Mayor Dwight Jones is finally getting his jail, overcoming the final legislative hurdle by winning City Council’s blessing Thursday night with a 7-2 vote of approval.
Jones’ selection of Tompkins Builders and S.B. Ballard Construction to build a $116.6 million jail in the East End endured plenty of drama in the last two weeks. Ultimately, however, the majority of council, minus dissenting Councilmen Marty Jewell and Bruce Tyler, felt the Jones administration did enough to address issues concerning minority participation, the height of the proposed jail and concerns about the fairness of the procurement process to sign off on the deal.
“This has been a much anticipated vote and I want to thank City Council for acting on our recommendation. We are confident that this is the right outcome,” Jones said in a statement released after the vote. “This is the right decision for our city, the law enforcement officers and the inmates. The citizens of Richmond thank you and the dedicated sworn officers that work at the City Jail thank you.”
Jones was in attendance for much of the meeting, but left before the final vote. At times, council chambers morphed into a rollicking revival. It seemed like the entire sheriff’s office was there. A retired carpenter dressed in black pinstripes, complete with a faux ball and chain, scolded council and the mayor. Donnie Corker, aka Dirtwoman, lectured Jones, “a good preacher,” and Council President Kathy Graziano: “You need to retire. You’re a troublemaker.” Tense times, maybe, but Jones and Graziano couldn’t help but smile as the chamber bounced with laughter.
Questions surrounding minority contracting – Tyler finally got something resembling an answer to his questions about how much work would go to actual minority contractors – were addressed. (It turns out of the $24 million in construction work being handled T.K. Davis Construction, the group’s minority partner, $17 million will go to concrete suppliers who will not likely be minority suppliers, but it still counts.) And the city did discover that two of the four bidders had buildings that were much closer, if not under, the highest elevation of the eastern hill behind the jail.
On Monday, Jones declared that all four proposals the city received to build the jail came in over the bluff, which the city says it about 150 feet above sea level. Before the vote Thursday, Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall told the council that the city had done some additional consulting with the teams bidding on the project.
“It is very clear that two of the proposals had heights that exceeded the bluff. The other two have both been consulted and one believes that it did not exceed it because … the bluff height is three feet higher than we say it is,” Marshall said. It turns out the city’s estimates of the elevations of each proposal, including mechanical equipment, may have been off. This matters because the height, or building a shorter jail, costs much more than a taller one.
Does any of it really matter now? Of course. This is only one of the biggest public works projects the city has ever undertaken. Expect a full day of backslapping press conferences on Friday. And now that the deal is official (well, almost) who knows what will fall out of the woodwork? Stay tuned.
It’s do or die for the mayor’s new city jail. On Monday, City Council will decide whether to explore the plans further, or approve Mayor Dwight Jones’ selection of Tompkins Builders and S.B. Ballard Construction Co. to build a jail in the East End for $116.6 million.
But a lot more is at stake than bars and rebar: Jones, who doesn’t have a major project to his credit since taking office in 2009, needs council’s approval on Monday to have an agreement signed by early August, with the hope of beginning construction in December.
The project has been dogged in the last few weeks with persistent questions about the procurement process that led to the selection of Tompkins/Ballard, particularly in the last week. At least two City Councilmembers, Bruce Tyler and Marty Jewell, want to delay a vote to have more time to settle issues relating to minority participation, the jail’s location and issues concerning the fairness of the procurement process. There are serious issues that haven’t been adequately addressed, Tyler and Jewell say, and they have the public record in their favor.
Minority participation in the project – can T.K. Davis Construction, a small Richmond outfit, really handle 21 percent of the concrete casting contract, or is his company simply a pass through? The Richmond Free Press has been hammering the mayor for his selection of Tompkins/Ballard – pointing to Tompkins’ past record for minority participation, which is less than stellar – and there are multiple questions relating to the city’s request for proposals, and whether it followed its own very specific qualifying guidelines.
Much of this could be chalked up to political gamesmanship, but there is a compelling argument to be made that how the city handles the jail contract – its biggest public works project in decades – could impact future projects, and the quality of the proposals that come in. If, say, the construction contracting teams feel the process was unfair, would they really consider investing the time and money to bid on future projects? It cost the teams bidding on the jail project between $500,000 to $700,000, which is an enormous pay to play. The city has an obligation to treat them fairly.
This leads, of course, to the seemingly innocuous height restriction that the city imposed on the bidders in December. Tompkins/Ballard is building a taller jail than was prescribed in the request for proposals, and some people are rightly asking how that happened.
