Damiani does more interviews

Published 10:12 pm Friday, September 28, 2012

Further installments of Andy Damiani’s “Roundtable Talk” program will begin airing in coming weeks with more interviews of local candidates.

Episodes currently running feature City Council candidates talking about their background. Future episodes will have the candidates talking about issues and also introduce a couple of School Board candidates.

The mayoral candidates attempted to differentiate themselves during the taping on Wednesday, particularly on the issue of a new $17.50 monthly fee for waste disposal and recycling. The fee is included on homeowners’ twice-yearly real estate tax bills but is different from the real estate tax.


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“For that fee to go into the general fund, you would be looking at an 8-cent increase,” said Mayor Linda T. Johnson, who is running for re-election. “The mill rate would go up so high that people would be very upset.”

Her two challengers, however, said the cost of trash disposal and recycling should have been included in the real estate tax.

“That’s something we would have to look at,” said Leroy Bennett, who represented the old Nansemond borough but was drawn out during the redistricting process. “It put a burden on a lot of the homeowners and people who are on fixed incomes and seniors. They can’t write it off on their income tax because it’s a fee.”

Challenger Art Bredemeyer, a lawyer who is making his first run for public office, called the fee “regressive.”

“It unfairly impacts the poor, seniors and veterans,” he said, referring to the fact that seniors and some veterans can get their taxes reduced or eliminated. “It should be part of the real estate tax.”

The candidates also differed on the idea of open government. Johnson said the city is as open as it can be.

“We have pretty much done away with closed-door session,” with a few exceptions that are allowed by state law, Johnson said. “If you can tell me what we’re hiding, I’ll be happy to open it up.”

But Bennett said there should be more open meetings and the council should make more of an effort to move meetings to a larger venue when a large turnout is expected. That’s a process that, by state law, involves public notice at least a week in advance and as such cannot be done at the last minute.

And Bredemeyer said information should be more accessible.

“Anything they are reluctant to explain or can’t explain, they shouldn’t be doing in the first place,” he said.

The other race with three candidates — for the Sleepy Hole borough seat — featured three men talking about widely differing topics.

Kevin Alston, assistant superintendent for Suffolk Public Schools, talked mostly about school funding.

“Suffolk is being compared to all the other school divisions in our region, but they’re not being funded at the same level,” he said, adding that Suffolk funds less of its “ability to pay” according to a state formula than most surrounding divisions.

Raymond Batton said the city needs to be more cognizant of how its actions affect citizens and also needs to be more “straightforward” with the public.

“I’m running for City Council primarily to give back,” he said. He also said the city needs to continue to work toward a AAA credit rating.

Roger Fawcett said the city needs to work on improving the quality of life and having more open government. He also said the waste disposal fee would have been better as a tax.

Finally, Robert Barclay, who is running for re-election in the new Nansemond borough (formerly the Sleepy Hole borough), said most people he has talked to view jobs and the economy as top issues. He lauded the city’s commitment to creating jobs, including roughly 1,300 jobs recently announced by the U.S. Navy.

“These businesses look for stable local government, and they look for sound fiscal management,” he said. “Continuing sound fiscal management in the city, I believe, is critical to obtaining more jobs.”

He also said he has been an advocate of public safety, having supported the creation of a Neighborhood Enforcement Team in North Suffolk.

Damiani also interviewed School Board candidates Phyllis Byrum, the Whaleyville borough incumbent, and her challenger, Marion Flood.

Byrum has lived in Whaleyville for 58 years, attended Suffolk Public Schools and later taught in the division for 30 years until her retirement.

Asked about school funding, she said the division needs more money but that the city does “a good job of funding us.”

“I think we could always use more money for different programs,” she said. “If we use what we have to the best of our ability, we can do an adequate job.”

Asked the same question, Flood initially said she has not looked into the issue, but then changed her mind.

“I think I would like to see more money appropriated,” she said, adding that she will push for a new school in Whaleyville after Robertson Elementary closed. “I think that it’s devastating for a community to lose a school.”

Episodes of “Roundtable Talk” air at 8 a.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Charter channel 13.