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Forbes, city discuss projects

Although the recession has made good news hard to come by in government circles, Suffolk officials and Fourth District Congressman J. Randy Forbes found some reasons to celebrate on Friday.

During a two-hour work session that city officials described as “a very informal working meeting,” Forbes learned that a project he has always considered special is finally about to get under way, thanks to local, state and federal money and a lot of hard work from the citizens who have lobbied for it.

Phoenix Bank — which was established in 1919 by a group of black entrepreneurs and served the black farmers and laborers of Suffolk and Nansemond County until its demise in 1931 — is almost ready for renovation, Suffolk officials told the congressman.

Forbes has helped secure federal grants for the renovation project since 2005, in part because of his friendship with one of the renovation’s most vocal supporters, the late Helen Daughtrey, a former vice president of the Suffolk Branch of the NAACP.

“It’s something that Congressman Forbes was extremely interested in, because of his relationship with Mrs. Daughtrey” Hunt said.

Forbes, himself, put it a bit more bluntly while discussing his meeting with Suffolk officials.

“Helen would not forgive me if we did not make sure this was going to happen,” he said.

The project is set to begin this spring, according to Hunt.

In an economy such as this, though, talk almost inevitably turns to jobs, and Forbes’ discussion with City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn, Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts, Hunt and Suffolk’s department heads did, as well, the congressman said.

“The No. 1 thing is still jobs and job creation,” he said, noting that the workforce development center has been a blessing in the midst of the recession. “We want to be on the front end — not the back end — of the challenges we’re going to face with these budgets.”

The budget challenges being faced at every level of government also were a topic of discussion, those who attended the meeting said.

“When you’ve got budget shortfalls … it’s really more important than ever that we all get together,” Forbes said. “We are in a partnership. I try to make sure they’re not blindsided by anything coming out of Washington.”

City officials also took the meeting as a chance to thank the congressman for his support of an initiative that is putting cameras and mobile computers into the police cars driven by uniformed officers, Hunt said.

The government has contributed $518,616 to the program so far, outfitting 45 percent of the city’s fleet of squad cars. City officials have asked for another $256,275 this year, which would raise the ratio of outfitted cars to about 70 percent.

Youth initiatives, the East Suffolk Recreation Center and water and sewer upgrades all are among the federally supported projects that were part of Friday’s discussion, Hunt said.

“He’s been very gracious about supporting us with projects in the past,” she added. “It’s good to know we have someone who will partner with us in Washington.”