The height issue, first reported by Style Weekly on Thursday, has sparked last-minute jockeying between Councilman Bruce Tyler and Jones. In a nutshell, the city decided to negotiate exclusively with Tompkins/Ballard, even though their proposal went above the bluff of the eastern hill behind the jail site. The city clearly spelled out in its request for proposals that this wasn’t allowed, namely to preserve residents views of the city.
Repeated references in the city’s “Performance Criteria” for the project spell this out: “The new construction shall not achieve a final elevation higher than the highest grade of the hill side on the eastern portion of the property to allow the adjoining residential community views of the City of Richmond,” the criteria states. Not meeting the design requirements, the request for proposals instructs, would result in a proposal being “eliminated.” Tyler, who has reviewed all four proposals the city deemed as meeting qualifications, says that Tompkins/Ballard’s proposal is the only one that went above the bluff. City Council President Kathy Graziano, however, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the city informed her that two of the four proposals went above the height restriction.
The point, however, is that the height restriction dramatically changes the cost of the jail – by millions of dollars, according to one person familiar with the procurement process – and being allowed to exceed the elevation of the hill gave Tompkins/Ballard a major advantage that wasn’t afforded to the other bidders.
“What we are talking about is whether or not we can look at our public and say, one, our bidding process is fair,” Tyler says, pointing to the extended bluff. “We cannot do that right now because of this discrepancy.”
In the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Saturday, Tammy Hawley, press secretary to the mayor, says the city in essence eliminated the height requirement in an addendum to the performance criteria Feb. 4, wherein the city addressed questions from the bidders.
"The addendum effectively eliminates the prescriptive requirement and conflicting information prohibiting a building higher than the bluff, and clarified that a midrise design approach will be the qualifier," Hawley told the T-D.Upon further inspection, however, the addendum doesn’t appear to specifically address the height restriction. (Also, sources tell Style that jail review committee made the teams that bid on the project later prove that their buildings were lower than the bluff.) The city’s response in the addendum simply addresses a typo in the performance criteria:
“Question 4: Please clarify the City’s desired number of stories for the facility. In the “Instructions to PPEA Proposers”, page 7, paragraph 1.3.3, “Design Intent”, paragraph F, subparagraph 1 states in part, ‘The size of the site and presence of the existing building that will be included in the long term development of the project require a low to mid-rise (6-8 feet) design approach’. Confirm the City intended to state ‘6 – 8 stories’. In Section B, Part I, on page B1-3, item 1.3, item 1 states ‘The size of the site and presence of the existing buildings development of the project require a low to mid-rise (5-6 stories) design approach.’”
The city answered the question with a single sentence: “Response: Remove reference (6-8 feet), change to read ‘Mid-rise design approach’.”
In a follow-up email Style, Hawley confirms that this is the reference that “effectively eliminates the prescriptive requirement” concerning the height of the building. “Yes, this is the correct reference and becomes the qualifier over the other ambiguous language that was in the RFP,” she says via email. In City Council’s work session addressing the jail contract July 18, there was no mention of the addendum when the city responded to Tyler’s questions about the height restriction. And it’s hard to see how simply stating that the jail design requires a “low to mid-rise design approach,” would override much more specific references to the elevation of the building and the height restriction in the city’s request for proposals.
While this seems like a lot of bickering over relatively minor details, the height issue is a critical one. It affects the overall cost of the jail significantly – allowing the project to be built in one phase, instead of multiple phases, and not having to relocate inmates. This is just one of many, however. The city states a clear preference that the proposers not use existing facilities in its design, yet the Tompkins/Ballard team incorporates the women’s facility in its proposal. One team still wants to know why the mayor suddenly decided that he wanted the new jail to be built on the existing jail site, even after accepting the unsolicited proposal to build the jail on the city’s South Side, off Commerce Road, in early 2010. That jail is in an industrial district that is largely dead, and the cost is nearly identical to the Tompkins/Ballard proposal in the East End.
In an unusual move, Jones sent out an email blast to citizens on Friday, with the header: “No Time for More Delays.” He implores citizens to contact their council person, and urge approval of his selection of Tompkins Builders and S.B. Ballard Construction Co. to build a new city jail, for $116.6 million. Forget for a moment the political impotency of correctional facilities, and consider the message itself. Jones writes: “The process we've undertaken to develop a ‘state of the art’ justice facility has been legal, professional, fair, comprehensive and honest. However, there are those using smoke and mirrors looking for ways to raise questions about the process. It's wrong for anyone to try to bully the City into making the recommendation they want rather than the recommendation that the unbiased process yielded.”
