Referendum may be in city#8217;s future

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 4, 2005

The city may add a new tool to gauge public sentiment to the municipal toolbox next year.

The Suffolk City Council, during its work session Wednesday, voted 6 to 1 to ask the 2007 General Assembly to change the city charter to allow residents to give input on issues through a referendum.

Currently, the charter does not permit the city to hold referendums, said City Attorney Edward Roettger recently.

Email newsletter signup

The referendums under consideration would probably be non-binding, said Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett.

In other words, the city lawmakers would have the final call on decisions, regardless of how voters checked in on particular issues.

Bennett cast the dissenting vote, saying he believes the city should be able to have the request ready for the January 2006 General Assembly session.

“I think we should be able to do it this year,” said Bennett. “I feel like we should have the ability to use a referendum if we so desire.

“A lot of people can’t come to public hearings …and a referendum would give the public a chance to voice their opinions.”

Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson agreed.

“I see it as a barometer for gauging how people feel … and giving them a say on issues,” she said. “I don’t think you can do too much of that.”

Mayor Bobby L. Ralph said he wanted more time to study the issue, saying he was a little concerned that the public might feel misled or confused by non-binding referendums.

“I’m a little skeptical of advisory (non-binding) referendums,” he said. “If we are going to go to the expense, time and effort of having a referendum, I think it should be binding rather than advisory.”

Ralph said he believes public hearings are the best venue for allowing citizens to voice their opinions on the issues that affect them.

Also, on Wednesday, the council:

*Accepted an $11,992 grant from the U.S. Justice Department’s bulletproof vest partnership program.

*Accepted $32,675 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the city’s participation the federal summer food service program this summer. The city served a total of 18,355 meals this past summer.

*Accepted donations totaling $6,823 from various contributors, which will be used to support city’s fire, police and park and recreation departments’ operating expenditures.