Council keeps two standing committees

Published 10:55 pm Thursday, January 17, 2019

Suffolk City Council voted 5-3 Wednesday to eliminate all but two of its standing committees.

The move was originally on the consent agenda and would have eliminated all standing committees but the finance committee. This came as a recommendation from City Manager Patrick Roberts.

However, the council chose to vote on it as a separate item and voted to keep the education committee and the finance committee while eliminating the others.

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In a letter to City Council back in December, Roberts said the committees did not serve their intended purpose, and the members could better utilize their time with staff reports on various topics at their twice-monthly work sessions.

“The purpose of this is to allow staff the opportunity and flexibility to include typical advisories, reports and presentations that are included on these committees, that we would bring that information to the full council,” Roberts said. “It has been my observation and the same of council that we have the opportunity to make better use of our televised work sessions. We also have the opportunity if there is information that is substantive, it always needs to be brought to the full council.”

While the City Council did not disagree with Roberts’ reasoning, Councilman Mike Duman believed it was important to keep a line of communication open between the public school system and the city.

Duman argued that while most of the committees listed in the ordinance were specific in time, place and members, the education committee left options for how the committee could be run.

“I think under the current atmosphere we should not be abolishing any open lines of communication,” Duman said.

Councilman Roger Fawcett disagreed. He said he believes that the committees weren’t achieving their goals and they were a waste of time and money.

“The committees I’ve sat on have been very limited in information, but I look in retrospect with the number of people involved in the committee sitting there discussing things and going back to the same item and never really generate information that’s worthy to bring to council,” Fawcett said.

Despite the disagreements, everyone agreed that the way things have been happening with the education committee has not been effective.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson said nobody should take the discussion to mean that productive conversations weren’t happening between the school division and the city.

There were regular meetings with groups from both parties meeting very regularly, Johnson said.

She stressed that having regular meetings with the school division was important, but those meetings are strictly about financial concerns.

“Our responsibility is fiduciary. It is not to tell them what to do in the classrooms,” Johnson said. “Their responsibility is to tell us what they need and what they are doing with the money.”

Johnson also believes that these meetings can happen without a committee outlined in an ordinance.

“When was the last time we had a committee report?” Johnson asked. “We will have liaisons, and at that point at work sessions we need a 15-minute window to have a liaison report.”

Others believed that keeping the committee was important, but it was equally important to change the way the committee operates.

“When you talk about the committee, it’s because we didn’t get the information back,” Councilman Lue Ward said. “Why demolish the committee? I feel we should have the committee and change how we get it done.”

Duman, Fawcett, Donald Goldberg, Tim Johnson and Lue Ward were those who voted to keep the finance and education committees.