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Henceforth, our city government will be open and transparent

“Henceforth, our city government will be open and transparent.”

Those were the words of Mayor Linda T. Johnson during the Roundtable Talk TV Show that should air soon.

That would be a refreshing change and I’m hoping any questions asked of Council will receive truthful and understandable answers. There has been, in the past, a sort of doublespeak, and partial answers somewhat enveloped in smoke. But I’m already getting a better feeling about our local government.

At Council meetings, when a person speaks directly to council members, during those few precious minutes when citizens are given the floor, the mayor would merely say, “Thank you, next speaker please.” I always wondered if anyone behind the dais ever heard what that citizen said. Any comment from the mayor would do, for example, “Thank you for your thoughts, we will look into that and get back to you.”

Agreed, a few of those addressing Council are merely venting spleens in a rude manner and should not be acknowledged. Many, though, have had to work up their nerve to speak in public and deserve an apt and friendly comment.

Suffolk’s Lincoln Center

I understand that our Center for Cultural Arts in two years used up $20.5 million to doll itself up … it is a dandy and ought to be for that kind of money — Suffolk’s Lincoln Center. Many of us would like to see that figure broken down by category … tax dollars including IDA, private contributions, and grants. That’s a fair question, and it should include expected employee annual costs. That’s transparency and open and we could get a fix on what it will cost taxpayers annually.

How about similar numbers for the Hilton … what is the total city investment? And then I’d ask how much we gained or lost on the seawall replacement deal … seems that number never did show up.

Then how much was made or lost on the purchase and sale of the 25 acres where the Louise Memorial Obici Hospital once stood.

Then I’d want to know how much 2005 city legal expenses were, not counting our legal staff salaries, and who was paid for what. All of the above would just be “catch-up” info, and the new Council starts out with a clean transparent slate.

I see our Cultural Center as our Lincoln or Kennedy Center. Millions were spent, but I have no idea who will benefit. Whenever the Lincoln or Kennedy Center is shown on TV, very prominent people with prominent amounts of money always attend it. So, I guess that when our CC theatre, seating up to 500, has a production similar to the short version of Carmen, only folks that can afford tickets at an average of

$55 will be there. So will there be “Carmen” night for Suffolk citizens that can afford only, let’s say, 10 dollars? If not, that’s a “Tragedy,” if only the affluent can afford it.

But then, I will admit it; I’d rather watch a tractor-pull than opera, that screaming is a form of self-flagellation.

Did I read it right, the Cultural Center is looking for volunteers to greet visitors? I have suggested we move the Tourist Bureau (really just a part of Parks and Recreation) into the Cultural Center and they can greet visitors to our city as well as the CC. Then it would not be necessary to spend a million to fix up the old courthouse for the Tourist Bureau. It was good enough for the School Board … spend that million on a bridge.

One final Council item … it’s been suggested some city departments are “overstaffed.” Council will look hard at that, is already doing it. Fluff removal would include the city spokesperson. If there is any money to be saved, some of it should be used for an unbiased study of the Kings Highway ex-Bridge

— around $50,000, the same as was spent for that charming little fountain at the new courthouse. I tossed a few pennies in there with a wish that Chuckatuck and Driver could be reconnected.

Robert Pocklington is a Suffolk resident and regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at robert.pocklington@suffolknewsherald.com.