Public Comments for: HB1117 - Portsmouth, City of; amending charter, various changes to process for recall of elective officers.
As a twenty-five-year resident of Portsmouth and a civic activist therein, I write to oppose the changes to the Portsmouth City Charter contained in the bill before you today, HB 1117. What Delegate Don Scott has submitted at the request of the Portsmouth City Council is in essence a solution to a non-existent problem. During the entirety of the time that our city charter has had a recall provision, it has only been successfully employed twice to remove a local elected official, and in both instances the official removed was the same individual. (The "Politics" heading in the Wikipedia entry for James W. Holley III provides summary accounts of the two recall campaigns.) Clearly, the existing language in the charter has not facilitated a systematic or indiscriminate employment of the recall tool to overturn the outcome of regular local elections. When city council held a public hearing on the proposed charter changes on September 14, 2021, only four citizens, I among them, turned out to speak on the item. The official minutes of that meeting reflect that citizen opinion was unanimously opposed to the rewording. (I have attached the relevant portion of the meeting minutes for your review.) In addition, I urged council to submit the proposal to the electorate in a referendum, an alternative method of vetting it provided under the charter, but they declined. My presumption is that they expected the citizenry would not find the modified recall provisions acceptable and were determined to make the changes regardless of the desires of their constituents. Rather than looking out for the best interests of the citizens as a whole, council's action appears self serving, for the effect of the new language is to impose additional barriers in a process that has been demonstrably hard to accomplish in its present form. Delegates, rather than tinkering with our charter for no discernible improvement in the quality of life for the residents of Portsmouth, I ask you, as many fellow citizens have asked our council members, to invest your energies in initiatives that will reduce the rate of serious crime and violence in our commonwealth generally and Portsmouth particularly. Our city council had no popular mandate for sending you the measure that currently occupies your attention, just a desire, it would appear, to insulate themselves from accountability to those they purport to represent. I urge you, therefore, to reject HB 1117 as inimical to the public interest.
HB 1117 should not be approved. City Council this year took significant backward steps in Government accountability and citizen respect. First, in HB 564, it seeks approval to amend its Charter to allow Councilmembers to interfere with the actions and decisions of individual City employees (including procurement officials) without regard to the City Manager or to City law. In HB 1117, it seeks approval to amend its Charter to gut local Council recall provisions. In its presentation to the Senate on the companion to HB 564, its Senate Patron emphasized that Council merely seeks to align its interference laws with those of the other Hampton Roads cities with similar laws. In HB 1117 Council seeks to create an outlier grossly out of step with the other Hampton Roads cities with similar laws. Only Hampton and Norfolk have local recall laws and compare as follows: Hampton citizens may recall a councilmember at any time, for any reason, without court approval, with a petition signed by 25% of the citizens who voted in the last council election and a simple majority vote; Norfolk is the same but has a 15% petition signature requirement; Portsmouth was previously the same with a 30% requirement but now proposes to eliminate completely the absolute right to recall and to substitute instead a recall based upon only 4 very limited grounds and requiring a court trial and concurrence by a judge. HB 1117 is not designed to accomplish anything noble, and certainly not to enhance or even preserve citizen democracy or the rule of law; rather, just as with HB564, it is designed to strip away existing rights of citizens, and the existing protections afforded to our City Manager form of government, just to enable a select few on Council to act with complete impunity notwithstanding their violation of City laws (including civil service and procurement) and their disregard of the desires of our citizens. Please do not join in this extraordinary affront. Please vote NO on HB 1117. I would welcome the opportunity to speak individually with any Committee members.
Increasing the # to recall only serves to keep bad folks in power, definitely not needed for Portsmouth. Having the reputation that it does, new management is desparately needed,