SALISBURY — Mayor Jim Ireton made it clear Monday that, though the City Council may want to work with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) while revising election districts, he had “no interest” in negotiating with the group.
“The American Civil Liberties Union is a special interest group. They should be in touch with the courts after you finish your map and a vote is taken,” said Ireton. “I have no interest in negotiations with them. I negotiate with you and the citizens of this town. As I have said before, this is a local issue, with a local solution that will be sent to the courts. As a city, we then can work with the presiding judge on a solution; citizens, elected officials, judges … not special interest groups.”
Ireton’s stark refusal seemed to blindside the council, which has been working over the last few weeks to meet with the Maryland branch of the ACLU to discuss Salisbury’s upcoming election re-districting. Earlier this month, the ACLU sent a letter offering three possible election maps and suggestions on how to make sure that districts are revised to be fair to minorities. Ireton had submitted three of his own maps, none of which received the ACLU’s support.
Following the letter, the council agreed to extend an invitation to the ACLU to receive input. Otherwise, the city expected the matter, which will end up in front of a judge regardless, to become legally messy.
City Attorney Mark Tilghman told the council Monday that ACLU representatives are willing to meet as early as next week, but would like to do so on “neutral ground”. When Tilghman asked that a member of the city administration accompany him to the meeting, however, Ireton refused.
“I’m not going to negotiate with a special interest group,” he said.
Council President Terry Cohen attempted to re-define exactly what an ACLU meeting would be.
“I think a better word than ‘negotiation’ is ‘conversation,’” she said.
But Ireton stood his ground, saying that the ACLU would be “lobbying” on behalf of its interests, not Salisbury’s. He pushed for the council to make its own decisions on maps and if the ACLU still took issue with that, it could take it up in court. However, Cohen pointed out the whole point of meeting with the ACLU would be to head off possible lawsuits through cooperation.
Eventually, Ireton at least agreed to speak to Tilghman about the situation further, though he never promised to lend administrative support to the endeavor.