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Mayoral candidate Linda T. Johnson responds to News-Herald

Editor’s Note: This is the third of seven installments featuring mayoral candidates for the city of Suffolk. In each of the next four Sunday editions, the News-Herald will feature answers from a questionnaire sent to all the mayoral candidates. Each story will also be available online by clicking the Election ’08 logo at www.suffolknewsherald.com.

This week, Linda T. Johnson is featured. Johnson serves as the current mayor of Suffolk, representing the Sleepy Hole borough. She also works as a real estate agent for Long & Foster Realty.

1. What would you do about – and what is the Mayor’s and City Council’s responsibility regarding—the revolving-door change lately in Suffolk’s administrative leaders? Are there any further substantive changes you believe should take place amongst those leadership positions?

There is no “revolving door” in Suffolk’s administrative leadership. The “revolving door” myth is perpetuated by those who resist any change. The facts are that the current City Council replaced a City Manager who refused to acknowledge the proper role of the Council. The City Assessor was fired after much…consideration of the last assessment process…I stand firmly behind both decisions. Some others in leadership positions (left for their own reasons)…Our City’s management team is excellent and city employee morale is better than ever…New faces and fresh ideas will help Suffolk become the great City it is destined to be…

2. What would you have done differently regarding the city’s assessments? What changes would you make in the future regarding assessments?

Nothing. Actions were taken according to law and the changes were made by the Board of Equalization during the Appeals process. We are taking strides with the Interim Assessor to ensure that credibility is restored in the assessment process…While the process this year has caused an undue burden to taxpayers, it has brought to light the need for more communication…Council is committed to making sure that this office has all of the tools necessary to…assess all properties in the City fairly. Bottom line: future assessments must be viewed objectively and must be fair and equitable for all.

3. How can the mayor serve to unify the two sides of Suffolk (North and South), helping each to see the qualities and needs of the other?

The Mayor must serve all of Suffolk – every neighborhood and every family… My goals are continued economic growth and development to bring more and better jobs, a good school for every student, low taxes and spending, safe neighborhoods and a financially healthy city. The Mayor should encourage activities that bring citizens together such as school sports, the Cultural Arts Center, special events like “The Taste of Suffolk”, the TGIF series and many more. On the economic front, I have started hosting the Mayor’s Advisory Roundtable in different parts of the City to bring different perspectives each time.

4. What should be the city’s policy regarding solid waste disposal post-SPSA in 2018? What should Suffolk do now to ensure that this plan will come to fruition?

The first step is to set aside the necessary financial reserves for the closing of the regional landfill. This should begin immediately. Secondly, Suffolk should initiate a well-executed recycling plan to keep the landfill viable as long as possible.

We need to continue working with our regional partners toward a plan past 2018. There is no doubt that a regional solution is required and preferred. In addition we should be exploring the new methods of waste disposal.

5. What course of action would YOU take to solve Hampton Roads’ traffic problems and pay for the necessary improvements?

Oh, I wish it were that easy. No ONE person can solve Hampton Roads’ traffic problems; however, it would be my choice to have the General Assembly enact a statewide gas tax and deploy well-placed tolls to pay for the roads. I have attended

dozens of meetings on this topic. It is crystal clear to me that a huge majority of citizens feel that gas taxes and tolls represent the fairest way to spread the cost of road construction. Importantly, gas taxes and tolls capture funds from tourists and

visitors thus reducing the cost for Virginia’s citizens.

6. What would you do about revitalizing downtown Suffolk? What steps would be taken to ensure that downtown continues to prosper in the future?

The revitalization of a Downtown is not unique to Suffolk. The issue confronts cities across the country. Suffolk has a charming downtown community with a thriving spirit. As Mayor I have supported downtown revitalization projects such as the Health and Human Services Building and the new police station. The downturn in the economy has slowed not only revitalization but all aspects of development. Recognizing that government cannot do it all, we need more retail, restaurants, and private sector businesses to choose to locate downtown…We must continue efforts such as “The Taste of Suffolk” to encourage newcomers to visit our Downtown.

7. Do you think our current city government is operating openly and transparently? If not what would you change or do differently?

No one can honestly dispute that city government is operating more openly and transparently today than ever before. I supported creating a new office to handle requests for information and city staff have been trained to respond to these requests. The City Council’s finance committee meetings are always open to the public. The only closed sessions are those required by state law…Additionally, as of last month, citizens can now view all press releases on the city web page and job applications will be available online…An open and transparent city government will continue to be the way forward.

8. What role do you see the mayor playing in economic development? How would YOU work to continue to capitalize on Suffolk’s growth?

As Mayor I play an important role in bringing new jobs to our City. I view my position as an Ambassador and Champion for the City…We have succeeded in attracting thousands of new jobs to Suffolk. I also serve on the Governor’s Workforce Council which helps match the education and training of our workforce with the needs of the business community… In order to capitalize on Suffolk’s future growth, we must work closely in partnership with all parties to ensure proper infrastructures are put in place and the quality of our citizen’s lives are not compromised.

9. What can the city do to help ensure Suffolk has quality education? What role would you play in ensuring education is exceptional in our city?

Quality schools make a quality city and my commitment to public education is strong. My candidacy for Mayor has the support of several School Board Members…I maintain good relationships with the School Board, Administration, teachers and parents to better understand their needs and ensure a quality educational opportunity for every student. We are working to improve efficiency by combining services where possible which will save dollars. Our teachers’ pay must be competitive with other localities in the region. As the State and Federal dollars shrink, it is crucial that the City and School System work hand in hand.

10. What would you do as mayor to keep Suffolk a safe city? What could be done to improve public safety in Suffolk and how would you approach it?

The primary responsibility of any government is to provide for the safety of its citizens…I am proud to say that I have always supported the men and women in firefighting, emergency response and law enforcement. Our police department and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office are proactive in the fight against gang violence…I have always supported full funding of the needs of our public safety family to make certain they have the equipment, training and manpower they need. As the City grows so does the need for public safety and we must keep up with it.