SALISBURY – The petition effort in Salisbury has taken off without a hitch as Councilwoman Laura Mitchell and volunteers collect signatures to put a stop to a charter amendment passed earlier this month.
When The Dispatch caught up with Mitchell on Wednesday afternoon, she was out and about collecting signatures for the petition to referendum challenging a charter change.
“What I have in my hand is about 600 [signatures],” she said.
Earlier this month, the council voted 5-2 to amend the city’s charter, placing access to legal counsel directly under the council’s authority instead of the mayor’s, where it traditionally has resided. Mitchell, along with Councilwoman Eugenie Shields, voted against the amendment.
Mitchell is concerned that putting legal counsel under the control of the council could represent a conflict of interest and might place the city attorney in a tough spot if legal opinion is offered in disagreement with a council proposal. She is also concerned over the “haste” in which the charter change was done. She believes the public wasn’t given enough time to provide input on the matter.
In order to establish a referendum and place the charter change as an item for public vote on the next election ballot, Mitchell will need to collect signatures from 20 percent of Salisbury’s registered voters. With 11,552 registered as of the last election, Mitchell needs to find roughly 2,300 residents willing to push for a referendum. With only 1,099 voters, or less than 10 percent, turning out for last spring’s election, that’s no easy task. Despite the difficulty, Mitchell is confident she’ll make the mark by Nov. 19, which is the cutoff date for a referendum.
Mitchell said volunteers have also taken the petition drive to the streets of the city, walking their own neighborhoods collecting signatures. The petition is available to be printed out on her website, lauramitchell.org.
Local businesses have also become hosts to the petition providing a stable station for supporters to come in and sign, such as The Deli, Deli 111, DiCarlo Digital Copy Center, Robinson Family of Businesses and Weisner Real Estate, Inc.
A petition station will be set up in front of Giant Foods every Saturday and Sunday until Nov. 19 for shoppers to be educated on the charter change and given the opportunity to sign.
Mitchell added that this Saturday, Oct. 29, at 10 a.m. anyone interested in gathering signatures on the petition is asked to meet at the Salisbury City Park Bandstand. From there, participants will disburse into the neighborhoods in search of citizens who want a voice on the proposed charter amendment.
“They do not need to be city voters to try to get signatures,” she said. “You only have to be a city voter to sign it. This is one of those issues that kind of offend the sensibilities of government operations to the point that most people are sufficiently awakened enough to become involved.”
Mitchell has had few people choose not to sign the petition, and those who refused at first returned in support after some investigation. She is pleased by the overwhelmingly positive response she has received in support of the petition.
“We are successful in that we are getting a reaction and a lot of support,” she said. “The measure of success will be if we get the needed number of signatures in the allotted amount of time.”
Mitchell believes petition efforts are right on track and is optimistic she will meet the minimum number of required signatures for referendum, but if not at least enough signatures to the point where people have taken notice.
“There are enough people that disagree with the way that this was done … and there are enough of them to change the outcome of any election,” she said. “I don’t mean for that to sound like a threat but I want people to realize that their vote matters and they need to pay attention to what is going on.”
Mitchell reminded that her efforts are in means to ensure transparency of government.
“Government process is supposed to be of the people, by the people, for the people,” Mitchell said. “If you want to get involved and be a part of making sure that you take control of the governing body that is making the rules that you have to live by, then you should get involved.”