Interest in direct election of mayor to be gauged by meeting attendance

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 6, 2005

Tuesday’s the last chance for proponents of directly electing the city’s mayor to push the issue.

The last of two educational forums on direct mayoral election is being held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lakeland High School.

Guest speakers will be Robert de Voursney, professor emeritus of government and public policy at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service in Charlottesville, and Carter Glass, a Richmond attorney whose specializes in election law.

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During the May 19 meeting, de Voursney and Glass spent more than an hour weighing the pros and cons of directly electing the mayor and fielding a handful of questions from the small audience.

On Tuesday, the two will again look at the traditional arguments that have been considered in other localities for and against the two basic methods of selecting a mayor.

Discussions will address other decisions that would have to be made if the council pursues a charter change, including: the powers the mayor would exercise, possible modification of the size of the council, potential redrawing of borough boundaries, and the length of the term served by a directly elected mayor.

In addition, there will be a discussion of the legal procedures that would be required to pursue a change, and the legal requirements that would have to be satisfied, such as compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act.

Mayor Bobby Ralph, who is still keeping mum on his thoughts about direct election, said attendance is one way city lawmakers may use to decide whether to pursue a change.

&uot;These meetings are the main way we are gauging public interest in the direct election of the mayor,&uot; he said. &uot;My best guess is that if there is no more interest at the second meeting that there was at the first, council will take the position that people are satisfied with the current system.&uot;

Just 15 people attended the May 16 meeting at Nansemond River High School.

Today, Norfolk and Suffolk are the only two cities in Hampton Roads where councils choose one of their own as mayor rather than letting voters make the decision. On alternating Julys, Suffolk council members elect the city’s leader for the next two years.

But after a 2000 referendum, Norfolk is in the process of moving to a general mayoral election.

Plans are now being reviewed by the U.S. Justice Department.