City Council may pursue referendum charter change

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 6, 2005

Suffolk News-Herald

Should the city take on the maintenance of more than 500 miles of road now under the domain of the Virginia Department of Transportation?

Should the city’s mayor be elected by citizens?

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Some issues before the Suffolk City Council are important enough that voters deserve to have direct say through a referendum, said Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett.

But the current city charter makes that difficult.

The charter, as it is now, requires the city to get the General Assembly’s approval before calling a referendum on any issue.

&uot;I was appalled to find out our charter doesn’t let us have a referendum,&uot; said Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson. &uot;Some issues are large enough and important enough that we need to let people weigh in on them.

&uot;I would like to see the charter changed to give us the right to have a referendum whenever we deem it needed.&uot;

Bennett agreed.

&uot;I think it’s very important that we be able to …put certain issues on the ballot and let the people decide,&uot; Bennett said.

The ability to call a referendum is one of several tools that lawmakers should have easily accessible, he said.

&uot;It makes for a more open government,&uot; Bennett said.

&uot;I think we should amend the city charter so we have it in place if we need it.&uot;

A referendum doesn’t necessarily mean voters would decide an issue, he said.

The council could use non-binding referendums as a way to gauge

public opinion on various issues that come before the body for a final vote.

Mayor Bobby L. Ralph said he too is interested in finding out why the city charter does not give the locality the right to call a referendum.