Are Suffolk’s city ordinances legally binding?

Published 10:49 pm Thursday, October 13, 2011

To the editor:

Apparently some or all of the local laws known as ordinances passed by Suffolk City Council may not be legally binding.

I learned this recently when I sought to understand during a City Council meeting how the Cloverleaf developers were able to seek an increase from the 78 detached single-family building lots they had been granted in an earlier rezoning request to 128 lots without a public hearing.

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Imagine my surprise when the Mayor declined to answer during that meeting, when asked if Suffolk’s ordinances were legally binding. I fully expected the mayor to say, “Yes of course they are!” Instead, she stated that she would have to get with the city attorney to clarify.

The city attorney was sitting right next to her during the City Council meeting. So again imagine my surprise that she did not address such a critical issue immediately by turning to the city attorney and asking him then and there.

Especially troubling is the fact that the individual who reportedly declared that local ordinances are not legally binding is that same city attorney. One year ago, the city attorney declared at least two local rezoning ordinances not legally binding, according to public statements made by the director of the Suffolk Planning and Community Development Department.

Another disturbing fact was that none of the council members or city staff present at the council meeting stood up for the fact that ordinances are legally binding.

Are the residents of Suffolk expected to write property tax checks when they are not even sure they are legally bound to do so?

I am sure that we all want Suffolk to be a place where people can trust that local laws are binding and always upheld. I feel the Mayor, City Council and the city attorney need to publicly confirm that all ordinances are, in fact, legally binding, even if they have to rescind and replace some poorly written ordinances beforehand to make the statement true.

They need to do this soon to ensure that the public’s trust in local government is not more seriously damaged.

Chris Dove