Different world in Suffolk

Published 10:10 pm Thursday, November 6, 2014

An adage among politicians and political watchers says that voters have short memories.

It’s probably safe to say three City Council members who will soon be watching the meetings from home don’t feel that way.

For 22 months, many voters in the city have waited to exact retribution on council members who voted for a 14-percent raise for City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn in January 2013. After saying the previous spring that they wouldn’t give her a larger raise than other city employees, the council members placed the measure on the agenda and voted on it the same night — stripping voters of the chance to comment on it before it passed — in their first meeting after newly elected members were put in place.

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Though the newly elected members — Roger Fawcett and Lue Ward — didn’t vote for the raise, the other six did. And four of them were up for election this year.

Mike Duman didn’t have any opposition, but strong candidates ran against Charles Brown, Jeffrey Gardy and Charles Parr. Those three, especially, have been steadfast allies of Mayor Linda T. Johnson and have said they support the city manager wholeheartedly.

That’s not what a lot of voters wanted to hear. With the raise, school funding issues, a lack of transparency, rising fees, higher water and sewer rates and other hot-button issues at the top of their minds — even 22 months after the raise happened — voters made sure to turn up and vote against the incumbents.

Throughout the campaign, the incumbents made their case for the city’s progress. Suffolk is in better financial shape than it was in 2006, they noted. Crime is down, jobs are up and capital improvements have sprouted up everywhere.

But many voters wondered about the hidden costs of all that progress, and they didn’t have to look much further than their children’s schools.

Teachers left in record numbers after last school year, many of them going to neighboring jurisdictions where they could get double-digit percent raises with just a little extra commuting time.

Parr has said the new council members will find that being on council is different than they thought it would be, and that would likely be true to an extent no matter what. But the very fact that the councilmen-elect, along with the rest of the citizens, don’t know the rationale behind much of what the current council has done is part of the problem.

Suffolk politics will be a much different world come January, when Leroy Bennett, Don Goldberg and Tim Johnson take office. Exactly what that world looks like remains to be seen.