Do as I say, not as I do

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 20, 2005

With several interesting statements coming from the powers that be in city hall over the past few days, especially when they are put into context with statements made over the past few years, the dialogue is becoming incoherent.

As one reviews these comments and actions in their totality, it is obvious that the processes of our local government are coming apart at the seams.

These issues run the gamut: failed leadership on assessments and taxes, unfair spending priorities that favor downtown development and the politically well connected, and an attitude toward the citizens that they are not to be trusted or taken seriously.

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On top of these failings, there seems to be an unending bend to beat down any comments that are not in support of this party line.

With such an outlook careening out of control, because of an agenda that places a supreme priority on positioning the best possible political spin on any and all commentary from the citizens, we need serious change.

Within such context, recent statements from our city fathers are uncomfortable and improper, to say the least.

This last issue really places the processes of our representative republic in jeopardy, when there seems to be more interest in spin and propaganda than the truth and the public good.

While the average citizen has yet to march on city hall, there is significant discomfort with how our community is being managed and led.

The two most instructive policies from city hall that exhibit these dichotomies include: the methods that the city administration has used to fund downtown redevelopment by being the renter of last resort and the recent comments from the mayor on the Route 460 improvements being planned.

Not long ago, the mayor and others on city council voted to delete the &uot;Southeast Expressway&uot; around our traffic-challenged downtown.

This administrative act was done under the guise that the Virginia Department of Transportation could not do it anyway, so let’s get it off the rolls.

The real reason this was done, as confirmed by the present city manager, was to funnel traffic and customers downtown rather than around downtown for economic issues rather than good public policies.

This singular purpose was to support those businesses being encouraged under a redevelopment plan where building owners that get subsidies from city rents need even more to succeed.

This sweetheart and closed deal may very well prove not to be in the best interests of the people of Suffolk, as we end up like most renters with only receipts to show for our dollars.

What makes this even a more repulsive commentary are the recent statements from our mayor, that there is little sympathy for the downtown businesses in neighboring communities that would be bypassed by a new Route 460 alignment with limited access.

Many of these businesses like the Virginia Diner will be seriously hurt – if not bankrupt – by such a plan.

Yet our mayor and others have stated that such a limited-access highway upgrade is the preferred solution to our transportation needs and the pain suffered by other communities’ downtown businesses is the costs of progress.

Where were they when council voted to end our transportation needs via the &uot;Southeast Expressway&uot; to ease a traffic clogged downtown Suffolk?

This exhibits why we need new leadership, to change the paradigm that attaches to such policies before they become more corrosive and damaging.

The first deals with the lack of insight into what is needed in the wider community and the second deals with how myopic our leadership is and how it is failing at a fundamental level.

The best way to deal with both is to urge the citizens to get involved at the polls in the upcoming election and push new faces and ideas forward to represent us.

The four council seats that are up for grabs this spring could serve as the springboard to a new and stronger leadership reserve on council.

We dearly need leaders on council rather than four votes that rubber-stamps what is put before them.

Our representative republic suffers from the lack of diversity of opinion and a collegiate respect that new ideas are OK.

There is too much time spent trying to spin the facts downtown, rather than getting on the right side of the facts or doing the right things.

The people are a patient lot that make very few demands on those who aspire to represent us, yet our local leaders have mistaken this respectful patience for stupidity and passivity that they can take advantage of.

It is time that those who subscribe to be our leaders take a longer view of the facts, rather than relying upon contrived views of public officials that suppose their view is always right.

The yoke of bad leadership is always difficult to bear, but it becomes too heavy when it’s coupled with arrogance and a closed mind.

We suffer the first and bear the second, however there are times coming when perhaps we can rectify the situation in the near future, at the polls.

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