Suffolk gets surprising legal advice

Published 10:42 pm Monday, March 11, 2013

To the editor:

Are the citizens of Suffolk getting their money’s worth from their city attorney?

I read recently that the city is ignoring an official opinion from the Virginia Attorney General’s office in regards to the city assuming control over construction of public schools.

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Our City Council is going with the opinion of our city attorney that state code gives them the authority to do so.
I am not an attorney, like Holland or Councilman Jeffrey Gardy, but it was a simple matter for me to read the statute. State Code 22.1-126.1 states, in part, “Property acquired pursuant to this section shall be under the control of the school board of the county, city or town acquiring it….”

I cannot understand why two attorneys support an opinion that is in direct contradiction to the statute they base their opinion on.
This is not the first time our City Council has ignored opinions from higher authorities, instead relying on the opinion of a Suffolk City Attorney. Our previous city attorney, Ed Roettger opined that City Council did not have the authority to amend proposed proffers in a conditional rezoning ordinance.

Council chose to ignore a Supreme Court of Virginia opinion that stated Virginia’s code “enables local governments to consider comments that citizens or property owners articulate during public hearings and to exercise legislative prerogatives to respond to those comments by amending proposed proffers.”
Why do the opinions of Suffolk City Attorneys contradict the opinions of the Virginia Attorney General’s office and the Supreme Court of Virginia?

I think it is a matter of perspective. Many of you may not realize that the city attorney does not work for the citizens of Suffolk. We pay their salaries, but they work for and represent the interests of the city manager. Their job is not to interpret and enforce the law but to manipulate the law to support the goals of the city manager.
Seen in this light, it makes sense that our city attorney is ignoring the plain words of Virginia’s code. Holland is using the part of the statute that supports the city manager’s desire to control construction of public schools, while ignoring the part contradicting that desire.
The city attorney is not paid to work in the interests of all of Suffolk’s citizens, just the city government. Why Councilman Gardy — the only attorney on City Council — is allowing the city to ignore state statutes is another thing, entirely.

It is generally accepted that Council members should work for the interests of the citizens.

Chris Dove