, which creates a $6,700.00 per day deficit from our general fund (that’s 2.4M per year) have after years of hammering away at the myths of turning the corner and magic math resulted in at least a vote to rid ourselves of it. It’s a pyrrhic victory for me due to my failure to win election to Salisbury City Council in 2015. I can only imagine how much further along we would be with these massive difficulties if David Post, Kenny Hardin and I were able to vote for appropriate cures two years ago.
Salisbury City Council voted earlier this year to send out Requests for Proposals for a private entity to lease or buy Fibrant in order to reduce or eliminate the deficit. A private consulting firm CTC Technology and Energy was hired to try do something with it.
This week at Council Retreat they announced narrowing an alleged list of three potential Fibrant suitors after meeting in closed session under a dubious claim of being an “economic development” exception to the NC open meeting laws. There are ten exceptions to the open meetings law available under N.C. Gen. Stat. 143-318.11. I can’t see where the “sale or lease of public property” is included. The term “economic development” only makes an appearance except in subparagraph (4) where is specifically says:
(4) To discuss matters relating to the location or expansion of industries or other businesses in the area served by the public body, including agreement on a tentative list of economic development incentives that may be offered by the public body in negotiations, or to discuss matters relating to military installation closure or realignment. Any action approving the signing of an economic development contract or commitment, or the action authorizing the payment of economic development expenditures, shall be taken in an open session.
Of course, all documents from this closed session are sealed and they have signed non disclosure agreements and such so we have no idea what, if anything is going on. My guess is the latter. “Secret squirrel” information from RFP’s vast network of informants is that not a single offer has been made. Hope springs eternal. Any “solution” that does not end the $2.4 Million dollar per year Fibrant deficit is no solution at all and should not be acceptable to council and the voting public.
Also announced with great fanfare was that Mayor Alexander directed the City Manager to find out what it would cost to give the Salisbury Police Department a 15% raise across the board. However, I have been advocating for a more substantial raise across the board at nearly every council meeting I have attended for months. It would aid a department that is 24% down and hopefully help somewhat with our abysmal officer retention history. It has to be coupled with getting Salisbury’s assistant city manager out of PD hiring, firing, and discipline and functioning as an appellate court for the Chief’s decisions.
This time the raise must be real and not bogus. I question whether 15% will be enough to obtain and retain officers in the violent circus Salisbury has become. A very modest January 2016 “raise” was more than offset by a July 2016 increase in health insurance premiums and this was brought to the attention of more than one council member. The city health insurance plan is self-managed which means they have some control over costs to their members. I certainly hope the city didn’t jack up the officer’s insurance costs last year to save enough money to fully or partially fund the “fake” raise. If not, then the city needs to do something to get a handle on the price of their self-insured health insurance (like get into a larger group), so that we can get close to being competitive with other nearby agencies. That would benefit all city employees.
After being stood up by Mayor Alexander a few months ago and being led into saying his troops and department had all the financial resources they needed, Chief Jerry Stokes finally stepped up this week asking for $624,250.00 for salary increases. All this was done after a fairly honest assessment of Salisbury’s crime and gang explosion replete with a side presentation, looking for all the world like it was culled from Rowan Free Press articles. Most amazing was that a gang map of Salisbury was included which you can see here. While not absolutely accurate, it is a fair approximation of the players and places involved. Citizens can now see which gang rules with an iron fist over their neighborhood. You need to know because the gangs may start coming around and demanding protection money, you will need to be able to ascertain if you are paying the right folks. (Editor’s note: We don’t know for a fact if they are not already making collections like more astute and money-centric gangs do in major metro areas. We do know the gangs will “smoke” snitches and rivals or fill their homes full of lead. Protection money is a proven gang “cash cow” elsewhere right up there with heroin, meth, and crack. They can “protect” not only homes, but businesses too. It’s like an insurance policy except when rival gangs start fighting over who gets the money and our citizens step into a crossfire.)
In conclusion, prodded like a huge lumbering beast, Salisbury City Council finally mooed, brayed, and slowly staggered maybe in be our direction. However, we’re not about to believe a city hall that uses “Magic Math”, claims turning the corner on Fibrant, says we don’t have gangs, and is known far and wide across North Carolina as the notorious “City of Make Believe,”. It’s hard to trust Mayor Karen Alexander, Maggie Blackwell and Brian Miller to actually spend the money and do the things necessary to fix the city’s incredible mess that by their own inaction over the past five years has created. Are any of their latest claims real or just more spin to get them past November? Hiding behind closed sessions, signing non-disclosure agreements, and claiming what should be public documents as privileged isn’t even remotely encouraging.
The Decoy Police Car at Dairy Queen
The area around Sonic on West Innes Street has become extremely violent with daylight shootings as of late. One old established business there reported a loss in sales of over 15% since the last high noon open gun battle that did not result in arrests. The only solution our beleaguered police department can come up with is to park an old squad car with heavily tinted windows at the popular Dairy Queen ice cream shop. According to the young lady at the Dairy Queen they come and move the car every few days. Hey that’s a great solution unless someone hot wires it and goes for a joy ride, shooting up the country club! Time to get real City Council and do the right thing. Unless of course you’re broke.
Salisbury’s Crime Graphs (Click on all Graphs to Enlarge):