Norfolk council votes to maintain status quo

Surely, you aren’t surprised.

It only took about 20 minutes for council to get to the last item on the agenda Tuesday night: redistricting. Sixteen people signed up to speak and 15 of them did so.

After the speakers, each council member took the time to comment prior to his or her vote. Watch those remarks carefully – and then see if they jibe with your memory of the events that led up to the direct election of the mayor. There was a bit of revisionist history going on.

I cannot locate my copy of the Whitehurst report but I did run across the remarks I offered to council back in December 2002 at the public hearing on elected mayor. At that time, I said:

In May 1997, the City Council appointed a blue-ribbon commission to study the popular election of the mayor. Four of you were sitting as members of council at that time. With the exception of one member, the commission supported the popular election of the mayor. There are a couple of points in the commission’s report that are worthy of mention:

■ “Of all of the arguments for direct election, maybe the strongest is that direct election would place the selection of the mayor in the hands of the voters and give citizens a greater sense of involvement in city government.” (Page 4 of the report)

■ “There is a consensus that the council should remain a seven-member body (although an increase should not be ruled out). The commission also believes that the council (including the mayor) should consist of an odd-number of members.” (Page 5 of the report)

As a followup to an article about the hearing, I penned this letter to the editor.(Note that both articles reference over 87% approval on the referendum. According to the State Board of Elections, it was 82%. I don’t know when or how that number changed.)

Given the relatively recent change to an elected mayor, I was disappointed that the facts of it were not properly presented.

While I was pleased that council actually engaged in some conversation with its bosses – typically, they have no remarks after a public hearing and just go straight to the vote – I was not pleased that some chose to use their time to chastise people for not being involved. Kind of hard to say that when one of your own members admitted to not understanding how important redistricting is, don’t you think?

This is part of the reason I refuse to call elected representatives “leaders.” To me, the term has to be earned, not bestowed. If the people are not involved, the answer is not, to paraphrase TJ, to make decisions in a back room but to help them understand why they should be. If a council member doesn’t understand the implications of redistricting, I suspect that also means that the member didn’t try to engage the voters on the topic.

So, as usual, there is plenty of blame to go around. The question is only how do we move forward from here.

The council-approved plan will be submitted to the Department of Justice. So will the Jordan plan. And the Riddick plan, which I’ve only seen briefly and which has never been discussed, is also supposed to be submitted. The difference between the latter two plans seems to be incumbent protection: the Jordan plan does not consider it – the right answer, in my opinion – while the Riddick plan does.

If I were a betting woman, I’d bet on the council-approved plan getting the rubber stamp from DOJ. If they didn’t alter the General Assembly plan, no way they touch the Norfolk one.

One more thing: I want to see the court cases that Mayor Fraim and City Attorney Bernard Pishko keep referencing that say that black districts have to have 62% voting age minority population. Because I haven’t seen any and neither has anyone else. And DOJ just approved a General Assembly plan with districts containing less than the 62%. If it isn’t true – and it certainly appears that it isn’t – they need to stop saying it.

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4 thoughts on “Norfolk council votes to maintain status quo

  1. If you were a betting woman, I’d take up that bet offer. Given that the Jordan and Riddick plans show what is possible, getting DoJ preclearance is going to be problematic.

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