Voters may get to elect mayor soon

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 17, 2005

Suffolk residents may be electing the city’s leader at the polls by 2008.

Despite sparse turnout at community interest forums last spring, the Suffolk City Council revived a proposal that would allow citizens to directly elect the mayor at its retreat Friday.

A public hearing on direct mayoral election will be held this fall, said City Attorney Ed Roettger. After that, if city leaders move forward with the proposal, Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) would take a request to change the city charter to the General Assembly in January 2006.

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Both the attorney general’s office and the U.S. Justice Department will have to sign off on any plan submitted by the city, Roettger said.

Although details are still being discussed, Councilman Joseph Barlow recommended that the city keep its existing seven boroughs and create an at-large seat for the mayor. A directly elected mayor should not have any more power than the position does now, he added.

Currently, like 23 of the state’s 40 cities, Suffolk’s lawmakers select the mayor to serve a two-year term at the city’s helm. Largely a ceremonial position, the mayor has the same voting power as his fellow council members.

&uot;I’m for it 105 percent,&uot; said Councilman Curtis Milteer. &uot;I am a strong supporter of public involvement in selecting the mayor…and every city in eastern Virginia has gone to the process.&uot;

Suffolk and Norfolk are the two only cities in Hampton Roads where councils select the municipal leaders. And that’s about change for Norfolk; beginning next year, voters will begin electing that city’s mayor.

&uot;I’ve been hearing about this stuff for the last 25 years,&uot; Milteer said. &uot;I think

we need to be like other people around us… and it won’t change the structure of government one iota.&uot;

What it would do is end some of the &uot;backroom politicking&uot; now involved in getting to the city’s top seat, he said.

&uot;It’s time to get that mess out of here,&uot; he said. Now, he said, council members vying to become mayor lobby one another by telephone to garner the necessary votes – and usually deny doing it.

Other council members supported the proposal.

&uot;I think the time is right for this,&uot; said Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson.