Portsmouth council votes to eliminate closed session fines

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth City Council on Tuesday voted to eliminate fines against council members for discussing closed session items.

Councilman Bill Moody was slapped with a $1,500 fine for violating a city amendment for allegedly speaking about closed session information on Facebook.

A judge ruled in July that the city violated the Freedom of Information Act when it fined Moody.

Newly sworn-in leaders met Tuesday for their first meeting of the new year. Council voted 5-1 on a resolution to get rid of the $1,500 penalty.

New Mayor John Rowe has been against the fines, and promised during his campaign that getting rid of them would be a top priority.

Only Councilman Dr. Mark Whitaker opposed the resolution Tuesday. Moody abstained from the vote.

Whitaker told 10 On Your Side that removing the rule amounted to a racially based double-standard. He referred to former mayor James Holley, who was fined under the same rule.

“The fact that you have a fine being instituted against a black council member is not a problem, but when it is now the white council member, it becomes an issue,” Whitaker said.

Councilman Paige D. Cherry. Image Credit: City of Portsmouth website
Councilman Paige D. Cherry. Image Credit: City of Portsmouth website

Whitaker was again the sole ‘no’ vote in a decision to move the upcoming retreat for city government about 40 miles to Wakefield, Virginia. Whitaker said he felt moving the gathering away from Portsmouth is unnecessary.

“I don’t see what insights we would gain.”

Mayor Rowe disagreed, saying the change of scenery will make the 29-hour retreat more effective.

“We need to focus,” Mayor Rowe said. “We can’t do that if we’re concerned about, ‘will I need to run home?’ or, ‘I need to run to the office.'”

Councilman Paige Cherry was unanimously approved as the city’s next vice mayor. Rowe marked the vote by calling for a symbolic toast to working together.

In another unanimous vote, the public comment period at council meetings was extended from three to five minutes.