The merger: a retrospective

Published 8:42 pm Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thirty-five years after the merger of the area that had been Nansemond County with the comparatively tiny city of Suffolk, it’s still easy to find people who believe the decision to combine the two municipalities marked the beginning of a long slide into the gutter for one of the former communities or the other.

Critics from Old Suffolk complain about having to share the resulting city’s revenue to bring city services to the remotest areas of New Suffolk. Folks in those outlying areas, many of whom once thought they’d enjoy an improved quality of life as a result of joining their resources with those of Old Suffolk, wonder why they still don’t have a similar level of services as their “downtown” brethren three and a half decades later.

Clearly, things didn’t go entirely as they had been planned. In fact, they never do. But keeping a plan on track requires keeping the original plan in mind, and in cases such as the formation of the new city of Suffolk in 1974, there were a limited number of minds involved in the planning to start with. With the passing of time, some of the 10 or so council members on both sides of the original border have moved away, and for others — as with all of us who experience 35 years of life between events — details have become sketchy with the passing of time.

Andy Damiani was vice mayor of the old city of Suffolk at the time of the merger negotiations. In the ensuing years, he became mayor of the new city, serving four of his 22 years on the City Council in that post. In recent years, he has come to be known as the voice of Downtown Suffolk and one of the city’s tireless cheerleaders. He’s also a font of historical information, not the least regarding the 1974 merger.

Damiani’s latest project brings together all of those interests in one important package. He has begun work on a video documentary in which he plans to interview those who were at the center of the merger negotiations and plans. For Damiani, the documentary is a way to educate new generations about what the two communities were like before the merger, what they hoped to gain by pooling their resources and what might have been lost along the way.

Such a project also can serve to hold up a measuring stick to help track the progress toward meeting those original goals. Suffolk citizens from all parts of the new city will be looking forward to the results.