City Councilwoman Ellen Robertson says she made a mistake in referring to Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Sheila Hill-Christian as a "criminal" in this week's Style. In an interview Wednesday a few hours after Mayor L. Douglas Wilder furiously denounced Robertson for her comments, Robertson says she misunderstood a reporter's questions about Hill-Christian's role in redistributing city finances without City Council approval.
In the March 5 Style, Robertson said: "We shouldn't be hiring criminals to run this city." When asked if she meant Hill-Christian, Robertson responded: "Yes, I do."
Robertson says that she meant to convey that someone in the Wilder administration -- not necessarily Hill-Christian -- may have acted criminally.
Robertson acknowledged that she was not misquoted in this week's Style.
"I would like very much for there to be an opportunity for a retraction on my part," Robertson tells Style. "I'm retracting I misunderstood your question to say that she was a criminal, but [I meant] to say that the information you shared to me with regards to the [budget] appropriation and the lack of the re-appropriation of the money is not the action that the [city] charter required to be taken."
"There was obviously a gross misunderstanding on my part of your question to say that she is a criminal and I would like to apologize for that," she says.
Linwood Norman, press secretary for Mayor Wilder, says he isn't buying Robertson's claim of "misunderstanding."
"Ellen Robertson had four full days to correct anything that she knew that was to be published. Her statement was made after the reporter made the inquiry, and she reaffirmed what she had said indirectly by answering and saying what she really meant," Norman says via email. "The reporter could not have been clearer in his question. Robertson has yet to say why she was confused as to any of her comments."
Robertson's initial response was in reaction to an e-mail sent by Council Chief of Staff Daisy Weaver to members of City Council's investigative committee examining possible illegal activities during Wilder's Sept. 21 attempted eviction of Richmond School Board from City Hall. Weaver, responding to a previous Style article in which Hill-Christian said a lease on 3600 W. Broad Street - the intended relocation spot for the School Board - was being paid out of an account funded by leftover money from the city's hotel tax. Weaver's e-mail speculates that the funding transfer, done without City Council approval, was illegal.
Robertson says she made a mistake by calling Hill-Christian a "criminal."
"It was not my understanding of that conversation to say she is a criminal as much as it is that we need to make sure we hire people who will carry out the budget ordinances," she says.
Robertson says she remains committed to that objective.
"As the chair of the [City Council] finance committee, I have already asked the attorney to give me advice as to whether or not - first of all to verify that is true [that funds were misappropriated] - and to give me advice as to what our role as council is to make sure the ordinance is followed," Robertson says. "When I do receive that information from the attorney, I will continue to do what is required by us as a body to make sure the charter is abided by."
Responding yesterday to a Feb. 21 Freedom of Information Request by Style, Richmond Budget Director Rayford Harris confirms that the money used to pay for the new lease at 3600 W. Broad St. came from an unfunded account in City Council's 2007-08 budget.
"It currently has a budget of $450,000 that was transferred from an available balance in the [Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority] Non-Departmental account that became available after GRCCA revised downward its funding needs from the City," Harris writes in his e-mail response. "The payments are made to Thalhimer Commercial Real Estate."
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