Ward system approved for Norfolk school board elections

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Council members voted 5 to 3 Tuesday night to approve a ward system for school board elections.

In November, WAVY.com told you how voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to elect the school board, rather than have city council appoint them. The referendum got on the ballot, following a citizen’s successful grassroots effort.

There were several public hearings held in advance of Tuesday night’s city council decision, and from many accounts, the overwhelming majority of people at those meetings were against the ward system. Now, there are a lot of people angry about the process council decided on for electing school board members.

“We’ve turned the page. We’re ready for a new start,” Councilman Andrew Protogyrou told WAVY.com. “Going back to the ward system restricts that start. I think a lot of people saw this an issue of 1984. Some people will say that the ward system makes it far more parochial, that you’ll only focus on your ward and not look at the city as a whole.”

The three dissenting votes Tuesday night were from council members Andrew Protogyrou, Theresa Whibley, and Thomas Smigiel Jr.

Smigiel had introduced a hybrid system to compromise between the ward and at-large systems. He provided the following statement Wednesday:

I’ve been on council four years, and I’ve been disappointed sometimes, but this one takes the cake. Council members completely ignored the public, operating off the fear of 1960s/70s racial politics. It was a very sad day for Norfolk City Council and citizens, and how they were treated.

The first votes for school board members will be cast in May 2016.

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