Charges unfair to ‘transparent’ process

Published 10:23 pm Friday, April 27, 2012

To the editor:

I am writing in response to a recent editorial in the Virginian-Pilot in which the newspaper ratcheted up its continued assault on the city of Suffolk. Our budget development process abides by the city’s charter and state law, as well as council’s demand for transparency, public debate and inclusiveness.

On April 4, the city manager presented a proposed budget to City Council, which was reflective of public discussions and policy directives made to the city manager unanimously by City Council.

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After a televised and recorded presentation at council’s work session, the city made the entire budget document available for public review on the city’s website, at City Hall, and other city facilities. City Council voted to hold a public hearing on April 18 at City Hall, where citizens’ input could be heard. As in recent years, a public information meeting was scheduled for April 11, one full week in advance of the public hearing, so that anyone with questions about the proposed budget could talk directly with city staff.

Print and broadcast news outlets wrongfully stated that this meeting would be a meeting of City Council, leading many of those who attended to become confused and angry.

At its April 18 meeting, City Council unanimously directed the city manager to prepare budget amendments and return to council with a budget to include an additional $2 million for Suffolk Public Schools. These new funds bring the city’s local contribution to public schools to $49.1 million, a $5-million increase in new funding, which is also an 11.3-percent increase over last fiscal year.

When including school-related debt service and capital projects, the city’s total contribution to education this year is proposed to be $60.5 million, which is 50 percent of Suffolk’s spending. This is an unmistakable and incredible fact illustrating the high priority Suffolk City Council places on public education.

Furthermore, I want to put an end to an accusation the Virginian-Pilot made in the referenced editorial. City Council does not “find” money. The additional $2 million being directed towards public education is being removed from an important transportation initiative. New money was not “found.” Existing funds for a priority of the city were redirected.

In addition, the city manager’s proposed budget included an implementation plan for a compensation study prepared by an independent third party, as unanimously directed by City Council at its Jan. 18 meeting. This public meeting can be viewed along with other archived meetings on the city’s website.

This City Council and our city manager have changed the practices of a prior city administration, which did not share information with all council members equally, let alone the public. This is sought in City Council’s establishment of standing committees to include finance, public safety, education, health and human relations, economic development, as well as land use, housing, and transportation.

In these committee meetings, we review and monitor issues specific to each service area and recommend policy to City Council. The finance committee meets monthly, while the other standing committees meet quarterly. All standing committee meetings are advertised and open to the public.

The editors of the Virginian-Pilot could earn some credibility on Suffolk government by emerging from their “bunker” to attend a City Council or committee meeting, and observe the open and informative discussions that take place in Suffolk on a regular basis.

As with every critical decision, budget adoption is based on input from staff and our citizens, whose input is always welcome.

Suffolk is a well-governed, fiscally conservative city with an excellent bond rating, thanks to much hard work over the past five years. We are proud of our accomplishments and our community and appreciate the excellent work performed by our city manager and our employees.

Charles Parr
Suffolk Borough council member