It might be easy to label Jewell and Tyler with having political motivations, but it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve some answers. City Auditor Umesh Dalal has already recommended that City Council engage outside legal advice to address some apparent discrepancies in the procurement process. The mayor will blame City Council if it asks for more time, and the price guarantee the Tompkins team gave to the city expires in mid-September. But the mayor certainly took his time with this. The city’s first RFP for the jail went out in December of 2009; 18 months later, a contractor was selected. City Council was given a month and a half.
Jones, ever the measured, practical mayor who hates to rush anything may get what he wants come Monday, but it may do little to quiet his critics. To date only city staff, the auditor and City Council members have been granted access to review the proposals. But once the contract is awarded, all the bids will be open for public inspection.
Eric Cantor, Greater Richmond's Golden Boy of politics, is flying very close to the sun these days as he plays a dangerous game of chicken in budget negotiations that could have disastrous economic consequences.
Cantor is trying to run to the head of the Tea Party parade and scuttle any negotated budget deal between his own Republicans and Barack Obama. Not only did he storm out of a meeting with the president, he's seriously annoying the leadership of his own party, including Speaker of the Hosue John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, both of whom have tried to come up with a budget compromise before the Aug. 3 deadline for raising the fedeal debt limit.
Cantor is stubbornly insisting on much broader government spending cuts before the Republican House of Representatives would vote for a budget bill. His goal seems to be to position himself tightly with the Tea Party members who shunned him in last November's elections as a Main Street business toady.
Problem is that Boy Wonder is displaying some disturbing character flaws, such as his condescending tendency to curl his upper lip in the Cantor Snarl while spitting out statements such as "Obama's thinking is unfathomable to me," according to Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.
Cantor's arrogance is pissing off people like Boehner who ranks one step ahead of Cantor in the Republican Congressional hierarchy. Even some leading GOPers wonder how Cantor managed to project himself into such a position while acting like a spoiled child. "He doesn't deserve a place at the table," one top Republican said. McConnell says Cantor's tactis are stupid because he's making the Republicans take ownership of Obama's handling of the economy.
That, by the way, is nothing to screw around with at the moment. Job growth in May and June was next to nothing. Rating agencies such as Moody's and Standard & Poor's stand ready to downgrade U.S. credit if the debt ceiling isn't raised, as it has been a number of times over the past several decades. Raising it has been linked to a budget deal. There's a very real chance of a U.S. default on its debts. A new recession would follow.
Instead of statesmanship, we're now getting snotty snarls from Cantor, who was raised in such a sheltered and privileged environment as Richmond's Collegiate School that oozes entitlement and provincial power. Cantor never had to be humble here at home. He always got glowing, uncritical coverage from the Richmond Times Dispatch. His wife is on the board of Media General which owns the paper.
Cantor's quote in his Collegiate yearbook was "I want what I want when I want it." That is the epitath of a spoiled rich kid. Too bad the stakes are so high and his vision is so narrow. We will be the ones paying the price.
City Council’s sexual harassment saga took a dramatic turn yesterday when the city submitted its first official response to claims made by Jennifer Walle, the former aide to City Councilman Bruce Tyler, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In a “position statement” submitted to the commission -- Walle filed a complaint against the city, City Council President Kathy Graziano and her aide David Hathcock, whom Walle alleges sexually harassed her in April 2010 -- lawyers hired by the city write that the charges are “wholly untrue and with no factual support.”
In a 22-page position statement defending the city, the lawyers dismiss claims that Walle was forced to work in a “sexually hostile work environment” and suffered retaliation for making the allegations. After interviews with city officials, council members and staff -- Walle declined to participate -- the outside attorneys conclude that the city took appropriate action. Moreover, their defense hinges on the fact that Walle allegedly refused to file a formal complaint against Hathcock and therefore the city couldn’t formally launch an internal investigation into the claims.
The city’s outside counsel hired to look into the matter -- Wilcox & Savage lawyers Samuel J. Webster and Bryan C.R. Skeen -- sum up Walle’s claim against Hathcock: “Ms. Walle never made a formal written complaint to the City detailing her allegations against Hathcock, and she told varying and inconsistent versions of her allegations to various City employees during her employment.”
