Portsmouth City Council votes to eliminate controversial policy on fining members

Posted at 1:25 PM, Jan 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-03 13:54:05-05

UPDATE: In a 5-1 vote, city council voted to eliminate the rule on Tuesday. Bill Moody abstained from the vote.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - City council members will vote on whether or not to eliminate a policy saying members can be fined up to $1500 at their first meeting on Tuesday.

The city council now has a new mayor in John Rowe. Elizabeth Psimas was re-elected. Nathan Clark and Lisa Lucas-Burke were sworn-in at a ceremony on Friday night.

At least four members have signaled they plan to vote to eliminate the rule, including Rowe, Psimas, Clark, and Bill Moody. The policy was passed in September 2015 to read, "Any council member or person violating the confidentiality of a closed session or using a recording device during a closed session shall be subject to censure, a fine of not less than $1, 500 and/or reprimand by a majority vote of the City Council."

Councilman Bill Moody says he was fined in January 2016 after he posted on Facebook about a discussion on the city's Confederate monument. He waved cash during a meeting then and said he would "not be muzzled."

"It ended up being a war on transparency, as well as a war on communicating with the media," said Moody. "The council just got off track."

The effort to rescind the rule comes after a new mayor was elected. Mayor Rowe says his focus is on restoring civility and respect in the city council.

Councilman Mark Whitaker said the fine is "trivial" and said the real issue in the city is a double-standard between how white people are treated compared to African Americans, noting that Moody and Psimas voted to fine Mayor James Holley in 2009. Psimas said that fine was related to his behavior at the time and was not politically or racially motivated. She said that fine was different than the current policy of speaking about closed session issues. Moody added the comparison is "not a good one" and that the fine had to do with non-city related business.

The vote on eliminating the policy will happen during the meeting, which begins at noon on Tuesday.

"I think if it is rescinded it's certainly a good signal for the new council and a new signal that 2017 will usher in a new city council that's focused on improving the livability of Portsmouth," he said.