Council’s retreat

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 11, 2002

The Suffolk City Council, during its controversial overnight retreat at the exclusive Tides Inn in Irvington, emerged from marathon sessions Thursday night and Friday with five goals for the next year. They include:

Making education in Suffolk Public Schools &uot;second to none;&uot;

Expanding the city’s economy by bringing more jobs and creating a diversity of businesses;

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Building confidence in local government;

Continuing the revitalization of downtown Suffolk; and

Managing growth and enhancing lifestyle for residents.

Lyle Sumek, the Florida-based facilitator who led the retreat, actually began his work last Wednesday when he came to Suffolk and met with each council member. During the confidential interviews, Sumek said, he gathered information that showed him the direction and views of the individual council members.

Sumek then compiled all that information into a single document given to all of the council members Thursday night.

During more than 10 hours of meetings Friday, Sumek helped council narrow the list of compiled individual aims into what ultimately became council’s goals for the city. He then helped council members discuss ways to accomplish these objectives.

For example, at the advice of Councilman Calvin Jones, former school board chairman, the council determined that the best way to reach the city’s quality education goal would be to support academic objectives already in place by the School Board.

Jones also recommended increased dialogue between the two boards and the need for funding support to reach the division’s objectives.

Although council members voiced unanimous support for continued downtown revitalization, several indicated that boundaries for downtown need to be expanded beyond North Main Street.

Councilman Bobby Ralph said he believes the greater downtown also encompasses East Washington and West Washington streets, Constant’s Wharf, and surrounding neighborhoods.

Council members also committed to recruiting unique retail shops and restaurants into the downtown area and to strengthening downtown’s contribution to the local economy.

Council also vowed to work on upgrading housing in the city’s older neighborhoods, both by improving the quality of rental properties and trying to make housing more attractive and affordable to homebuyers.

After two years of frequent dissension, council members created a 15-rule code of conduct for themselves. The policy calls for treating each other with respect, being professional, focusing on issues rather than individuals, and acting in the best interest of the city.

Additionally, council also agreed to institute a measure requiring public speakers to address the entire council rather than individuals and calls for speakers to only discuss city issues. Speakers would not be permitted to voice personal attacks on council members.

Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson did not support the measures aimed at people who make late appearances at council meetings, saying she believed in their right to free speech.

Sumek also suggested that the council consider hosting a community summit where council members sit down and talk about city’s issues with a small group of people.

&uot;They are a good way to learn and involve the community,&uot; Sumek said.