It pays to listen

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 25, 2005

Just having a conversation will often lead to discoveries. Five minutes with the very learned Sam Glasscock prompted a previously unconsidered aspect of citizens being empowered to elect a mayor.

Like many of you, I wonder when we are going to catch up with the world and take responsibility of selecting the mayor away from the council. They do have their little game where, usually behind closed doors, they flip coins or use some other method of determining whose turn it is. They have to consider the citizenry and even avoid the perception of racism, so they cannot just spin a bottle.

However they decide, it seems a bit archaic when there are some 73,000 folks around the former county who just might feel disenfranchised. But if we eliminate those who are not old enough to vote, and those too lazy to vote, and those who don’t care a whit…we are talking about maybe 16,000 who might like a shot at deciding who is mayor (See most recent election results). That’s a lot of people, who might believe a mayor should not be picked from a particular borough.


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But even if the remaining 16,000 settle on a particular candidate, and that might be as few as a handful if there are several candidates for the glory position, the winner would still be from a particular borough. We have no neutral area in Suffolk; therefore the winner might not be neutral. Of course he/she could act as the official spokesman for the city if he/she could pull off a sort of neutralism. As it stands now even the mayor, selected by council (it only takes four), can serve as &uot;spokesman for Suffolk,&uot; that power was taken away when the powerful city manager appointed one of his own. And I must admit that newly hired spokesman does a lot of &uot;spoking, and turns up regularly in ground breaking shovel photo ops.&uot;

And there is always the risk that whatever percentage of the populace actually voted and settled on a particular candidate, may have picked out a person that eventually turned out to be highly unqualified. That happens now and then when a council member eventually proves to be unqualified. We can live with that, but not if it’s the honorable mayor. Can’t you just imagine the editorials in the &uot;big paper to the east&uot; when some snob asks the question, &uot;What has Suffolk done to itself now?&uot; That actually happened when our seven intrepid booted Dana Dickens from the mayor slot…our loss but someone’s gain.

Listening to good friend and councilman, Joe Barlow, prompted other thoughts. Was it only a safeguard move when some on present council suggested they could reserve the right to disagree with mayoral election results and toss it out? You know, in case they didn’t like the winner for some particular reason. That means that even if we went to all the trouble and expense of securing the right to have referendums, and suffered the campaigns for mayor, and elected one, council could just say no. And that takes but four votes of the seven. So even if 16,000 unanimously agreed on one person, perhaps some godlike trusted woman among us, four persons could simply disenfranchise the electors. What the heck, no matter how pinheaded, let them serve…it might make Suffolk Council meetings even more interesting.

But if we assume, for a minute or so, that we the people should be deciding who is mayor, there remain many hurdles to jump. A big one is determining which way to go.

Do we want to keep seven and just elect another person to be mayor? Would that mayor have any power? We now have a &uot;muscular&uot; city manager that directs the band and may not listen to a new tuba player’s music. Or do we go with eight elected but the mayor has no vote, only the bully pulpit? It can get messy and even call for some very expensive redistricting…again raising the black/white issue. It won’t be easy folks.

Council still believes that only attendance at 7 p.m. public meetings will determine citizen interest…perhaps hoping those meetings will be poorly attended like last time, and they can forget the whole idea. Joe Barlow has a much better idea and displayed it by speaking directly to the Chuckatuck Ruritan Club. He stirred the cowpie and we had a great discussion. Small local meetings are more productive when each Council member meets with citizens of that member’s bailiwick. That way, members can take the pulse of their respective borough. Mass meetings have not been very successful so why not try a better method? Every farmer knows life is simpler when you plough around the stumps.

In the meantime, professionals have information that could help citizens make decisions. That is if city fathers would make it available; say in the local newspapers…the pro, the con, and the options. That would be one wise thing they could do with our taxes. We can’t leave that up to the Director of Spoking.

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News Herald columnist. He can be reached at