Suffolk’s mayor should be elected

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Hello to one and all.

As the newest community columnist for the Suffolk News-Herald, I look forward to providing commentary that will both inform you and invoke some interest in the issues that are around and about our community.

I will be providing a weekly column that I hope amuses and delights you, but more importantly engage you in the processes of our city government, the positions of our community leaders, and the issues that are the substance of what many of you describe as the &uot;Quality of Life&uot; in the fine City of Suffolk.

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There are a wide array of issues to describe and discuss, from the issues of growth and development to the issues that seem to always swirl around our city government.

I intend to focus on the issues that directly occur within and affect the City of Suffolk and all of the citizens that live within our 400 plus square miles

The first issue I would like to describe to you deals with the situation we will soon see play out, concerning how our next mayor will be chosen.

I have heard many citizens describe their preference for change in this process.

Presently, the city council members choose our mayor behind the closed doors of City Hall.

I support efforts to change this process for many reasons and I will state the most important ones.

The most compelling reason that this issue is of great importance is that with a strong city manager, who has a very active agenda, it is imperative that we have a strong Mayor to counter-balance such policies and practices.

In addition, we need an elected Mayor that is directly accountable to the citizens every four years.

The present methods that the citizens have access to the system, are much too burdensome and just do not work very well.

Some do not want change in the status-quo and say that we already have access and accountability, but it is only so for the well connected. As our city grows and I can assure one and all that we will grow by leaps and bounds, this issue will become more painfully apparent.

The council-manager form of government only works well, when the citizens have the ability to access their top leaders in a timely and effective manner.

The second reason that the issue is ripe for change, is that it takes time to effect such a change smoothly.

With the growth we are seeing in our city, especially in the north end of the city in the Nansamond and Sleepy-Hole Boroughs, we will most likely see the need for another round of boundary changes.

When the 2010 census is done, it appears that these two boroughs will have to be adjusted due to population growth, to persevere the &uot;one-person-one-vote&uot; principal.

Perhaps the best way to handle this upcoming change is to split these two boroughs into three, with some limited changes in the boundaries of the remaining five boroughs to create a total of eight boroughs and eight council-people.

Then the ninth member of council would be our directly elected mayor.

With such a plan, our community could transition to a new system for electing our mayor in an orderly manner and the make-up of our existing political boroughs will be preserved.

With such a progressive plan to move forward, we retain our local borough representatives that make-up the character of our system, yet correct a practice that has outlived its uses.

We should move strongly forward to a more representative Republic, with our Mayor directly accountable to those he represents.

We also get a stronger Mayor with a mandate from the people to balance and sift some of the more unacceptable projects and policies pushed by our City Manager.

Since we are not a Democracy, where we all vote on each issue, but rather are a Republic where we depend upon those who represent us, we need to insure we have a say in how things happens.

If this vital issue is not dealt with soon, the benefits of our Republic will continue to be severely diminished.

As the present council-members jockey for political position behind closed doors to convince only three other citizens (three other council-members), to vote for them as Mayor, it highlights why we need change.

We must commit ourselves to start the process now to change this archaic system.

It will take the next five years to properly transition to a new and significantly better method to choose our Mayor, by direct election.

To make this happen, get involved and let your council-member know how you think and how you are represented.

Roger Leonard is a Suffolk businessman. He can be reached at