Leadership in Norfolk: absent again

My latest op-ed, title above, appeared in Wednesday’s Virginian-Pilot. As if on cue, also included in Wednesday’s paper was a report on the state’s investigation of the death of a trash truck driver. For me, the issue wasn’t that the report found 19 serious violations, although that certainly is cause for concern. The issue was that the report – like so many things in Norfolk – was kept away from not only the citizens, who, after all, are going to foot the bill for paying the deceased worker’s family, but also from at least some of the members of City Council:

Mayor Paul Fraim said this week that he was aware of, but has not seen, the state’s findings. Other council members said they did not know about the report, which was sent to city officials July 26.

“That’s unbelievable,” City Councilman Andy Protogyrou said when told of the report. “I cannot fathom that. It appears to be a systemic breakdown.”

“Some heads should roll on this,” Councilman Tommy Smigiel added.


Most council members had no idea about the state’s findings until a reporter told them, Councilman Paul R. Riddick said.

“I’m not happy with the fact this has been kept under wraps,” he said.

No word on what the other four council members – Barclay Winn, Angelia Williams, Terry Whibley, and Anthony Burfoot – knew about this. My guess would be they fall into the same camp as Protogyrou, Smigiel and Riddick, and were kept out of the loop.

City Manager Marcus Jones says in the article, “I thought we had provided some level of some communication to the council, but it appears we did not do so.” Let me guess: he told the mayor, who admits he was aware, and assumed it would be shared with council.

Let me remind both Mr. Jones and the other seven members of council that Norfolk does not have a strong mayor form of government. The city manager is hired by and works for the entire council, not just one member. And Mr. Jones, your tenure in Norfolk will be an unplesant one if you have to fall on your sword all the time. Just ask Regina Williams.

But other members of council have to step up and assume their responsibilities as well. My column focused on the redistricting in Norfolk. What I’ve learned of the “conversation” about redistricting at the retreat is, quite frankly, nauseating. Riddick, who presented his own plan for redistricting, wasn’t even there to weigh in on the issue. I guess the three-hour time block on the agenda was just for show, as it appears it was decided beforehand that nothing would be done about the way Norfolk does redistricting.

It would be easy to blame the public for not being particularly interested in the issue of redistricting heading into that first public meeting. But I can’t, especially not after seeing how Virginia Beach and Suffolk, in particular, went out of their way to engage the public. That Jefferson quote which graces the top of this blog is instructive and I wish Norfolk’s elected officials would take it to heart:

I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.

Unless, of course, they truly don’t want their power curbed.


5 thoughts on “Leadership in Norfolk: absent again

  1. This is just sad. I assume the Mayor will say he did not know he he was suppose to pass the information and the City Manager will say he thought the Mayor was going to pass the information. What it comes down to really is what the City Manager said

    “I thought we had provided some level of some communication to the council, but it appears we did not do so.”

    Some level of communication? Does that mean saying something to someone in the hall. City business is public business. All government business or correspondence should be done at the very least in a memo or a recorded public meeting where everyone elected to council gets the information.

    There are only two reasons cities wish to work the other way. Either they don’t want other members elected by the people to know about something or they don’t want anyone at a later date to track down what was done or said. Both reasons are bad. They should have a policy to disseminate all information the same way to council and always follow it.

      1. I think when Jones said, “I thought we had provided some level of some communication to the council,” he meant that he forwarded along a copy of the report to the council and none of them bothered to read it, I would have expected the Pilot to do a FOIA request on that issue because if it can be shown that they received the report and none of them took the time to read it…

  2. Greetings,

    I hope Marcus Jones is reading. The City of Norfolk….services, offices Public Works..EVERTHING is definitely not focused towards their customers–Residents of the Mermaid City who pay their salaries and inflated health care and retirement benefits that most people in the private sector do not recieve. I have rarely experienced anything good in dealing with the City of Norfolk employees….even with dealing about special trash pickups.

    When you have lack of performance standards, as most government employees have, there is no incentive to help the taxpayer. This is particularly true here in Norfolk when it comes to personal property taxes on vehicles. People are definitely having hard times, and the City of Norfolk is charging people tax rates on vehichles that are not realistic. $14,000 for an old van when you cannot even sell it for $2,000.00. Supplication and face to face talk was made to the city official…..nothing but a deaf ear. Any contractor right now is on hard times. The City of Norfolk could care less.

    All of the road paving going on…who in Gods name is deciding that? All of the roads that were paved 3 years ago that don’t need it are getting it again now. What happened to all of us on 1952 erra concrete streets that have nort been touched since then except for stupid patches that look like hell? We have probably been ripped off of any water upgrades because of this too.

    The City of Norfolk is very inhospitible to business, or anybody who does not have connections downtown. People are definitely not treated equally.

    Norfolk…don’t feel alone…. The Portsmouth building inspectors are just as bad…and arrogant.

    Thinking of moving to Kansas.

    Pam Brown

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