Hill-Christian Defends Sept. 21 Fund Transfers 

There was nothing criminal about the attempted eviction of the Richmond School Board and its administration from City Hall on Sept. 21; it's just a difference of opinion, says Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Sheila Hill-Christian.

Last week, communication between City Hall and City Council came to a halt when Hill-Christian learned council was considering asking the Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney's Office to investigate issues surrounding the move.

Although she declined to provide written answers to the City Council committee investigating financial transfers to pay for the eviction attempt, Hill-Christian explains why she thinks the money shifting was kosher.

She says council's failure to attach specific fund amounts to the nondepartmental budget items the city administration used to fund the move made them fair game.

"It is clear the Council did not specify the itemized amounts in their budget ordinance, as is their right under the city charter," she writes via e-mail. "Such oversights and actions stemming from subsequent actions are likewise not criminal offenses."

The nondepartmental budget holds $51 million. The administration could move all of it without council's approval "because of the omission of the line item expenditures," Hill-Chrsitian writes. "In many cases, however, the money in this budget has been paid already to the various nondepartmental groups," like nonprofits the city helps fund.

To review: in order to pay for the attempt to move the Schools administration out of City Hall, the city administration took $500,000 from the DPU Ernesto Payment account -- set aside for Battery Park storm recovery — and moved it into the Interim Transition Costs New Government fund. That budget item was set up during Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's first year so he could buy plane tickets and hotel rooms to court new administrative hires. It remained empty until the Sept. 21 move.

"The Mayor has talked about a new home for the School Board and administration since the early days of his administration," Hill-Christian writes. "It was therefore determined at that time that the Interim Transition Costs of New Government account was the most appropriate."

Council members have cried foul, saying the funds transfer was illegal. According to an official opinion from the city attorney's office dated Jan. 17, moving money between departments without City Council approval is forbidden by law. Whether the administration can move money within a department remains an open question.

Both DPU Ernesto Payment and Interim Transition Costs New Government are nondepartmental budget items. Administration spokesman Jon Baliles says that means they're in the same, um, department. Translation: Funds can be transferred between them.

Daisy Weaver, council's chief of staff, says that's a bad call. She points to budget language stating that money in the budget can only be spent on programs specified in the budget ordinance.

"There's no program labeled 'Schools move' here," she says.

Doesn't matter, says Baliles.

It was moved to a fund called Interim Transition Costs New Government and "Interim Costs of New Government could be anything related to government," he says.

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