People vs. policies, where do we fit?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

There is a real difference between the policies and objectives that are found so disturbing by many citizens concerning taxes, spending, and the stated goals and priorities of the city management; and the many good people who serve the needs of local government.

With the services local government renders to all of us, it is not uncommon for a citizen to encounter many city employees during a week’s time.

With our harried lives we count upon these people to pick-up our trash, repair our utilities, collect our taxes, and approve our many requests for services and help. What is truly unknown by many, is the impact that senior city management has behind the scenes and directly on how our lives work.

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The reason its important to understand this difference, is it scales the frustrations that the citizens feel toward the policies established by City Hall and the city employees tasked with its substance but not its function.

The substance of local government is akin to the many good people who serve as our employees and the function that drives most of us to distraction is directly tied to how local government in general deals with us as individuals.

The thing that makes this one issue so vital; is that its important not to punish those who implement city policy, but to understand that dissatisfaction with the policies and plans of city hall, must be directed toward city management and council.

With so many truly bad decisions being made downtown, it is easy to loose your temper with the lady behind the counter doing her job, but that is not where your heat and frustration should be directed.

It is imperative to understand that much of the frustration you might feel about your tax bill, why our streets are clogged with traffic, and why local government seems so out of control.

It has nothing to do with that nice person you see behind the counter or driving the city dump truck.

The real culprits you should focus your difficult questions at meet in city hall on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

What is so profound about this statement is that so few citizens have attended such meetings or even contacted their city council members.

The only way that a representative form of government can work is if it is nourished by citizen involvement.

With our leaders deciding about taking over road maintenance, collecting tens of millions in new taxes, and the many other issues that directly affect our lives, it is clearly important that more be done by the citizens.

As such, take notice that your representatives will decide at the next few meeting in April; what your real estate tax bill will be, whether or not to assume responsibility for millions of dollars of road obligations without a clue, and how our city will grow into the future.

With so many big issues that hold the potential for placing our community in great jeopardy, it is time that the citizens understand that local government is not served by being rude to one of our many fine city employees.

The real need is to write, email, or directly call your council members and let them know your thoughts.

We are at a crossroads of sorts in the life of our city.

With so many bad plans being pushed from the city manager and senior city staff; like the poorly planned VDOT issue and the utter lack of any realization that the real estate taxes are killing the working class with ever higher and higher tax rates, now is the time to get involved.

The past luxury many enjoyed by sitting back and letting things happen downtown is over.

If you do not step-up and express your heart-felt views that these issues must change; we are headed for some monumental mistakes in the next few months.

In a larger sense, it is clear that there is much to be recognized that makes Suffolk a unique place in the larger metro-area.

We have a quality of life that is second to none, but that could be squandered by a series of bad policies and decisions.

We need to recognize that these issues are not going to always be solved by more taxes, more state money for roads, or another big project downtown.

What really needs to happen is a more pragmatic approach toward government that functions more like our city employees.

What that demands is a more realistic approach by our council and senior city staff, toward the issues at hand and good service.

The situation is ripe for some serious changes and that might even include some changes in who’s in the seats of power.

When this is understood, it is clear that our city is fortunate to have so many competent and truly good public employees, however bad management can squander that.

Perhaps this is where change should be directed, at the top.

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