Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Shot to the Wallet

Virginia ABC stores will offer Black Friday specials. But that’s not saying a lot.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2014 at 10:32 AM


Cost of a 1.75-liter handle of Jack Daniel’s

New Hampshire $35.99*
Florida $37.99
South Carolina $39.99
Georgia $39.99
Delaware $39.99
Maryland $40.99
Massachusetts $40.99
Pennsylvania $42.99*
New Jersey $43.09
Connecticut $43.99
Washington D.C. $43.99
Maine $44.99*
North Carolina $46.95*
Virginia $51.90*

* Indicates states where liquor stores are a government controlled monopoly. In states where liquor prices are not set by the state, Style spot checked liquor prices by calling stores.

A Black Friday special at state ABC stores sounds neat. Take 10 percent off when your total purchase is $50 or more. But in Virginia, liquor prices already are so high that even with the discount, drinkers will be paying a lot more than they would in other states. Oh, and that’s before prices increase nearly 30 cents a bottle next year to help plug the state budget.

In a spot check of liquor stores in states up and down the East Coast, Virginia’s ABC outlets far and away were the most expensive -- even with the discount.

Style compared the cost of a handle of Jack Daniel’s No. 7, the highest grossing product in Richmond area ABC stores.

At $51.90, Virginia’s price for the handle is the highest, even compared with other states that operate liquor-store monopolies.

New Hampshire’s state-run liquor stores have the lowest prices, selling the bottle for $35.99. The only state where prices approach Virginia’s is North Carolina, where the bottle of Jack comes in at $46.95.

In states where liquor stores are privately operated, prices varied.

The lowest price comes from Florida, where grocery stores can sell liquor. Winn Dixie is currently offering a handle of Jack Daniel’s on sale for $37.99, and it comes with a free two-liter bottle of Coke.

As for Virginia’s black Friday special: With the 10 percent discount, the handle of Jack drops to $46.71, which suddenly doesn’t sound quite so special anymore.

Correction: This article initially listed liquor stores in New Hampshire as privately operated. They're run by the state.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Slow Cooker

Food initiatives, including an urban agriculture program, have stalled at City Hall.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Potatoes, oranges and bananas sit below a display of chips and popcorn at the Clay Street Market in Church Hill. Among other things, the city's food task force aims to get more produce into areas without close access to grocery stores. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Potatoes, oranges and bananas sit below a display of chips and popcorn at the Clay Street Market in Church Hill. Among other things, the city's food task force aims to get more produce into areas without close access to grocery stores.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe may have been ramping up a major food policy initiative in Richmond last week, but a local program intended to improve access to food in Richmond neighborhoods has quietly stalled.

A crowd of suited government workers and politicians crammed into Little House Green Grocery on Thursday in Richmond’s North Side. It served as a backdrop for McAuliffe’s announcement that he’s convened a council to address food issues across the state.

Among other things, the council will be responsible for supporting local efforts, such as the one launched by Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones in 2011.

Jones’ initiative, a result of the Food Policy Task Force he convened, has been in limbo for five months.

Councilman Jon Baliles says the city is ready to move forward with a major urban agriculture initiative, but that the city’s been slow to sign a routine agreement with the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission, which would provide the staff to oversee the project.

Baliles says $20,000 has been available for the work since July, but the city didn’t respond to the regional commission until this month. There’s another $40,000 in the city budget set aside to fund water hookups for urban farms, which Baliles says will make it financially feasible for nonprofits to begin farming on unused city-owned lots.

In a letter to Jones administration officials, Robert Crum, the executive director of the commission, expressed challenged the city’s ultimate response, which he notes didn’t come until Nov. 10, despite the commission’s repeated prodding.

Crum says in his letter that the city altered the original work agreement, expanding its scope to a degree that was impractical and unreasonable. The city, for example, wanted the commission to develop a comprehensive master plan and apply for at least one grant per quarter.

