The following is the resignation address given by Salisbury Mayor Jake day on Tuesday, Jan. 17. – Editor
Good evening, Salisbury.
I want to start by saying thank you to all of you who came here tonight and all who have supported me through parts of this process: Lilly, Olivia, Jo, Eva, Owen, Mom, Dad, Jessie, Justin, Brooke, my nephews, friends, co-workers and colleagues.
At 10 o’clock this morning, Gov.-elect Wes Moore announced that he had selected me to serve as the next Secretary of Housing and Community Development for the state of Maryland.
My Governor asked – and I said yes.
Of course, this means that I must step down from what was my lifelong aspiration – to be Mayor of my hometown. To make it better than I found it. To help it shine. And so, today, I announce my resignation as Mayor effective Jan. 27.
As I shared with the Council in my letter notifying them of my resignation, I find no joy in leaving the job that I feel I was born to do. I will forever think of myself as once your Mayor, and I think I will forever long to be your Mayor again.
It was 10 years ago that I asked the people of this city to trust me as their representative and as a leader capable of improving the lives and conditions of all who call Salisbury home. We have come a long way, I believe, and marched remarkably closer to the place we envisioned a decade ago.
The list of accomplishments that I am proud of is long. We changed the way government worked and how government communicated. We navigated changes in media – the post-blog world. We navigated changes in demographics – a minority majority city. We even navigated 3 record floods, a tornado, and an earthquake. We navigated changes in American justice and policing. We navigated the worst pandemic the world has known in a century. And, like the professional jugglers that we are, we navigated a combat deployment to East Africa on top of it all.
I am so proud of many achievements that have largely been forgotten – because of the big changes we made. But I’ll always take pride in eliminating the old parking meters, refurbishing the Lemmon Hill standpipe, establishing our customer-friendly phone line, providing officers with outer carrier vests, and adorning the Mayor’s Office with local art. There are hundreds more, and I’m proud that we left no stone unturned.
In thinking about how far we have come since 2013, it is hard not to start with the physical changes. We rebuilt the Riverwalk and the entirety of Main Street – from its 100-year-old pipes to brand new street lights, benches, and brick. We brought life back to forgotten spaces, including a Labyrinth, Dog Park, Games Park, and our beloved Riverwalk Amphitheater. Investors saw fit to construct nearly $650 million in new housing, shopping, businesses, and industry in our city, capping off our boom with the rise of Salisbury’s tallest two buildings: The Ross, further closing the gap between our community and our university. We built a new fire station, the Riverside Circle, hundreds of new signs with unique and beautiful branding, and protected bike infrastructure that has no doubt saved lives. Most notably, we built the Newton Community Center and Truitt Community Center, fulfilling our first promise: to create safe spaces for young people in neighborhoods most in need.
We also built a wastewater treatment plant unrivaled in the Chesapeake Bay watershed for its performance – turning around decades of misfortune and mistreatment of the Wicomico River. We adopted and implemented a stormwater utility and recently banned single-use plastic bags, cementing our commitment to protecting our limited and sensitive water resources.
We restructured government to better and more efficiently serve the people of Salisbury, creating a Deputy city Administrator position, consolidating all permitting into a One Stop Shop, and shifting around teams to align our structure to the needs of our citizens. This process created new departments including: Arts, Business & Culture, Housing & Community Development, Field Operations, Water Works, Procurement, and Infrastructure & Development. The Department Heads have collectively met every other week to coordinate, synchronize efforts, and report according to the ResultSBY metric system for the past 8 years. Team building has not been limited to leadership alone. Throughout my tenure, I have worked hard to build a sense of esprit de corps and unity that did not previously exist. All city vehicles and uniforms share the same branding today. Since 2015, our staff has met all together in large All Staff meetings to celebrate one another, discuss policies, and have open Q&A about city employee issues/concerns. We have also resurrected the annual Holiday Party, created a Baseball game, established a retirement gift program, a Mayor’s Awards program, and an Employee of the Month/Year acknowledgement. Perhaps more notably, we are finishing our 10th year of the Predictable Pay Plan, whereby every city employee receives a raise annually. And just this year, I asked the city Council to amend our Charter to extend collective bargaining rights to our employees. Not only did they do so unanimously, they have also begun the process of adopting the Labor Code which will enable us to sign contracts with our employees this year.
I am proud that our care for our employees did not come with the introduction of pain on our residents. I have proposed no tax increases during my tenure as Mayor, and we continue to expertly manage our limited resources. For six consecutive years we have won the Government Finance Officers Association Budget award, and for six consecutive years we have achieved a perfect — or “no note” — audit.
The city government wasn’t the only entity faring well financially. Home values skyrocketed more than 50 percent in our city as demand to live here rises. We became the #1 destination for Washington and Baltimore residents to move to. Our population growth continued unabated, as did our job growth. Household income rose more than 25 percent in the city in the last decade – and our Gross Metropolitan Product exploded, rising to over $25 billion per year, and passing its previous peak at one of the fastest rates of any cities post-pandemic.
