PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth City Council has made its preliminary pick for the next city manager.
10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox has confirmed local businesswoman and former city employee Sunshine Swinson was the top choice from the council.
Sources, who didn’t have the authority to speak publicly on the matter, said that six of the seven council members had consensus to move Swinson forward in the process.
To make an official appointment for the city manager position, City Council still needs to vote in a public meeting. Before that occurs, Swinson will also need to pass a background check which could be complicated by recent felony charges.
Swinson previously worked in the budget offices in Portsmouth and Hampton and has a Ph.D and master’s of public administration from Walden University, as well as a bachelor of arts from Norfolk State University.
Currently, she owns several businesses including the High on High Street — a cigar lounge, restaurant and bar in Olde Towne.
When asked about the city manager position, Swinson said “I’ve been preparing for this my whole life.”
Swinson said she is the person that can help bring stability to the city manager role and stop the back and forth bickering that has prevented Portsmouth’s progress.
However, critics have been quick to jump on two pending criminal charges in Suffolk Circuit Court.
In September 2018, a grand jury indicted Swinson on two counts of welfare fraud. She has yet to be arraigned on the charges.
Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) who serves as Swinson’s attorney, said he is “100% confident Swinson would be cleared of the charges against her.” Noting that the crime has to do with SNAP benefits.
Swinson declined comment on the charges.
An official vote could happen in the next two weeks, depending on when the background check is returned.
If Swinson’s background check fails, then City Council would have to put forward another finalist.
Former City Councilman Danny Meeks is a local business owner and previously served on City Council. Four of the council members had consensus to move Meeks forward.
Meeks’ candidacy for the position has been controversial.
One week ago, 10 On Your Side confirmed there were five candidates for the city manager position, one being Meeks. They were slated to be interviewed last week.
A few days before that, Councilman Mark Whitaker wrote in an email to other City Council members saying he would not interview Meeks because he felt doing so is a “violation of the criteria established and publicized by the Portsmouth City Council.”
One of the main criticisms of Meeks as a candidate is that he does not meet the educational qualifications for the city manager position. He does not have a college degree.
There have also been some confusing developments around Meeks’s candidacy tracing back to January.
First, Portsmouth City Council met Jan. 12 and voted 4-3 to appoint Meeks to the position — for which he had never submitted an application.
Council then backpedaled following a closed session that same night, voting unanimously to revote and vote against appointing Meeks.
Then, they extended the application window until Jan. 20, allowing Meeks to apply if he wanted to, which he later did.
Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover said in a statement Wednesday, “As Mayor of this great City, I am committed to protecting the integrity of our City by insuring that a competent, principled, and experienced candidate is chosen to lead the City of Portsmouth.”
Correction: While Danny Meeks was a finalist for the position, he is not undergoing a background check for the Portsmouth city manager job. Sunshine Swinson is council’s pick and is undergoing the check. WAVY regrets the error.