Tensions rise during second Winter Community Session Meeting
Published 4:21 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023
The second Winter Community Engagement Session held Thursday, Feb. 2 at Southwestern Elementary School ended on a tense note with a controversial comment made by Councilman Roger Fawcett during his closing remarks for the night.
Following emphasizing the priority of citizens making their voices heard for the 2045 Comprehensive Plan, Fawcett spoke on the topic of land use and not being able to stop people from selling their property. Public reply noted the topic of rezoning, to which Fawcett declined to talk about. Likewise, he spoke on the regulations, ordinances and mandates that come into play for selling property.
Following which, Fawcett said: “You can voice your opinion, but if you get the attitude that you are going to stop something, get a life.”
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Citizens at the session were vocally upset by the comment with one person calling it “tonedeaf.”
Attendee and executive director of CARE4Suffolk.org Dr. Sherri Johnston commented on both the meeting and Fawcett’s closing remarks.
“I was highly impressed with the facilitation of the meeting and give kudos to Jennifer Moore, Keith Cannady and Erin Dears. During the meeting I felt we were being heard and that our opinions truly matter. However, I am sorely disappointed in Councilman Fawcett’s closing remarks,” Johnston said. “Unfortunately, such comments falsely perpetuate the misconception that our voices fall on deaf ears and the outcomes for the city’s decisions and actions are predetermined by the city, regardless of public ideas and concerns. It takes more time to build trust than it does to tear it down. City Council has a lot of repairing to do to rebuild the relationship with the citizens of Suffolk.”
Johnston called on city officials to remove Fawcett from the committee updating the Comprehensive Plan in a column she wrote in today’s edition of the News-Herald.
Suffolk citizen Chris Dove also commented at the meeting, giving positive credit to City Council.
“I almost always disagree with what city council decides, almost every decision, but I have to give them credit. They put in a lot of hours, these meetings sometimes go on for hours and hours and then they always have the working meeting before that,” Dove said. “When people talk negatively about City Council, they don’t talk about the time that they put into it. I would like to applaud them, even though I don’t agree with them.”
Fawcett provided the following statement Monday on his comment.
“At the end of the Comprehensive Plan meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2, Suffolk citizens and I engaged in a spirited debate while maintaining an open dialogue. Our citizens are as passionate about the future of our city as I am,” he said. “What’s positive about a lively debate is that folks can always agree to disagree to promote the greater good. As an elected official on Suffolk City Council over the past 10 years, I have learned that my position on Council has an effect most importantly on the residential interests of Suffolk’s citizens. I love this City and take my responsibility as councilman seriously.
“I will continue to hear my citizens’ voices even though words don’t always express the true meaning of my actions to promote our citizens’ concerns. I look forward to hearing from Suffolk citizens as we participate in the 2045 comprehensive plan,” Facwett said.
Prior to the meeting’s end, citizens spoke out their ideas and concerns for the city to event hosts Comprehensive Planning Manager Keith Cannady and Interim Director of Media and Community Relations Jennifer Moore who moderated the session. Other attendees included council members Timothy Johnson, John Rector, retired councilman Donald Goldberg, and new Director of Planning and Community Development Kevin Wyne.
Topics ranged from protecting Suffolk’s agriculture and rural areas, to beautifying and adding amenities to the downtown area such as both a concert venue and a sports area for soccer and football.
“The only way you’re going to protect agriculture is to buy development rights like Virginia Beach does,” one person speaking at the meeting said. “They have a fund where the farmer keeps farming, but they have given them the money to not put warehouses.”
Topics also included promoting business and city growth with one commenter spoke on the importance of the type of growth and voicing the opinion of what growth that the citizens do not want in their area. Likewise, conversations focused on providing active spaces for youth, being aware of the long term effects of city plans after their adoption, and being aware of taxes that come along with desired additions to the city.
The next five meetings on the 2045 Comprehensive Plan are from 6-8 p.m. at:
- Oakland Elementary School, Feb. 9
- John Yeates Middle School, Feb. 14
- Nansemond River High School, Feb. 16
- Col. Fred Cherry Middle School, Feb. 23, and
- Curtis R. Milteer, Sr. Recreation Center, Feb. 28.
The Feb. 9 meeting, which was previously planned for Chuckatuck Fire Station 9, is now planned for Oakland Elementary School.
For those unable to attend or want to make another concern known, citizens can go to suffolk2045.org/critical-questions to make their voices heard. For more information, go to suffolk2045.org.