PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — There’s a new crisis in Petersburg: Angry citizens who are fed up with financial problems and mismanagement are calling for changes to the government itself.
The changes would start with the mayor, who’s not elected by the people at large. Currently, the mayor position is just like any other council position; they are elected to serve their ward. Then, amongst the other city council members, they vote to choose who has the title of Mayor. Some want that process to be changed.
“At this point this mayor has, I don’t think, been listening to the citizens,” resident Barb Rudolph told 8News. “I think the calls for transparency and more citizen involvement haven’t really been listened to.”
Rudolph, a citizen and co-founder of an online citizen advocacy group called “Clean Sweep Petersburg,” says regardless of who is mayor, she believes they should answer to the whole city. Currently to be mayor you only have to receive the support of three other council members; no citizens vote.
“Howard Myers was elected mayor 4-3, so basically four people, one of whom was himself elected him as the mayor,” Rudolph explained.
Acting City Attorney Mark Flynn says there are several options to change this.
“There’s a direct election where the mayor is elected at large,” FLynn said.
Under that situation, the city would have to restructure the wards from seven wards to just six. Then, the mayor would be elected by the whole city. Or, it is also possible to keep all seven wards and seven council positions and add the mayor on as an 8th person. In that case, the mayor would likely only be a tie-breaking vote, or could possibly have veto power. Another less likely option would mean all council positions are at-large bids.
“Everybody’s running for council and then the top vote getter is the mayor,” Flynn said.
Any new system wouldn’t affect the current mayor’s term. In fact Mayor Howard Myers himself says going forward he would support a change.
“I think it would possibly be a good thing to have the mayor be able to represent the city at large,” Myers said.
Council has created a Citizenry Committee to discuss options. They plan to hold a public hearing on October 27th when they will likely make a recommendation to council, who will then vote on what they prefer. But after that, it’s up to the General Assembly to ultimately approve.
Right now it is important to note the mayor has no special power, basically a normal council member with the title of mayor who is charged with running council meetings.