The State of the #8220;Onion#8221; Address

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 30, 2006

There was the mayor, beaming among “Star Wars” effects regaling the highlights of our fair city. He seemed to center on what is taking place in northern Suffolk, all that high tech stuff that provides jobs for retired generals and those qualified to be employed up there. Not being a business owner, I did not attend the State of the City puffery, but I picked up many comments the next day. They could have skipped the meeting; everyone already knew what the mayor would say. But it did allow our Chamber of Commerce to throw some business the Hilton’s way, something the city likes to do at every opportunity.

I say state of the “onion” because when you peel off the outer layer of grandiloquence, you discover that our economic team is actually responsible for our northern Suffolk success, and fortunately top city officials and Council members did not get in the way. That same economic team has filled several other Suffolk Industrial Parks and is developing more as needed. It is their efforts that keep this city financially afloat.

The mayor was able, however, to point to a herd, covey, gang, bunch, etc, of restaurants coming on line downtown and elsewhere, faster than necessary, as the main ingredient of that area’s success. A man would not starve to death in Suffolk even if he had no transportation…a person breaking both legs when coming down in a parachute could crawl within minutes to an eatery. Of course one could point to the Hilton and coming Cultural Center as “downtown” marks of success, I hope. And perhaps the mayor should have listed as assets the many parcels of land and buildings the city has acquired.


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Prior to that meeting the mayor was part of the reason a rumor spread around town that candidates opposing incumbents for Council would certainly destroy our precious UDO. One had only to look at their backers to know they were up to no good. I saw no reason to believe it but one does have to be careful. But now I am more concerned about the incumbents actively and personally cracking open the UDO shell. Their actions at the last Council meeting scared the daylights out of me. And they will cave on a substantial property tax cut.

Council’s last minute addition to the Comp Plan added about 3,000 more possible residential lots to our grossly inflated inventory already on the books. Worse, it gives the impression that any landowner can pressure a susceptible council member to act in their favor. That many additional lots could mean two more schools adding millions to our debt service to say nothing of traffic and road problems, and additional school operating expenses. Dumb growth leads to even higher property taxes.

An editorial in the Virginia Pilot, sticking their nose in our business again, was right on in almost accusing Council members of a crime. How dare Council, guardians of our anti-growth document “swindle” us with their devious ways. The editorial suggested Council right now undo what it did rather that than stick it to future Council members to clean up the mess. And future Council members may appear on the scene May 2nd. Do not hold your breath waiting for a reversal…but if we ever needed a reason to march on City Hall this is it. All those years arguing how to frame our anti-growth document, admittedly imperfect, with one vote Council tossed it in the ashcan.

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