Step under the mistletoe and get kissed by the FANTASTIC set of council meetings we reviewed in December! The season may have been cheery, but residents of Garner Street certainly were not. Neither were the anti-Interfacility Traffic Area (that’s the last time I will ever type that phrase) activists in Virginia Beach.
“I would like to note that our city clerk, Ruth,” Mayor Will Sessoms nodded toward the petite, white-haired woman seated behind stacks of binders, “this will be her last meeting.”
“We love you, we appreciate you, and we will miss you,” he added, leading the entire council in a standing ovation. “Bravo!” someone hollered as Ruth waved politely.
“All right, Ruth,” joked the mayor upon resuming his seat. “Back to work!”
With emphasis on “work”–for not two minutes later, the electronic voting board had a spastic fit and refused to respond to the clerk’s commands.
“It’s not working,” Ruth muttered. “Is everybody aye?”
“Aye,” responded the council in somewhat unison.
“Thank you,” acknowledged Ruth, recording the vote manually. Yikes. With the board on the fritz, can Virginia Beach really afford to lose its clerk now?
But what to my wondering eyes should appear? But old Saint Nicholas–looking very austere.
“Merry Christmas, everybody,” announced a commenter wearing a Santa Claus hat.
“Hi, Santa,” answered council members cheerfully.
“This [item] is about the city manager’s pay, correct?” faux Santa inquired.
“This is extending his contract for the same salary,” corrected Mayor Sessoms.
“I think the city attorney may have a different opinion of that,” Santa gestured to the lawyer, who responded in a quintessentially surgical fashion.
“If you look at the red line, there is an increase. BUT it is an increase that y’all voted on in July. There is no increase in THIS contract,” he clarified.
Santa nodded. “I think these salaries are out of whack with the real world. Go out and look at the free market and see what you can get for a more reasonable amount.”
Methinks the line between Santa and Scrooge is a bit blurry today. The mayor huffed.
“His background at the Army Corps is exceptional and we are thankful for those talents,” he defended the city manager.
But if the man in the Santa hat was miserly with the manager’s pay, he was downright Grinchlike about the controversial–and unceremoniously-named–“Interfacility Traffic Area.”
“I thought I would read you my letter to Santa,” he brandished a red envelope cartoonishly labeled “TO: SANTA, NORTH POLE.”
“Dear Santa: Mom and Dad want to get me a huge ITA for Christmas and I don’t want one! Who wants a bunch of new development, parking garages, a solid waste transfer station, and more debt? Not me, Santa.”
This routine continued for several minutes, with the man addressing Santa Claus in absentia and the audience stone-faced behind him. But remarkably, he planned a phenomenal dismount. He whipped out a wrapped present from his bag and, in mock surprise, opened it theatrically:
Subsequent public commenters were far less operatic, but no less angry about this big, bad ITA. After Council Member Barbara Henley (her name plate read “Council Lady”) pointedly questioned a critic, a diminutive woman stepped to the lectern in disgust.
“Your horns are showing!” she scolded.
Council Member Henley balked. “I’ve listened to so much misinformation, I’m about to explode.”
“Oh, please do! We would enjoy something different for a change,” the woman retorted to further antagonize Henley.
After listening politely, Henley addressed the bloc of opponents in the audience.
“I apologize if I appeared to lose my cool, but I just couldn’t stand another minute. The ITA is not a creation of the city. The Navy was very concerned that there be no more houses in that high-noise zone,” she calmly explained.
“The city became the owner of a lot of those properties by willing sellers asking the city to buy. This plan is NOT saying we should begin development. On these sensitive areas, we should come up with uses…trails. Baseball parks.”
When Henley concluded, the mayor leaned forward. He glanced over at Ruth again. “Would you like to say anything?”
She rose. “Thirty-nine years, one-and-a-half months. You’ve been very gracious. And I’ve been very dedicated. I thank you.”