The New Year and new challenges

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 29, 2004

With Christmas a good memory only a few days old, we are headed into a New Year with a host of expectations and promises from our local leaders and government.

The last council meeting of 2004 was loaded with fireworks, yet it was instructive relative to where we might go in the New Year.

It was clearly expressed at this meeting that there are a diverse people with varied perspectives on the issues that affect our community…

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This past year we saw a series of meetings at the behest of city council, to gather our opinions on the Virginia Department of Transportation road take-over by the city, the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, and other topics of interest.

Perhaps the most instructive meeting of the past year was the last meeting of city council described above.

The silliness started at the work session early in the day.

We heard how under the tutelage and supervision of our past mayor Councilman Dickens, the city manager took it upon himself to send to the governor’s office a &uot;position paper&uot; on new growth control measures.

This was done without allowing the mayor or any of the other council-members to review it.

Needless to say, this lead to some serious sparks and rightfully so…

This position paper was signed out as though it was from the City of Suffolk i.e.: city council, but only Councilman Dickens was even aware of it…

It goes to show just how far some on council will go to grandstand and was perhaps the defining example of why we have a different Mayor than the one we had last year.

Then latter in the day during the regular meeting of council, we had the real food fight…

When the capital budget was discussed, many of the citizens came forward to praise, appeal, and criticize the efforts of the city staff in spending more than we have.

It was noted that more than two-thirds of the CIP budget is to be funded from borrowing against ever rising taxes, derived from higher real estate assessments in a true spending frenzy.

While this is bad enough, after a call by the vice-mayor to increase the amount of funding for one of the older communities in his borough, the entire council came unglued.

Two members of council that have in the past described a compelling need for more funding for their own small slivers of town, where incensed by the possible diversion of funds.

As things degenerated into a free-for-all and departed from the carefully scripted meeting that our city manager prefers, it was apparent that there are real rifts in the smooth fabric of the city council.

More on this one next year…

Even keeping these events in perspective and including the many gaffs from city management over the last two years, things in Suffolk could hardly have gone better.

The city continues its march forward as one of the most appealing places in Virginia to live and we are all getting fatter from the good downtown restaurants.

Perhaps we should demand that we have all of the parking spaces downtown placed at the opposite ends of town, so we can walk off the extra pounds from the good eats at Baron’s Pub, Pisces, the Moose Caf\u00E9, Kelly’s Tavern, and the other eateries.

It should also be noted that we are soon to be put on the map with our very own Chick-Fil-A on Main Street.

It the considered opinion of the masses, that when a community gets its very own Chick-Fil-A, you have arrived as a town.

While there have been ups and a down this last year, with many really bad ideas from city hall, our fine community is doing just fine.

As the new year rings in, we will get to witness whether or not the city manager can spend enough of our tax dollars in the new Hilton Garden Inn and Suffoljk Conference Center to make it appear to be a winner…

If left unsupervised, it is readily apparent that the plan is to spend every opportunity he can muster to &uot;hold court,&uot; and as many meetings and events there as the budget will allow.

Will this false effort overcome the maxim that it is more important to have what you want rather than what you need?

So goes the plan and the rest of your taxes not already spent for debt service in the new CIP…

In spite of these noteworthy and entertaining events, our city has grown and prospered.

The number of citizens continues its unstoppable climb toward 100,000 and the nature and function of the lapses at City Hall that are always hard to understand, have not in any significant way made our community less appealing.

If only one issue could be resolved in the New Year, it should include a way to correct the negative way our city management takes criticism.

With a senior staff with such thin-skins, it is difficult to see how this can be corrected.

Most likely this short-coming will continue to be offset by the many dedicated city employees that work for us and the good citizens of Suffolk, that balances out the more extreme personalities we find in City Hall.

I hope all had a Merry Christmas and will have a Happy New Year.

Roger Leonard is a Suffolk businessman and regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at