First, a recap: Walle alleges that David Hathcock, aide to City Council President Kathy Graziano, inappropriately touched her and made suggestive remarks to her in April 2010. In an interview with Style Weekly in early February, Walle says that Hathcock pulled her onto his lap and expressed his feelings for her, and attempted to kiss her.
Walle also says that she approached Graziano about the incident and says she was told to either “look for a new job, or I could quit.” And then shortly after the approaching Graziano about Hathcock, her boss, Tyler, enters the picture. The city’s lawyers say that Walle also made claims that Tyler had made inappropriate comments about her dress and appearance -- things like Walle “looked good in heels.” The city’s hired guns say that Walle also asked to be reassigned, that she didn’t feel comfortable working with Tyler. Hayden Fisher, Walle’s attorney, says this isn’t true. (Click here for Fisher's interview with Style Editor Jason Roop on WRVA this morning.)Walle says that Graziano pushed her to file a complaint with the Human Resources Department about Tyler’s comments. The city lawyers say Graziano didn’t do any such thing.
The city’s response to the whole affair is sweeping. There were many meetings, back-and-forth charges about who said what and when. But it offers a clear picture of where the saga is heading. It’s Walle’s word against a multitude of city officials who suggest that Walle changed her story and refused to offer specific details, or file official complaints, making it impossible to respond to the allegations.
The city’s defense relies heavily on the fact that Walle declined to submit a formal, written complaint to human resources. Without it, officials say that they couldn’t conduct an investigation into the claims.
The first meeting took place on July 30, 2010, when Walle met with Graziano at the urging of Jan Girardi, an aide to City Councilman Charles Samuels. Girardi, a friend of Walle’s, also attended the meeting. In their interviews with lawyers, Girardi and Graziano both say that Walle explained that “Mr. Hathcock touched her inappropriately” but didn’t provide any specific details as to what happened. Graziano repeatedly asked for details, according to the attorneys, but Walle refused. The lawyers also write that “Walle did not tell Ms. Graziano or Mrs. Girardi about her May 6 email to Mr. Hathcock or his response.”
Walle’s May 6 email to Hathcock is also critical. In it, she recounts the incident to Hathcock: “While you were in my office, you physically touched me several times in a way that made me very uncomfortable.” She asks Hathcock not to do it again. She sent the email on May 6 at 5:19 p.m. Three minutes later, Hathcock responds: “I had the same thought. You are right.”
Fisher says the city’s letter to the EEOC incorrectly reports that Walle never mentioned the email in meetings with Graziano and other city officials, including former Human Resources Director Tyrone Jackson. “That’s a complete lie,” Fisher says. Walle has maintained that she attempted to show Graziano the email in that July 30, 2010, meeting, and Graziano told her she didn’t want to see it.
This discrepancy is important because the city’s defense revolves around contention that Walle repeatedly declined to offer specific details about what happened. In other words, that she was unwilling to expound, or file a written complaint with the Human resources Department. The lawyers for the city dismiss the contents of the email:
“Although Mr. Hathcock admits that he sent this email, he maintains that his response was simply an acknowledgement that he did something to offend Ms. Walle and an effort to assuage her concerns. Mr. Hathcock insists that Ms. Walle’s version of the events of April 21 is incorrect. He denies ever touching her inappropriately or saying anything inappropriate to her.”
And then Tyler enters the picture. Daisy Weaver, former City Council chief of staff, told the investigators that Walle came into her office after the meeting with Graziano and Girardi, also on July 30. Walle told her about the Hathcock incident, and then also “reported that she had been subjected to a pattern of suggestive and inappropriate comments by her Councilman, Bruce Tyler.” She didn’t provide details, according to the city’s letter to the commission.
Walle has maintained that Tyler’s comments were innocent in nature, but the city’s investigation suggests something worse. There was another meeting Aug. 9, 2010, involving Walle, Graziano, Weaver, an assistant city attorney and Jackson, the former human resources director, who resigned in early March, taking a job in Washington. In that meeting, the city lawyers report, Walle instead focused on the alleged inappropriate comments made by Tyler, and didn’t make any mention of being inappropriately touched by Hathcock. “Ms. Walle’s allegations against Mr. Hathcock were limited to a single instance of inappropriate comments,” the EEOC letter states.
