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.