Open Letter to School Board re: Summer Retreat Agenda

Among the principles that inform the political philosophy of PortsmouthCityWatch.org, these two are key: 1) conduct the business of the public in public, and 2) afford the public abundant opportunities to weigh in before deciding public policy. We are opposed, therefore, to the Portsmouth School Board taking up during the summer retreat scheduled for today and tomorrow two action items that we believe should be considered in a regular or special meeting. The items in question are the adoption of the revised student code of conduct, item 7.3, and the approval of a contract for transportation services for students with special needs, item 7.4. Continue reading

Open Letter to the Port of Virginia re: Portside

In the course of the FY 2018 budget adoption meeting of the Portsmouth City Council, City Manager Patton stated that our city has requested a grant from the Port of Virginia, the purpose of which is to fund all or a portion of the construction of an entertainment/food and beverage service venue. Although I have not seen the request in writing, I presume that its submission was under the Aid to Local Ports program. I have two main objections to such a request: first, that the city submitted it without requesting public input as to the desirability of such an endeavor, and second, that the project does not meet the requirements for such a grant. As the first issue is self-explanatory, I will elaborate only on the second.

The purpose of the funds requested is to build a venue on the Portsmouth waterfront for food and beverage sales and entertainment. The Aid to Local Ports Policy housed on the Port of Virginia web site, however, contains this central provision: “Funds will be used to support capital needs of publicly-owned ocean, river, and tributary ports and their marine facilities within the Commonwealth whose primary purpose is the flow-through of goods for consumption [emphasis added].”  In my judgment, the request from my city does not meet those criteria. Although under a liberal interpretation, the project in question could fit within the definition of “landside facilities”, the structure proposed is not “for handling and storing waterborne commerce”. Previous success in obtaining a PoVA subsidy to construct a fishing pier, also something of a stretch with regard to the underlying policy, has likely emboldened my city officials to solicit more money for this incompatible use. I would urge those responsible for vetting local requests under the Aid to Local Ports program, therefore, to reject the current application that my city has tendered.

Please let me know if you need additional information.

Yours truly,
Mark Geduldig-Yatrofsky

Publisher’s Notebook: You Ask; We Respond

As a political activist, I put my name to a lot of petitions, letters to elected officials, and political surveys. One of the last came to me today from the Common Good VA PAC, and the invitation to “leave . . . feedback for Governor McAuliffe” proved irresistible. We believe in telling the truth as we know it, even when it may prove “inconvenient” to the listener. This one will likely fall into that category: Continue reading

Publisher’s Notebook: Open Letter to Council on Filling the Vacancy

The November 21, 2016, resignation of Council Member Danny Meeks presents an opportunity. Under the provisions of our city charter (see Chapter 3 Section 3.04), when a vacancy on that body occurs, the remaining members can appoint someone to fill the seat temporarily. As CM Meeks’s term of office will expire on January 1, 2017, the amount of time the temporary appointee will hold the position is relatively brief. Nonetheless, were council to appoint one of the Council Members-Elect chosen by the voters earlier this month, that person could get her/his feet wet a bit early. In my view, getting a head start on a new job has benefits to both the job holder and her/his constituents. Continue reading

Guest Opinion: Shannon Glover for Mayor Endorsement

[Tracy Link is a small business owner and civicly engaged Portsmouth citizen. She graciously allowed us to share this posting from her Facebook timeline.]

Tonight, my husband, a Cleveland native, is sitting with his remote in hand, flipping channels between the opening Cavs game and the opening World Series game. Like everyone who ever lived in Cleveland, he’s hoping to see it emerge as a City of Champions. But in many ways, it already has. They have improved their economy, attracted some of the best new businesses, fixed much of their crime issues, and started working on being a renaissance city, built for the future out of the ashes of their past. Continue reading

Publisher’s Notebook: People for Portsmouth Endorsements and Interview

For a long-time advocate of openness in the civic realm, the candidate endorsements by the People for Portsmouth Political Action Committee were epoch making. Many organizations in our city and region — the Martin Luther King, Jr., Leadership Steering Committee, the teachers association, the firefighters’ union, the police association, the realtors’ association, to name a few — select their favorite candidates, bestowing praise and often contributions upon them. Some of these groups vet candidates through a nominally competitive process involving questionnaires and interviews for everyone running; others, anoint their champions in backrooms without any notice to non-members that they are deciding whom to endorse. Whatever the process, as private organizations they are free to choose whomever they like for reasons known only to members of the selection committees. Continue reading

Some Random (and not so Random) Thoughts

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[Guest contributor Andrew Lewis is an educator in Palm Beach County, FL, and a family member of the publisher. This opinion piece originally appeared on his Facebook page and is transcribed here with his permission. Although PortsmouthCityWatch.org is focused on local issues, we found relevance in this posting to what is occurring in our hometown.]

