Amid effort to remove 2 Portsmouth leaders, City Council wants to change how elected officials are recalled

·3 min read

The Portsmouth City Council is asking state lawmakers to again pursue legislation that would change how elected officials are recalled.

They’re requesting a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would change the city charter to only allow officials to be recalled for specific reasons.

The bill would also allow citizens to be able to recall officials as soon as they take office, rather than a year after the officials begin their terms. The proposed bill also would allow Circuit Court judges to hold a hearing and determine the legitimacy of recall petitions.

With the change, elected officials could only be recalled by voters for neglect of duty, misuse of office and incompetence. They could also be recalled for a misdemeanor conviction that would have a negative effect on their ability to perform in their elected positions.

In the last legislative session, state Sen. Louise Lucas unsuccessfully sought legislation asking for the charter change. During a work session last month, councilman Mark Whitaker requested the proposed bill be added to the list of legislative priorities for the upcoming session as it would align with state law.

But a public hearing was required before City Council could add it. Several residents expressed their opposition Tuesday during the City Council meeting, questioning the timing since both Whitaker and Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes are the subjects of a recall petition launched after their vote in May to fire City Manager Angel Jones.

“Seeking to amend this section, particularly now, looks less like responsible governance and more like a brazen ploy to build a higher wall around our elected officials, making it even more difficult to confront and challenge bad behavior,” Portsmouth resident Robert Meredith said. “Make no mistake, to remove an elected official from office is no easy task, and this is as it should be.”

Recall petitions currently require the signatures of at least 30% of the voters who cast a ballot in the last gubernatorial election before they can be filed in Circuit Court. Mark Geduldig-Yatrofsky, who’s involved in the efforts to recall Whitaker and Barnes, said Tuesday that at least 5,000 Portsmouth voters have signed the petition to date. A total of 30,105 Portsmouth residents cast ballots in the 2021 election.

Geduldig-Yatrofsky also said that rather than holding a public hearing, City Council should put the issue on a future ballot as a referendum.

Whitaker said he raised the issue last year before he was the subject of a recall, adding that such actions have historically been disproportionately levied against Black political leaders, including Lucas and former Mayor Kenny Wright, for example.

“I find it interesting that the concerned citizens are never concerned when we have white elected officials who have committed some atrocities,” Whitaker said, adding that he asked for the request to “stop using these recalls in a racist way that have only been used against African American citizens.”

Both Mayor Shannon Glover and councilman Bill Moody voted against the legislation request.

Natalie Anderson, 757-732-1133, natalie.anderson@virginiamedia.com