This account conflicts with Walle’s public statements earlier this year, and Fisher says the city is again fabricating. Walle never wanted to pursue complaints against Tyler, he says, and never asked to be reassigned as council aide.In December, Councilman Marty Jewell got wind of the harassment claims and approached Tyler. On Dec. 17, Tyler escorted Walle to Jackson’s office. At that point, Walle made a verbal complaint, according to the city’s EEOC letter. At that point, Walle told Jackson that she had no interested in filing a complaint against Tyler. She did, however, tell Jackson that Hathcock “pulled her onto him and tried to kiss her in her office.” She described the contents of the email, but didn’t provide a copy. The lawyers hired by the city summarize it this way:
“Ms. Walle then told Dr. Jackson that she told Ms. Graziano about her concerns about Mr. Hathcock, but Ms. Graziano said the matter had been addressed and, instead, tried to force her to complain about Mr. Tyler. She told Dr. Jackson that she wanted to pursue her complaints only against Mr. Hathcock.”
Jackson then reminded Walle that she still needed to file a written complaint, and Walle said she would consider doing so, and said she would notify Jackson by the following Monday. Jackson says Walle never followed up, and that “Ms. Walle has never filed a written complaint with Human Resources.”
Walle did, however, go to police, and Hathcock was charged with misdemeanor sexual battery and assault. In May, Hathcock agreed to undergo 100 hours of community service and workplace sensitivity training in exchange for the charges being dropped. A separate civil lawsuit filed by Walle against Hathcock and Graziano is ongoing. Fisher says a trial will likely take place in early 2012.
There is much to dissect in city’s response. Critical, however, is the claim that Walle never filed a written complaint to HR. Fisher says that by then she felt filing such a complaint was pointless.
“You shouldn’t have to file a written complaint,” he says, adding that the city’s sexual harassment policy is “flawed.” The city’s policy involves three steps, the first of which is to “whenever possible, individuals who experience unlawful harassment should make it clear to the offending person that such behavior is unacceptable.”
Being instructed to approach your harasser, Fisher says, is ill-advised. “You never confront the accuser,” he says. “It’s not best practices.”
How the saga plays out from here, however, is an open question.
The story surrounding "i.e.*" continues to draw laughs.
"i.e.*" is the Great Richmond Chamber of Commerce's latest, three-year-long promotional campaign that supposedly will make our town "the Capital of Creativity" in the words of promoter-in-chief Thomas A. Silvestri, the publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and past chairman of the chamber.
About 200 people shelled out $125 a head for a pep talk a couple of weeks ago on "innovation" at La Difference furniture store downtown. The idea is to get so-called "provocateurs" and other cool folk to talk about just how great their ideas are to the world beyond the James River and the Henrico County line. The chamber's idea of such people include a belly dancer, the owner of a shoe store and a bright young girl. From what I can tell, the Martin Agency and others are supposed to let the globe know that such talent is here as we wait for the "paradigm" to "shift."
At least that's the idea of a promoter named Andy Stefanovich who apparently wants to be on the "flash dial" list of every economic development official in the country along with pop urbanist Richard Florida and journalist Thomas Friedman of "The World Is Flat" fame.
As the murky concept of "i.e.*" started to sink in, a number of people have had questions about it. I did in a previous blog post. My Style Weekly colleague Don Harrison did in this issues Back Page. Carolyn Troiano wrote her doubts in a letter to the editor of the TD on July 6.
Here are some of the responses from our Fearless Leadership. Silvestri ran a full page of breathless praise for the program on July 3's Commentary section in the TD. One of his points: "Preschoolers dressed in business attire demonstrating why they're already leaders."
That really confused me. Does dressing up four-year-olds transform them? Why didn't he say: "Preschoolers dressed up like Stalin demonstrating why they're already dictators?" It makes about as much sense.
The "i.e.*" issue is apparently so touchy for the Silvestri-controlled TD that the editorial page editors trotted out Kim Scheeler, chamber president, to respond to Ms. Troiano's letter in print. This is part of his response: "These companies are looking for places where creativity annd innovation are part of the fabric as that environment fosters more innovation in the workplace."
Here's my suggestion. If Richmond's power elite really wants to put out the idea that we're all so terribly creative, leave Silvestri and Scheeler out of it. Silvestri can't type a line without insulting his readers'intelligence. Scheeler's prose can't get beyond consultant-speak gobbledygook. If Richmond is going to get competent leaders, maybe they should start by finding articulate people. It could also be that the "i.e.*" is so obtuse that no one can explain it.
Not to worry. The TD apparently hasn't posted Troiano's letter online so the world at large won't know of her skepticism about our new Capital of Creativity. One problem solved!