The small subdivision with million-dollar houses and a night watchman is named The Estates at River Pointe. But it could be called City Hall West.
Seven of its 34 houses are occupied by current or former city officials, including three sitting City Council members.
The clustering raises questions about whether it’s healthy for a city to have three elected officials living on the same block, especially when some of those council members have been at odds lately, leading to an awkward interaction or two.
“I would say it must be a little tense on Estates” Lane, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas said.
Stretching out into the Elizabeth River, the neighborhood is one of the few gated communities in Portsmouth. Ponds sit on both sides of the subdivision entrance. Large brick homes, many with matching brick mailboxes, rest on property with grass so vibrant it looks artificial.
The three city councilmen live within a few houses of each other on Estates Lane, which knifes through the development. Mayor Kenny Wright has Councilman Danny Meeks three houses down and, in the opposite direction, Vice Mayor Paige Cherry lives across the street, three houses down.
Both Meeks and Cherry have been at odds with Wright lately, as has most of the council. Their tension with the mayor stems in part from news reports about a Cherry campaign fundraiser held in a neighbor’s back yard, according to several council members.
The event drew attention after photos revealed Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson’s inmate work crew set up equipment for the event. Several council members, including Meeks, say Wright took the photos and gave them to the media.
“Even I could tell they were taken from Kenny’s patio,” Psimas said.
Cherry spoke briefly about living in the subdivision but did not want to discuss his relationship with Wright. Meeks has been a frequent critic of the mayor and acknowledges the two aren’t friends, but he said living in close proximity hasn’t been too uncomfortable.
“We’re cordial in public,” said Meeks, who bought his waterfront home in 2010 for $975,000. “It’s not like we’re throwing snowballs at each other’s houses.”
But the councilman confirmed that he tried to confront the mayor outside Wright’s house last month to discuss the Cherry fundraiser photos. The mayor, who was in his car, did not engage Meeks. Wright declined to comment.
The councilmen aren’t the only ones in River Pointe with reasons to be in conflict, though the rest appear to stay out of each other’s way.
The city’s former director of social services, Reynold “Rusty” Jordan, was dismissed by then-city-manager Ken Chandler in January 2012 after a controversy over $40,000 in public money spent on an NFL player’s speaking tour.
Both live in River Pointe, separated by 10 houses.
Jordan said he sees Chandler in passing, but the two don’t speak.
“It doesn’t irritate me,” Jordan said. “I live my life, and he lives his.”
Chandler resigned nine months after Jordan’s departure, amid a controversy about the city’s former fire chief remaining on the payroll despite resigning earlier. Chandler lives a few houses away from two members of the council who supported his departure. He did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Those who live in River Pointe describe the clustering of city officials as coincidental. For those with means, it’s one of the few newer developments in Portsmouth. Construction began in 2003.
It’s possible for the trio of councilmen to live on the same street because the city’s ward electoral system was changed in 1966, according to city records. Since then, Portsmouth’s City Council members have been able to live anywhere in the city.
The living situation on Estates Lane struck Old Dominion University professor Jesse Richman as an “extreme case” of the clustering that’s possible with an at-large system.
The concentration of council members, Richman said, could lessen the chances that the City Council reflects the needs and views of all Portsmouth residents.
“The potential pitfall is that all of them are looking at the city from the perspective from living in a particular part of it,” said Richman, an associate professor of political science.
Robin Holley Duke, the daughter of the late Mayor James Holley, also lives in the subdivision, with Cherry on one side and city Auditor Jesse Andre Thomas on the other.
If she’s not careful, she might finding herself running for City Council soon.
“I guess maybe it’s in the water out here,” she joked.
Tim Eberly, 757-446-2794, firstname.lastname@example.org