“…and I’m just asking for other parts of our democracy, along with the free press, to help us; to help us, and not put that burden all on law enforcement to resolve.”
David Brown, Dallas Police Chief

We had five minutes before class ended, and the class had completed their Continue reading

From Jim Oliver’s Address to People for Portsmouth

[Mr. James (“Jim”) B. Oliver, Jr., has graciously allowed us to post his remarks delivered at the March 24, 2016, meeting of People for Portsmouth. Among his many accomplishments, he served as Interim City Manager of Portsmouth from June 2004 until July 2007. The following biographical information is posted on the web site of the Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement, a public-spirited organization he helped to establish.

“Jim Oliver is the Emeritus Chairman of the Board for the Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement extending his long career in communications, senior government management and civic leadership. He received a B.A. in Communication Arts from the University of Notre Dame, a master’s degree in Urban Services from Old Dominion University and attended Columbia University on a CBS Fellowship in Government. His early career was as a reporter and correspondent for newspaper, radio and television companies. Continue reading

On Building a “New Portsmouth”

Portsmouth has recently completed a round of Budget Community Engagement Meetings, which presented useful information on the city’s various programs. In gathering attendees’ responses to budgetary questions, the City took an important first step towards becoming more open and responsive to Portsmouth’s citizenry. The more citizens feel engaged in and important to the process, the more likely they will support the city’s efforts on their behalf.

However, spending for all these programs requires funding and there was little discussion of the City’s ongoing economic development plans. It seems evident that an overriding priority must be creative and continuing economic development, shared regularly, and as fully as possible, with the public. Without courageous and tenacious efforts to revitalizing business in the city, Portsmouth will never have sufficient funds to meet its obligations laid out in recent meetings. Such efforts will help preserve our current population of residents, and bring new residents to live, work and spend in our city. Following are some important ways to keep us moving forward. Continue reading

“There You Go Again”

The new, responsive Mayor Wright, unveiled during the February 9, 2016, city council meeting — check the video of him making a show of taking notes during some citizen addresses to council — recently threw out this question to his social media following:
“‘Your Thoughts’
 “Norfolk and Virginia Beach don’t air the ‘public comment’ portion of their council meeting, meaning the citizen’s concerns are not shown to the public. Should Portsmouth do the same? Does being on TV make matters better, or worse? If you have a concern for council to address, should that be televised? Are we our own worse enemy? Please be honest!
“-Mayor Wright-“

His post then linked to an article in The Virginian-Pilot — “In videos, some cities take the ‘public’ out of public meetings“.

That he is posing these question is some, albeit slight, consolation. Citizens with memories longer than the six months many public officials ascribe to us will have a sense of “déjà vu all over again”, though. For the sake of those who weren’t paying attention last time around, we had this “conversation” with Portsmouth elected officials in 2013. Just before the new year, a council reshaped by the November 2012 election decided that the cameras did not need to roll during the non-agenda speakers portion of the meeting. Preempting any opportunity for  the public to weigh in on dispensing with the longstanding practice, a council consensus developed, out of public sight or hearing, to pull the plug. Signs went up on the council chamber doors before the first meeting in January, and it was the proverbial “done deal”. Except for one sticky detail: the citizens protested — in letters to the newspaper; in eMail messages and telephone calls to “the Honorables” (a courtesy term); in face-to-face encounters with council members; and in speeches from the podium in the council chamber.

During the “lights out” period for the taxpayer-funded city cameras, PortsmouthCityWatch.org stepped into the breach, recording and posting the moment-by-moment sights and sounds of the “censored” proceedings on YouTube. (They  remain accessible in the PCW video archive and might prove interesting to revisit in light of this renewed threat to the public’s right to know.) Two months later, without acknowledging the public’s role in the process, council reversed itself. Council did so, however, with the assertion that if the citizenry did not comport itself as “the Honorables” desired, the “privilege” of having their remarks recorded could again be withheld.

Continue reading