Portsmouth votes to hush council members

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Loose lips could mean big bucks from the pockets of city officials in Portsmouth.

The city council adopted a new policy on Tuesday that prohibits council members and city staff from disclosing information discussed during closed meetings to the public.

The vote was not announced to the public before the Sept. 8 meeting.

DOCUMENT: Proposed amendment 

“I think there’s a lot of questions about all the secrecy going on right now,” said Gina Thompson, who has lived in Portsmouth for 57 years.

Thompson calls the new rule manipulative, which fines council members or city staff members a minimum of $1,500 for leaking information.

“It’s outrageous,” said Thompson. “They work for us. They’re going to be fined for telling us what is going on. That doesn’t even make sense.”

The new policy comes two weeks after councilman Bill Moody and Vice Mayor Elizabeth Psimas commented publicly on closed-door discussions about the possible removal of the confederate monument downtown. They both say the monument debate should not have been a closed meeting agenda item.

“I think the public is dismayed, and it just adds to that perception that the city council is a closed-door council,” said Moody.

“How does the public know what were doing if you don’t tell them? They elected us to talk and be heard and keep them informed, and that’s not happening right now,” said Psimas.

Dr. Mark Whitaker was one of four on the council, including Mayor Kenny Wright, who voted in favor of the new amendment.

“If we are not going to have any integrity in our closed session then we just make a mockery of it,” said Dr. Whitaker.

Psimas says there are still many unanswered questions about the fines to be imposed. She says it’s still unclear who will enforce the policy and where the money will go.

“It’s punitive. It’s childish. I think it’s very unenforceable, I’m not sure it’s legal,” said Psimas.

Thompson say this is just another punch for the people of Portsmouth who already feel left out in the dark.

“I keep waiting for someone on that council to be a hero and stand up and say, ‘That’s enough. We’re embarrassing the city. We don’t want to do this anymore.”

Psimas says a fine will likely have to be imposed to see if the new rule has any teeth.

Dr. Curtis Edmonds, Paige Cherry, Whitaker and Mayor Wright were contacted for comment on this story. They did not return 10 On Your Side’s calls.

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