Mayoral candidate Michael Debranski responds to News-Herald questions

Published 8:11 pm Saturday, October 18, 2008

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth of seven installments featuring mayoral candidates for the city of Suffolk. In the next Sunday edition, 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 Michael Debranski is featured. Debranski is a lifelong educator and currently serves on the Suffolk Public Schools’ School Board.

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?

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The first issue that needs to be recognized is that the revolving-door administrative leadership that exists is a result of the actions of both the city manager and city council…The city manager must provide a job description for each department head, provide direction for each position, (and) a description of the evaluation process, and chart in writing each department head’s written evaluation progress or lack thereof…When the appropriate and legal process for evaluation has been followed, then action can be taken without fear of legal recourse or having to agree to severance packages to get rid of incompetent personnel.

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

It is the responsibility of the council to provide direction and communication for all city business. This was not done…Since this matter was resolved behind closed doors, we will not know who was responsible for the debacle. Regardless, the citizens of Suffolk had to foot the bill for another knee-jerk reaction that resulted in a severance pay-out…My position is that property tax assessment changes should be a direct result of comparable property that is bought or sold within a particular area and within a six to 12 month period…

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 should appoint a citizens’ advisory council composed of several citizens from each borough to provide insight into problems which affect people in the area in which they live. I would expect that one critical result of this advisory committee would be that the village concept would be reinstituted, fully endorsed by the mayor…This action would empower citizens and create the concept of self government. It is important that all parts of the city grow and enjoy the benefit of living in Suffolk. If any one area of Suffolk is neglected, decay is usually the result…

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 very first measure that the city should take is to reinstate recycling of all possible waste materials. By recycling now, we may be able prolong the usage of the present facility by 10 to 15 years. After instituting recycling, the city should investigate other forms of trash disposal being used throughout the country such as incineration.

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

The very first thing that I would do is to join the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority. By joining a regional transportation body, we would have access to information, ideas, and successful programs…We would be able to…fully take advantage of the myriad of ideas they may have that would affect our transportation needs. It is a resource of which we should take advantage. Additionally, we should continue to make our needs known to our state political leaders and legislators. If necessary, we should institute a users fee for interstates and bridges/tunnels within our boundaries.

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 first step to revitalize the downtown area is to appoint or assign someone currently on the city manager’s staff to act as Suffolk’s Downtown Development Director. Tax incentives which have long-term requirements should be used to entice businesses to relocate, as well as remain in the downtown area.

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

…Too many decisions have been made behind closed doors, especially decisions concerning the afore-mentioned revolving-door administrative exits. Evaluation of personnel is a critical component of personnel decision making. If evaluation is done properly and appropriate action taken as needed, closed-door decision making would not be necessary. The citizens of Suffolk should not be responsible for paying out large sums of tax payers’ money in severance pay or court-ordered settlements. I would institute a citizens’ advisory council as well business advisory council that meets regularly with the mayor or designee to keep citizens better informed, and…keep council informed of (citizens’ concerns)

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

…It is important for Suffolk to promote itself regionally, especially in the competition for new business and industry. As a participant in regional and state events, the mayor can help establish Suffolk as a viable business community…Additionally, the mayor should be able to establish connections with other cities to cooperatively bring new and large business to Suffolk and South Hampton Roads. As a strong regional force, we would welcome the challenge to grow our business and industrial communities and help provide a strong tax base and more job opportunities for all of Suffolk’s citizens to enjoy.

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?

…The first action I would undertake is to meet on a regularly-scheduled basis with representatives from all education sectors…and establish a close-working relationship…I would endorse…funding public education, based upon the city’s financial ability (The current city council has never, to my knowledge, mentioned the $1 million the Suffolk City School Board returned to the City of Suffolk in a good-faith effort to help the city and its citizens). The (school board) looked at every item in its budget, cutting wherever possible. This was a remarkable effort to boost city coffers, demonstrate the school board’s fiscal responsibility, and support the city.

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 think the fire and police departments of our city do an outstanding job. I would continue to support their efforts…It is evident that some of our young citizens are becoming more active in criminal activities. We should provide for specially-trained personnel to deal with gang and gang-like activities (and) provide more recreational opportunities, especially after school. And…we should investigate and take advantage of state and federal programs that provide grants to help with troubled youth and/or gangs. However…budgets should and must be closely scrutinized, never more critically than at this time of economic struggles.