Mayoral candidates debate

Published 11:10 pm Friday, October 26, 2012

A lively forum hosted Thursday by the Suffolk chapter of the Hampton Roads Tea Party wrapped up the debate season for local candidates for elected office.

The three candidates for mayor presented their views on topics ranging from raises for city employees to cronyism at the event held at Nansemond River High School.

Using questions that had been submitted by email before the event as well as at the entrance, moderator Dale Hurd first questioned the candidates about raises for city staff in this year’s budget process. A draft ordinance buried in the city’s budget document would have given raises of at least 21 percent to the four City Council appointees, including City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn.

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Mayor Linda T. Johnson, who is running for re-election, repeated it was only a draft ordinance. The appointees, like all city employees, ultimately received only a 2-percent raise.

Councilman Leroy Bennett, who is challenging for the mayor’s seat, suggested the purpose of the proposed raise had been to keep Cuffee-Glenn from leaving for another jurisdiction. He said he “would never have voted for” the proposed raises.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with anyone moving,” Johnson said on rebuttal.

Challenger Art Bredemeyer said he thought even the 2-percent raise was “significant.”

“I think the whole thing was mishandled,” he said.

In a question about the Southeastern Public Service Authority directed at Bennett, Hurd asked if the new $17.50 monthly fee all households are required to pay was because of a failure of leadership by Bennett when he sat on the authority’s board.

Noting the city doesn’t pay tipping fees to SPSA, Bennett said, “I don’t see how we’re paying the debt with that. The $17.50 is not going to pay SPSA’s debt.”

But Johnson countered that SPSA ended the recycling program to save money, and recycling is part of the services being funded by the new fee.

“You can say the $17.50 has nothing to do with it, but it does,” she said. “We’re doing it the way we’re doing it today because (of SPSA).”
Bredemeyer repeated his position that the fee is regressive because it disproportionately affects seniors, low-income residents and veterans.

A question directed at Bredemeyer questioned his cries against cronyism while maintaining a close relationship with Councilman Charles Parr, who is an ardent Johnson supporter.

The two own a funeral home together in North Carolina and have been friends for years. They’re also next-door neighbors.

“In my mind, I would treat it no differently,” Bredemeyer said, noting they can disagree and still be friends. “I expect that after this election, we will still be friends, and if not I can always put up a 6-foot fence.”

Bredemeyer also said his wife “would probably resign” from her spot as a commissioner on the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority board if he is elected.

All three of the candidates did agree on one issue of the night — that there’s no conflict of interest in Kevin Alston, an assistant superintendent for Suffolk Public Schools, running for the Sleepy Hole borough seat on City Council.

Other topics for the night included government transparency, shared services, eminent domain and last year’s redistricting process.

A video of the full event can be viewed on the organization’s Facebook page,