Mayoral candidate Deborah Wahlstrom responds to News-Herald questions

Published 9:49 pm Saturday, October 11, 2008

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of seven installments featuring mayoral candidates for the city of Suffolk. In each of the next two 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

This week, candidate Deborah Wahlstrom is featured. Wahlstrom is a career educator and is a write-in candidate for mayor.

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 at or amongst those leadership positions?

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People make our city work. When we lose staff members we lose not only their history and skills but also the investment of time and money to retrain others. It is the role of leadership to provide a working environment in which people thrive. I would want to determine why we’re losing key staff members and use that information in making decisions about moving forward. There certainly could be changes after developing a strategic vision and plan for our city, but these changes should be driven by what needs to be accomplished in our city.

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

The assessment process is a fiasco and our current leadership has let this go on for too long; this needs to be fixed NOW. I would have immediately conducted a more thorough data analysis of the assessment process, going back at least 2-3 years. I would then have used the analysis to develop an action plan for overhauling assessments in a fair and equitable way. I would also have provided more direct communication to our property owners about the issue and how it would be fixed.

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?

There aren’t two Suffolks. There’s only one. But I do agree that there is a perception of two parts to our city. We don’t currently have a vision for Suffolk and what we want it to be and that is important to unifying us as a city. Since there’s no vision, there’s going to be a division. I suggest we also ensure that we communicate to everyone, the benefits the whole city receives when another part of the city is successful.

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?

First, I suggest that between now and 2018, we closely monitor and participate in SPSA meetings and decisions to ensure that the huge debt burden of the SPSA doesn’t come back to haunt us. Additionally, as we work to create and define our city, it is time to begin to determine what we may want to do so we are ready in 2018. This should be part of a flexible long-term strategic plan. We’ve got land that our surrounding cities don’t, which means we may have unique economic development opportunities in this area. Let’s plan for them now.

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

I agree that we’re not going anywhere fast. We need to sit down and review the big picture of traffic, road and rail issues in our city to review and prioritize what citizens want funded first, second, third, and so on. Then we go after funding the priorities. Some of the funding will come from our federal and state governments. Some will come from business development, and some will come from our own tax base. Since we do not have an overall transportation plan, this is a priority.

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

An active and vibrant downtown is an important part of a city. We have a number of things we need to address in the downtown area including the legacy issue of the deficit of income from the Hilton Conference Center. I suggest continuing the revitalization efforts that have already taken place and support a focus on this area in the future. We know that downtown growth comes from locating offices and homes downtown. I also suggest gathering input from each of our downtown businesses – and citizens – to help us focus our efforts.

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

Our city government is opaque. To begin to open it up, I suggest the following: overhauling the city’s website; creating a mayor’s email listserv; providing streaming live video of Council, Planning, EDA, and School Board meetings; providing responses to citizens about actions taken with their ideas; conducting regular meetings with citizens, businesses and neighborhood empowerment teams; and providing a welcoming environment in Council chambers. I also want to post the financials for the city online every month so that any citizen can see how his or her tax dollars are being spent.

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

I will be an ambassador and active participant for economic development. We should grow our city, not our local government. We need to align our work in economic development toward our city’s future-focused vision. This growth should reflect what our citizens have identified they want our city to be. The UDO should be reviewed and refined with the city’s vision in mind. I want it to be easy to do business in Suffolk. As an elected official from the entire city, I believe the mayor should be a participant in EDA meetings.

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?

A superior educational system is the BEST economic development any city can have. We need to ensure that our students are future-ready and I’ll support the school district to that end. I believe that what is done in our schools should align with the vision of our city. Education is not limited to just our public schools; we’ve also got workforce development and other training opportunities to grow. Since the schools use significant citizen dollars, we need to hold the superintendent accountable for student achievement based on different measures.

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?

I want to work with our public safety departments to determine, very specifically, where they are – and what else is needed to continue to keep our city safe. This could mean more police officers and additional equipment. I support active neighborhood empowerment that includes training for parents and citizens in issues such as gang activity and dangers in the virtual world – expanding the great work our officials have already been doing there. I also want to implement a comstat system for the entire city as one way for citizens to let staff know of issues that need to be resolved.