Nothing ‘sensational’ about secrecy

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I take umbrage with Councilman Mike Duman’s column, “‘Sensational’ coverage promotes skepticism,” published Sept. 20.

I do not question the councilman’s motives. I believe he sees a problem and truly wants to help solve it.

But in Duman’s own words, “There is an obligation to present factual, accurate information without prejudice or sensationalism.” As a public official, he has the same obligation as the press in this regard. But in his column, Duman failed to present factual, accurate information without prejudice.

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This is particulary disturbing, since he has a legal requirement under the Code of Virginia to be familiar with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

Duman inaccurately wrote, “Ms. Holland should be commended for erring on the side of caution and recommending public notice and open session.”

Duman should know Holland did not merely error on the side of caution, but in fact stated a requirement of the FOIA, which says that “all meetings of public bodies shall be open,” except in a limited number of special cases. A taskforce appointed to advise the Council and School Board is not one of those special cases and is, in fact, required to hold open meetings.

Furthermore, the city of Suffolk actually violated the Freedom of Information Act by not giving notice of the meeting, as required under state law, which requires public notification whether the meeting is open or closed. Despite Duman’s contention that there was never any danger of the city violating Virginia’s open meetings laws, by failing to give public notice Suffolk is presumed to have violated FOIA.

Finally Councilman Duman inaccurately presented the city’s AAA bond rating as “resulting in millions of dollars of savings for our taxpayers.” He should know that the city manager’s “sound management and fiscal responsibility” has resulted in debt payments increasing from $21 million in 2007 to $47 million in 2014, since he regularly approves the annual budget.

It is hard to understand how we taxpayers are realizing millions of dollars in savings when our annual debt payment has more than doubled and our present total debt is more than $837 million.

I suggest the councilman’s statement is based significantly on prejudice and sensationalism, since he failed to mention the cost of our AAA bond rating.

I do not question Duman’s motives. I question the motives of those he relies on for advice. I was shocked when Holland enforced the law, instead of assisting in violating it, as she has done in the past.

A case in point came when Holland justified the denial of our First Amendment rights by the Mayor Linda Johnson. The mayor frequently limits the time citizens can speak during public hearings to three minutes, though local code makes no allowance for her to do so and in fact specifies 15 minutes, unless more time is granted by the council.

Holland justified the mayor’s limits by stating they were OK, since the Mayor enforced them regularly. In effect, she said, the mayor can abridge freedom of speech as long as she does so frequently.

I am thankful that the freedom of the press is not abridged as well.

Chris Dove is from Suffolk. Email him at