Archived Story

Renewing lost faith

Published 9:24pm Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Only in a meeting at which City Council members surreptitiously voted to increase the city manager’s pay and benefits could their callous treatment of the Nansemond Indian Tribe have been anything but the lead story the following day.

The decision by Suffolk City Council to give Selena Cuffee-Glenn a 14-percent pay increase — retroactive to Dec. 1 and coincidental to an improved benefits package that includes free health insurance and unlimited accrual of leave time — was necessarily and understandably, for most council watchers, the most surprising and frustrating thing to happen during last Wednesday’s meeting. It’s the action that has received nearly all the public’s attention during the ensuing week.

But for those who have been involved in working with the city to secure a plot of land where the Nansemond Indian Tribal Association could build a replica 17th-century Indian town, there was far more distressing news to come out of that meeting. Council issued an ultimatum to the tribe concerning the project: Sign the development agreement as it is written by June 30 or the offer will be rescinded.

More than two years ago, City Council announced with great fanfare that it would be transferring property at Lone Star Lakes Park to the tribe for the Nansemonds to use for Mattanock Town — a cultural, historical and tourist center that would celebrate the life and influence of the Nansemond Indian tribe. It was the culmination of years of negotiations, and there was widespread excitement over the possibility of work soon beginning on the site.

Not long after the announcement, however, things stalled. The city prepared a written agreement for members of the tribe to sign, sent that proposed agreement to the tribe and then waited. The tribe, however, was soon advised by its own lawyers that various stipulations within the proposed agreement would call into question the true ownership of the property and ultimately jeopardize funding for the project.

The city claims the agreement is substantially unchanged from 2010, but the tribe says it didn’t get a chance to see the agreement before it was approved by City Council that year. City officials also say the agreement’s so-called “reverter clauses,” which would allow Suffolk to regain possession of the property if certain development conditions were not met, have also been part of proposed deals for the old Obici Hospital site and the Fairgrounds development. Significantly, the Obici site remains undeveloped, and the Fairgrounds development currently has only three homes.

Though council’s insistence on a quick resolution to the Mattanock issue leaves room for doubt about its desire to really work with the tribe, one suggestion during Wednesday’s meeting makes enough sense that one wonders why it hasn’t already taken place: A meeting between city officials, including the mayor, and tribal leaders, including the chief, could go a long way toward removing doubts on either side about the other side’s intentions.

For both city and tribe officials, such a meeting would be a very good place to begin attempting to renew lost faith.

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