While we can ascribe that success to much – one thing we can forever be proud of is that we started at our center. We never let the heart of our city down and we have never reaped more benefits as a collective because of that. In the last ten years we opened a Visitor Center, saw vacancy in Downtown buildings drop to zero, and watched our lifetime average of two- to three restaurants in Downtown spike to 22 restaurants, bars, and bakeries, with more on the way. We sold or awarded almost every surface parking lot to make way for future growth, recognizing that a sustainable, vibrant downtown depends not on parking, but on people being a part of that district – 24 hours per day. The largest – and tallest – of our leaps forward is symbolized by the 400 students and nearly 200 feet of tower that rises above Downtown in the form of The Ross. These students represent our future – and will have a short walk to the beautiful Entrepreneurship Center, Art Galleries and other University assets that are now permanently anchored in Downtown.
As wonderful as those permanent investments are, we all knew they would take time. I could not be more proud of the investments we made in our culture – those short-term, high-payoff events that allow us to occupy our city streets and celebrate together. From New Year’s Eve to 3rd Friday, RiverFest to the Haitian Festival, Pride Day to Juneteenth, Treat Street to the Christmas Parade, Friday Night Live to Jay Copeland’s homecoming, we sang, danced, and enjoyed one another in the heart of our city, allowing it to beat again. No event exemplifies this change – or our wholesale change – more than the National Folk Festival. It’s four years here, and its legacy successor – the Maryland Folk Festival – will be known as the moment where we came into our own, and where the pride of our city manifested in a giant celebration in the heart of Salisbury.
I am immensely proud of the way we polished ourselves over these years – whether with our return to twice-monthly street sweeping, our 24-hour pothole patching policy, our citywide signage, our rebranding, investment in marketing, or new web domain and web site. All of these efforts have changed how we are viewed and given us an opportunity to present our best face while working on the deeper challenges. But we have readily taken those challenges on. When faced with rising 911 calls and stresses on our Emergency Room and Emergency Medical Service, we launched one of the state’s first mobile integrated healthcare programs – SWIFT. SWIFT has helped keep people out of the hospital and out of the ambulance. It has led to longer lives and healthier people. After a decade of record violent crime, our Chief and our Police department hammered out a slow and steady decline that has become one of America’s best success stories in crime reduction – with a more than 50 percent decline in Part One crime from 2013 to today. The Salisbury Police Department has navigated the delivery of mental health co-response services, saw the addition of 10 additional police officer positions, replacement of all weapons, shift to SUVs, shift to outer carrier vests, expansion of less-lethal weapons, and implementation of body cameras for all officers. They did all this while navigating a wholesale change in America’s trust relationship with policing, Maryland’s complete rewriting of the criminal justice system, many trying moments including the loss of our dear friend Aaron “Bull” Hudson. And they did it proudly.
In the closing days of my time at the helm of the city, we recognized that we were in the midst of a worsening housing crisis. We met the crisis head on by creating the groundbreaking Here Is Home legislation. This effort to make more houses available for more people at a scale beyond anything that our city has ever seen – built upon the housing work we had already committed to. Remember that we built the city’s Housing and Community Development Department from the ground up. And we led the nation as America’s smallest city to adopt Housing First and to commit to permanently house the chronically homeless.
As I did 10 years ago, today I ask for you to have faith – that we will be better than fine in the days and years to come. We will continue to rise to our potential. No words or aspersions can drag down the best of us. We will continue to ascend, and we will do it without fear, apprehension, apology, and without slowing down.
We will also do it without me carrying the torch.
I relinquish it not because I no longer believe. My passion for this city will never be quieted. The flame, believe me, lives on in my heart. And no title, no job, no change will extinguish it.
But in order to move forward, I must hand the torch that was lit 10 years ago – or perhaps long before that – over to someone who can be trusted to breathe oxygen unto the flames.
There is no doubt that the man to carry the torch as I step away, is Jack Heath.
There is no person better briefed, more knowledgeable, or more prepared to preside over the operations of the city. He has been a CEO in the business world, a CEO in the nonprofit world, a tireless advocate for those with disabilities, an engaged neighborhood representative, a volunteer firefighter, and your city Council President for the last 8 years.
For those who don’t remember, in January of 2013, he and I simultaneously began our course in Salisbury politics – as opponents. Jack and I each saw the dysfunction in city government, the behavior and rhetoric, as antithetical to all we know Salisbury could be and government should be. Jack often says that we finished each other’s sentences during that campaign season. I think it just means he was a great teacher and I was an OK student.
It was not my – nor his – immediate objective to beat one another, rather it was our objective to eliminate petty and distracting discord from Salisbury politics. While that remains an objective that ought to be front and center in politics nationwide – it’s one I hope that remains steadfast in this community.
My charge now is to you, the people of Salisbury: stand behind and alongside Mayor Heath, President Muir Boda, Vice President April Jackson, and the City Council as they continue to lead the city forward.
And know this: as I rise to serve in Gov. Moore’s cabinet, I also step into the ranks of resident. I won’t be leaving you, Salisbury. I will still pay my taxes here, fill my gas tank and my belly here, raise my children here, and have my heart here. You will still see me in the grocery store and running off what I purchase on city streets.
Jake Day is the 28th Mayor of Salisbury. His resignation is effective Friday, when he will be succeeded by Jack Heath.