Portsmouth mayor allegedly neglectful

Jordan Crawford | 10/31/2013, 3:18 p.m.
Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright is being accused of failing to include city council in city business.

Loose lips sink ships, but tight ones can sometimes be just as detrimental. The Portsmouth City Council is livid over not being included in an important city matter last week, and called a closed meeting to address Mayor Kenny Wright’s repeated failure to include them in city business.

Discontentment with Wright’s communication style has been present among the council since he took office in November 2010. However, council members said the tipping point came last Wednesday when the mayor and city manager met with Virginia Department of Transportation officials to resolve tunnel closure issues without telling, or involving, them.

“There’s no communication between the mayor and council,” Councilman Danny Meeks said last Friday. “He’s on a runaway train with his own agenda.”

According to Wright, the council members’ reaction is just “politics.”

“I refuse to engage in politics,” he said. “I will not go down that road.”

The meeting with VDOT was extremely crucial for the city, especially for its business community. During the meeting, Wright, City Manager John Rowe and others concocted a plan to end weekend closures of the westbound Downtown Tunnel, in favor of handling the tunnel rehab work at night.

“It’s completely embarrassing,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas. “If I can’t participate in big issues like this, what was I elected for?”

Paige Cherry, Portsmouth’s vice mayor, said the decision should have been handled by the council as a body.

Wright refused to address why council members were not informed of his meeting. Wright’s meeting last Wednesday came one day after some council members addressed their problems with him in closed session.

By that time Tuesday, Wright already knew about the VDOT meeting, council members said. He had received the call during an earlier work session, they said. Rowe confirmed that Wright told him that’s when the call came in.

Wright did not inform council members during the work session, or the regular meeting that followed.

“He just sat there quietly,” Councilman Bill Moody said.

Moody noted that the council recently adopted a rule requiring that all council members and other city officials get copies of one another’s correspondence after some council members concluded the mayor had been excluding them from city matters.

“I think it’s been as bad all along,” Moody said. “The only difference now is we’re faced with some critical decisions.”

When asked about his alleged habit of not communicating with council members, Wright said, “I have no response to that.”