It's been a tough year for the Richmond Public Schools' budget planners as they battle the nation's economic woes and struggle to avoid major classroom cutbacks.
But there's one area of the proposed school budget that appears set to grow by leaps and bounds — and state Sen. Henry Marsh wants in on the action.
Marsh, mentor and political ally to Mayor Dwight C. Jones, says he's interested in the school board attorney's contract. The proposed budget pays $291,000 for the post — a 66 percent increase over last year's budgeted amount.
“If I'm invited to participate, I will,” says Marsh, referring to the need to be invited to bid for the contract that has been with Harrell and Chambliss for many years. “I would be interested if the right opportunity came along.”
Doors of opportunity don't always open by themselves. Marsh acknowledges that he's actively knocking.
The invitation to bid would have to be initiated by the School Board and Marsh confirms he has initiated talks with board members and administrators.
“Just informal conversations,” he says.
Marsh, a prominent civil rights attorney, already has experience representing the school system, most recently successfully ending then-Mayor Douglas Wilder's attempted September 2007 eviction of school officials from offices in City Hall.
Jeffrey H. Geiger, a partner at Sands, Anderson, Marks and Miller and an adjunct professor of legal ethics at University of Richmond, says nothing ethically precludes Marsh from representing the school district.
In smaller Virginia localities, it's common for a person in a position of authority to wear multiple hats, he says. The General Assembly's ethics rules certainly allow its membership to represent clients with local government ties.
“I think where the conflict arises is when the lawyer uses his position to get the job,” Geiger says. “There's always the concern they have is that someone got the job because they have senator before their name, but it's not an ethical issue, it's just a perception issue.”