Crum says his staff spent the prior year identifying suitable plots for urban agriculture projects and coordinating with nonprofits to run them.

Tammy Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, said she was unable to comment, but might have more information this week.

Although the projects were conceived by the Food Policy Task Force convened by Jones, the funding came from a budget amendment sponsored by Baliles and Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille.

Baliles says he’s frustrated it’s taking so long to begin the work: “Richmond is where plans go to die or at least collect a lot of dust on the shelf.”

Former Finance Director Expands Allegations Against City

Posted By on Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 10:16 AM

In a new court filing, the city’s former finance director Sharon Judkins adds a claim to her $10 million defamation lawsuit against Richmond and City Auditor Umesh Dalal.

Judkins alleges that she is, in fact, entitled to $400,000 in additional retirement benefits from the city, according to a filing by her lawyer last week.

The propriety of the city providing those benefits was at the center of Dalal’s audit, which sparked Judkins’ lawsuit.

Judkins is asking a judge to allow her to include the new allegations of breach of contract in her motion, filed Nov. 20 in Richmond Circuit Court.

Dalal’s audit criticized the city’s former chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, for crediting Judkins with 800 hours in unused sick time, which would have boosted her pension by almost $400,000.

Marshall later said he erred in crediting Judkins with the time, which she accrued when she worked at the city from 1981 to 2000. Marshall, who resigned in September, said he acted on bad advice.

At the request of Mayor Dwight Jones, Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring investigated the matter and reported no criminal wrongdoing.

In her amended lawsuit, Judkins alleges that city code provides for her to be credited with the unused sick time, citing two ordinances passed under the administration of a former mayor, L. Douglas Wilder.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for Dec. 17.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Morning Links

More on Stone’s dirt, Billy Jefferson’s restitution, and a come back for the car tax.

Posted on Mon, Nov 24, 2014 at 7:47 AM

After initially dodging questions in a way that made everyone look bad, someone’s finally come forward to answer questions about why a contractor filed work permits for the EDA’s Stone Brewing contract weeks before they were formally awarded the job.

That someone is Hourigan Construction owner Mark Hourigan, who filed the permits in the first place. He doubled down the explanation initially provided by the mayor’s chief of staff: that the permits were an attempt to get free dirt for the job site.

Hourigan says it would have saved the city $300,000.

Not everyone’s buying it. From the Times-Dispatch:

Taylor & Parrish Principal Brent Graves questioned the EDA’s outlined methodology of choosing one contractor to put fill material on the site and then potentially choosing another to come in and decide how to use it.

“If we were awarded the job, we would have wanted to be responsible for the entire project and we would have advised the EDA not to accept that proposal if we had a different solution,” Graves said.

[Times-Dispatch, WWBT]

In other news:

Williams Mullen established a practice just to help businesses figure out the state’s ABC regulation. [Richmond BizSense]

State senators are talking about bringing back the car tax. [Times-Dispatch]

Convicted developer and all-around-terrible landlord Billy Jefferson, ordered to pay $9 million in restitution for historic tax credit fraud. [Times-Dispatch, Richmond BizSense]

How Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s secret plan to expand Medicaid unraveled. [Washington Post]

The city is going to announce today that an NFL player busted with pot in the Richmond is doing an anti-drug PSA for city schools. [Scrum, WWBT]

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sentencing with the Stars

What famous person is doing an anti-drug campaign in Richmond to avoid court-ordered community service?

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 3:22 PM

Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring says he nabbed a “recent offender with star power,” who's agreed to participate in a local anti-drug public service announcement in lieu of community service.

In a press release, the city isn’t forthcoming with clues about who the celebrity offender might be. Instead, the city plans a big reveal at City Hall on Monday.

A good guess might be Redskins rookie Bashaud Breeland. Police charged him with possession of marijuana in a gas station parking lot the night before the team’s training camp ended this summer.

