How we roll in Surprising Suffolk

Published 12:13 am Sunday, March 30, 2014

By Roger Leonard

The issue of our new fire chief strangling the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad just highlights the city administration’s utter lack of management vision and insight into what makes a great community.

One of the things most needed among Suffolk leaders is community engagement with volunteer organizations committed to the community. Next are proper and engaged management strategies for the benefit of the community, rather than top pay for employees, as with our well-paid city manager and her senior staff.


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It is fine to say they do a good job, but when they make bone-headed decisions and mismanage, we need to hold them accountable; even if the mayor and council like them.
Unfortunately the City Council does not hold the city manager and her staff accountable for implementing bad and harmful policy decisions. The decision to effectively kill the rescue squad was one of many bad ideas we have seen lately from the staff of a city manager making more than $200,000 a year in salary and benefits. 
The new fire chief just got here and hardly knows even five of us, much less what the community really needs. Now he has blundered off without much thought to follow the city manager’s dictate to control all and burn everything else down. It’s bad public policy, and it has cost the community more than $500,000 in new emergent overtime costs paid to the professional rescue and fire staff that is taking over calls once run by the volunteer staff.
Where will this money come from, other than taxpayers’ pockets? It came by stripping vacancy savings and funds from many other city departments.
Reduced spending is good, but these funds might have gone to better purposes, especially since the volunteers were willing and able to serve.

Instead, they have been frozen out by poor management decisions, just so the city manager can exercise central control.
The volunteer rescue squad has been a mainstay for more than 50 years and has in recent years been bringing in dollars, as the city has charged for its service. Replacing that resource with huge overtime costs is obtuse. 
Now we see a community institution diminished, because some people in charge want to control it all. The real cost to this poorly thought out decision is $500,000 a year or more in overtime spending. Is that the kind of management decisions taxpayers want and can afford? 
Suffolk taxpayers are overworked and over-burdened. I say it is time to fire the city manager — and even the new fire chief — if this is their idea of community service. Who is served by this bad idea? Not the citizens, who pay. Not the volunteers, who want to serve. Maybe the beneficiaries are the powerful insiders, who want to control everything.

But then, that is how we roll in Surprising Suffolk.

Roger Leonard is from Suffolk. Email him at