Council weighs electing mayor

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 3, 2004

Residents will soon have a chance to tell city lawmakers how they think the city’s mayor should be selected.

On Friday, the final day of its planning retreat in Williamsburg, the Suffolk City Council committed to holding several community meetings to gauge citizen interest in the direct election of mayor.

Meetings will be held throughout the community over the next few weeks.

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Currently, council members elect the mayor from among themselves every two years.

The issue has been a hot topic among some citizens in recent years, particularly during the council’s public comment sessions.

Although a task force was appointed to study the issue in 2000, no action ever came of its findings.

Although some were more hesitant than others, all council members supported the decision to further study the proposal.

&uot;I do think people should have a voice in this picture,&uot; Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson said. &uot;The way we choose the mayor now is called ‘Let’s Make A Deal.’

&uot;It’s a power thing,&uot; she said. &uot;I don’t like the way we do this.

It causes rifts that last six months and keeps us from acting as a bonded unit.&uot;

Making the change to direct election would require a change to the city charter, said City Attorney Edward Roettger.

If the council opts to move forward with the process, the next step would be to hold a public hearing or referendum election.

It would then have to be approved by the General Assembly, and the U.S. Justice Department will have to make sure it meets standards of the Voting Rights Act.

If they decide to pursue direct mayoral elections, city lawmakers will have to make a plethora of other decisions about what they want in a leader and how the process is done, Roettger said.

For example, the council could strengthen or weaken the mayor’s authority in various ways:


veto power, lengthening or shortening the term, or allowing the mayor to vote only in tiebreaker situations.

Council members were unanimous in their belief that that the mayor’s authority should not change.

&uot;The mayor should not have any more power than any other council member,&uot; Councilman Curtis Milteer said.

Dickens, who believes the city will ultimately move to direct election, said he would like to see the term of office lengthened

&uot;Continuity is critical if we want the city to be progressive and move forward,&uot; Dickens said. &uot;Two years in and out of office is very unproductive on a regional level.

&uot;By the time you get used to what’s going on, you’re out of the picture. It’s important for the city of Suffolk to have a player (at regional and state meetings).&uot;