I hope the new city council can become more connected

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 3, 2006

I watched a part of Wednesday night’s city council meeting, the one dealing with the passing of the budget. And if there is but one word I could use to describe what I saw it is “disconnected.”

Most of the seven members of the council seemed disconnected with the process, disconnected with each other and disconnected with the wants and the needs of their constituents.

There they were, in the 59th minute of the 11th hour still scratching their heads and wondering what this document before them was all about.

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They were even entertaining a request from the treasurer’s office to not go forward with planned cuts to his budget.

They didn’t seem to understand what the compensation study was saying or recommending. Councilman Joseph Barlow, who represents Chuckatuck, even said he hadn’t had enough time to digest all the information in that document.

Just how much time had he been given? And how about the others? Were they afforded the chance to view this document long before having to vote on it?

The News-Herald had asked city officials to provide the newspaper with an entire copy of that study. They refused, saying in an email from Communications Director Dennis Craff on June 8 “You’ve received all that we were releasing. The City’s opinion is that the study is still under the working paper category.”

Had we been given the requested copy, we would have gone through it with a fine-tooth comb, and if we didn’t understand anything or had any questions, we would have called the people in city hall who could have cleared them up — the same process the council members could have and should have used if they were confused.

Counilwoman Linda Johnson “got it.” She was the one member of the group who seemed to understand what the study was recommending in the way of salaries for the city workers. It would appear that she did her homework.

Why did it come down to this? Why was it that a large majority of the council came to that meeting, the last one scheduled before the mandated deadline for passage of the budget, apparently unprepared?

Didn’t they know what was in that document?

Years ago, as a rookie reporter, I spent untold hours sitting with the Greensville County (Emporia) Board of Supervisors as they went through their annual budget, item by item.

When they were done they knew exactly where every penny was going, and if they didn’t believe it was a legitimate expense, they cut it, or at the very least reduced it.

The county administrator was present at each and every budget workshop, but his participation was limited to answering questions and finding out more information from the department heads.

The board members made all the adjustments and cuts to the budget, not their employee.

There was a phone in the room so if any member of the board had a question they could call the appropriate department head and even summon them to the board room if need be.

Then, when the day came for that board to vote on the budget, they knew what they were talking about.

There were no last-minute requests for more money, or to not cut money from one department or another.

By that point it was purely academic. And because of what we were able to publish in the newspaper back then, everybody else knew what was coming too. No surprises.

I, for one, hope all of the city council members can become reconnected again for the benefit of all.

Grant is the managing editor of the News-Herald. Contact him at doug.grant@suffolknewsherald.com, or call 934-9603.