Fresh start good for everybody

Published 9:55 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Given the ways Selena Cuffee-Glenn could have left Suffolk City Hall, next month’s move to Richmond couldn’t have been scripted better.

Cuffee-Glenn, an honorable public servant with an impressive resume, gets a higher-paying job in a big city, where her skill set best applies. She returns to a place, Richmond, that she knows well and where she cut her teeth in municipal government. Most important, she leaves of her own choosing, her head held high.

Alternative outcomes were less pleasant. Had there been five contested council seats on the November ballot rather than three, Cuffee-Glenn might not have survived her first meeting with the new council in January. That suggests less about any egregious errors by Cuffee-Glenn than it does about the mandate voters gave new council members Leroy Bennett, Don Goldberg and Tim Johnson.  That mandate was for a sea change in the culture at City Hall, and successful culture changes almost always start at the top.

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As it stood, with rock-solid backing from Mayor Linda Johnson and incumbent council members Mike Duman, Curtis Milteer and Lue Ward, and incumbent Roger Fawcett joining the newcomers to form an equally solid four-vote bloc, Cuffee-Glenn would have limped along awkwardly with a fractious council, her every decision under a microscope.

That course would have put her fate back in the hands of voters in November 2016, when the seats of Johnson, Milteer and Ward will be on the ballot. Given the mood of the electorate, odds are good of further upheaval on the council that Cuffee-Glenn would be unlikely to survive.

Instead, she moves on voluntarily to a place that sought her out and where she appears to have the full confidence of elected leadership, just as she enjoyed in Suffolk until November 2014. Good for Cuffee-Glenn, who has much to offer in Richmond.

Suffolk, too, gets a fresh start. Voters’ overwhelming call for a more transparent, responsive City Hall will be best led by a city manager who is recruited to deliver it.

If Cuffee-Glenn erred during her Suffolk tenure, it was in running a small city government like that of a big city, with unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and restrictions on the free flow of information. For citizens, it was all a little too stuffy and sophisticated.

Suffolk has carved out a nice niche in the Hampton Roads metropolitan region because of its small-town appeal and the opportunity for its citizens to live a simpler life, much less expensively, yet with the amenities of a prosperous small city.

Maintaining that appeal requires a like-minded city government that is comfortable in its own skin, with no desire to be another Chesapeake.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is