The city says it will use the public service announcement in city schools.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stone Quiet

Development authority members dodge questions about an $18 million contract.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 20, 2014 at 7:51 PM

The Economic Development Authority met Thursday, including board member Richard Johnson, middle, and chairman Julious Smith, right. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • The Economic Development Authority met Thursday, including board member Richard Johnson, middle, and chairman Julious Smith, right.

Members of the Richmond Economic Development Authority weren’t interested in talking Thursday night.

After their regularly scheduled board meeting, members declined to answer questions about why the winning bidder for a public contract to build Stone Brewing Co.’s new brewery filed work permits for the project two weeks before the contract was awarded.

The revelation, first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, raises questions about the fairness of the procurement process used by the EDA, which is charged with disbursing $18 million in public funds in connection with the Stone project.

While members filed out of the room at the conclusion of their meeting, the chairman, Julious P. Smith, referred questions to board member Richard Johnson.

Smith is chairman emeritus of Williams Mullen. Johnson handles special projects for the board and is chief executive of The Wilton Companies, a local development firm.

When Smith deferred questions to Johnson, the two were about 10 feet from each other in the conference room on the third floor of Main Street Station, where the board meets.

Smith left. Johnson lingered, discussing college sports with a fellow EDA member.

Johnson concluded his conversation. As he made his way out of the room, reporters from Style Weekly and the Times-Dispatch, who were waiting to speak with him, asked him about the early permit applications.

So far, the city has referred questions about the issue to the winning bidder, Hourigan Construction, which filed permits for the project the day the it was announced -- two weeks before the EDA chose it as the contractor. Hourigan, in turn, has referred questions to the EDA, which hasn’t commented on the issue.

Johnson hadn’t returned phone calls seeking comment on the issue. When asked in person Thursday, he said the board had a policy of allowing only the chair, Smith, to speak to media. When reporters told Smith that Johnson had referred questions to him, he left the room and made a phone call.

Johnson returned and said he tried to call Smith but got no answer. A reporter offered to play Johnson an audio recording of Smith saying to ask Johnson about the issue. Johnson declined to listen.

“I may be picking a nit,” Johnson said. “We have a policy about this -- refer questions to the chairman.”

As Johnson left Main Street Station, Smith was still in the adjacent parking lot talking to a board member outside his car. When told about the interaction with Johnson, Smith reiterated that Johnson was free to disuss the issue.

“He can talk to anybody he wants to,” Smith said.

Johnson, at that point, had departed for a different parking lot.

Earlier in the meeting, Johnson expressed dismay about news coverage of the Stone deal, which he said had a “negative slant.”

Morning Links

Free dirt for Stone, reprieve for a pig and auditing the auditors.

Posted on Thu, Nov 20, 2014 at 8:33 AM

The mayor’s office says the early application permits for the Stone Brewing project were about getting free dirt for the project. Critics don’t sound convinced. [Times-Dispatch]

Tucker the pig can stay, for now. Supervisors postponed a vote on the family pet until January. [WRIC, WWBT]

A city audit employee is audited. [Style]

Ten protestors against low wages at fast food restaurants have been ordered to cover the cost of the police response to a demonstration they staged outside a McDonald’s on the Mechanicsville Turnpike. [Times-Dispatch]

Ex-HDL executive Tonya Mallory now runs a small machine shop. [Richmond BizSense]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Audit Employee Audited

Report concludes that doctor’s notes were forged.

Posted on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 12:44 PM

Richmond City Auditor Umesh Dalal
  • Richmond City Auditor Umesh Dalal

A former employee of the city auditor’s office apparently didn’t think much of his co-workers’ abilities to ferret out government waste and fraud.

The employee attempted to use forged doctors’ notes to use sick time before a planned resignation, according to -- what else? -- an audit recently completed by the office.

The forgeries weren’t that good, according to the report, which doesn’t name the employee. The notes were altered photocopies of one legitimate note.

