Election change sought

Published 10:02 pm Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Suffolk’s city charter currently requires a council member who wants to run for mayor to resign his or her seat to do so, but — with a mayoral election set for next year — at least one council member wants to change that.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett suggested the change during a Wednesday work session that focused on the city’s legislative agenda, a list of requests of the General Assembly. Changing the city charter would require General Assembly action.

“He or she shouldn’t have to give their seat up in order to run for mayor,” Bennett said.

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Currently, the mayor and three council seats — Nansemond, Sleepy Hole and Whaleyville boroughs — are elected on the same day as the president of the United States. The other four boroughs — Suffolk, Cypress, Holy Neck and Chuckatuck — are elected during the mid-term elections two years later.

Bennett painted the situation as unfair to the holders of the mid-term seats because they have to give up two years of their term to run for mayor.

But some council members felt that changing to Bennett’s suggestion would be unfair to the three elected on the same cycle as the mayor, as they would not be able to run for their seat and mayor at the same time regardless.

“I don’t think it’s fair I have to give up my seat and other council members don’t,” said Councilman Lue Ward, who represents the Nansemond Borough.

City Attorney Helivi Holland told the council members that a resignation that took place in order for the council member to run for mayor would be effective at the beginning of the term of the elected mayor, whoever the successful candidate might be.

Vacancies that occur on City Council, for whatever reason, are to be filled within 60 days by majority vote of the remaining council members, Holland said the city code prescribes. A special election is held only for a vacancy in the mayor’s chair.

“I have a real problem with that,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said of the lack of election for vacant council seats.

Several members wanted to delay a decision to allow time to get more information on the process.

“Right now, we’re just beating it up,” Councilman Donald Goldberg said.

Councilman Mike Duman said he was concerned that council members who could “run with impunity” might run for mayor to “possibly influence the outcome simply by throwing their hat in the ring.”

A report to city council on the issue is expected in the coming weeks. The mayor suggested examining other changes to the city’s election process.

“We might want to throw in an at-large (seat) at that time, because we’ve talked about that, too,” she said.