Former City Official Says Wilder Staff Fired Him for Opposing School Board Eviction 

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Update 4/7/10: Click here to view the court documents outlining Johnson's new allegation about the attempted School Board eviction.

Benjamin Johnson, Richmond's former emergency services coordinator, filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city last year charging that city officials made defamatory statements about him after forcing him to resign.

He's recently amended his suit to include a claim of wrongful termination, saying the city “humiliated and retaliated against [him] for voicing his concerns that the planned attempt to remove the School Board was illegal and for refusing to engage in illegal conduct.”

The initial lawsuit mentioned his opposition to former Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's surprise eviction of the School Board's offices from City Hall in September 2007, but stopped short of saying his resistance ultimately cost him his job.

The suit, amended March 26, now charges that at a September 2007 meeting with “members of the mayor's senior staff,” Johnson “vocally opposed” plans for the eviction and its use of city money.

Johnson's April 2008 resignation came amid another scandal. News reports had just revealed that Wilder accepted more than $25,000 during his time in office to offset wear and tear on his personal vehicle despite being chauffeured in a city-owned Mercury Grand Marquis. Wilder repaid the money.

After receiving a tip, City Auditor Umesh Dalal looked into which other employees received auto allowances while driving city-owned vehicles. Johnson was the only one. The auditor's office recommended that Johnson be disciplined for what it called his dishonesty.

According to Johnson's lawsuit, four days after Dalal's recommendations were released Johnson was called into then-Chief Administrative Officer Sheila Hill-Christian's office and told to resign immediately. He did.

Hill-Christian then distributed a news release that addressed Johnson's firing over the car allowance. Johnson's lawsuit charges that city officials informed him that the car allowance was a “salary enhancement” and that his compensation package had been reviewed and approved by the chief administrative officer and by human resources.

Johnson and city spokeswoman Tammy Hawley decline to comment.

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