City Auditor Umesh Dalal says he forwarded the case to the commonwealth’s attorney.

Morning Links

Emotional-support pig in Chesterfield, jail overcrowding, and more on Stone Brewing.

Posted on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 8:11 AM

A Chesterfield family says their pet pig, Tucker, provides emotional support. - IMAGE VIA TUCKER'S FACEBOOK PAGE
  • Image via Tucker's Facebook page
  • A Chesterfield family says their pet pig, Tucker, provides emotional support.

In an October article, New Yorker writer Patricia Marx describes how she boarded an airplane with a pig, testing the limits of a federal law that allows people to bring animals almost anywhere with no scrutiny simply by claiming they're for emotional support. (She also took a llama into a museum and a turkey on a bus.)

Last night, a Chesterfield County family and its embattled pet pig, Tucker, suggested that it would take a similar tact in a fight to keep the animal at its Brandermill home. The Board of Supervisors is voting tonight on a conditional use permit.

Regardless of the board’s decision, the family’s claim that Tucker provides emotional support and cures anxiety could be enough to kick the issue into federal court. The right to keep emotional-support animals, pigs included, in housing where the pets are otherwise prohibited, is laid out in the Fair Housing Act. [WRIC, WWBT]

In other news:

The city’s sparkling new jail is already over capacity. [Style]

The contractor building a city-financed brewery for Stone Brewing may have gotten a head start: Two weeks before it was awarded the city contract, it applied for permits to begin a small portion of the site work. [Times-Dispatach]

The state self-insured its rocket launch facility on Wallops Island, and now the governor is seeking help covering $20 million in damages caused by an aborted launch. [Times-Dispatch]

How will the city know when the mayor’s ballpark proposal is dead for good? [Style]

Thursday, November 6, 2014

CenterStage Tax Forgiveness Complicates Hardywood Bill

The city is threatening to turn the brewery's unpaid meals tax over to a collections firm.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 6, 2014 at 1:17 PM

A week ago Richmond officials gave the parent group of CenterStage a $1.75 million grant so it could pay its real estate tax bill. City officials are taking a less generous tack when it comes to collecting a similar outstanding bill from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

The origin of both organizations’ unpaid bills follows a parallel track. CenterStage says city officials said it wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the two theaters it runs. Hardwood says city officials told them it didn’t need to collect city meals tax on the beer it sells.

Both ended up with bills they said they couldn’t pay: Hardywood’s for $50,000 and CenterStage's for $1.75 million.

The difference is administrators went to lengths to convince City Council to forgive CenterStage’s debt. The city granted the arts group enough money to cover the bill and the group turned around and paid that money right back to the city, wiping out the debt.

In Hardywood’s case, the city is threatening to turn the uncollected meals tax bill over to a collections firm. Tammy Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, said “state law does not give local tax officials authority to deviate with respect to collecting meals taxes.”

State law also didn’t give city officials authority not to assess real estate taxes on CenterStage’s buildings. But the mayor’s office found a way to solve the issue.

City Council President Charles Samuels says that in light of the CenterStage issue, the mayor’s office should be taking a more conciliatory tact when it comes to Hardywood.

“With the CenterStage issue, we’ve set a precedent for addressing exactly this kind of situation,” Samuels says. “And when you look at the money we have spent as a city on the training camp and on the Stone Brewing project -- I believe there comes a point where we also need to look out for our home grown successes as well as those we’ve attracted to Richmond. “

Councilman Jon Baliles says he doesn’t believe the city should grant Hardywood $50,000 so it can pay its bill. But he says the city should be able to resolve the issue administratively and make the tax bill go away.

City Council didn’t add breweries to the list of entities subject to the meals tax until September, which is when Hardywood began collecting and paying the 6-percent tax. Assessing the tax on beer sold before that date is indefensible, Baliles says.

“Put it this way,” he says, “if the city takes this to court, they will lose.”

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