Thursday, January 29, 2015

Unfriendly Amendment

City no longer says secretive Marshall departure was “amicable.”

Posted By on Thu, Jan 29, 2015 at 12:09 PM

Richmond's former chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, and Mayor Dwight Jones. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Richmond's former chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, and Mayor Dwight Jones.

Lawyers for the city now say the departure of Richmond’s former chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, was the result of an employment dispute.

The city and Marshall portrayed his departure as amicable when it was announced in September. But in a court hearing Thursday, the city argued that didn’t have to make public Marshall’s separation agreement because it pertained to an employment dispute, in which case it would be exempt under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

“That’s the whole reason you have separation agreements,” the city’s lawyer Stephen Hall told Richmond Circuit Court Judge Joi Jeter-Taylor. “You don’t need them if they’re leaving amicably.”

Asked about the discrepancy between the city’s argument in court and what city officials told the public, Hall declined to elaborate, saying: “We said what we said.”

The court hearing concerned the city’s motion to throw out a lawsuit filed by former Richmond School Board member and blogger Carol A.O. Wolf.

Wolf, along with other residents and media organizations including Style, filed a FOIA request seeking the release of documents related to Marshall’s departure.

The city has refused to release most documents, citing exemptions in the statutes for certain personnel records and attorney client privilege.

Among the documents the city has declined to release is copy of the confidentiality agreement it forced City Council members to sign before briefing them on Marshall’s departure.

Judge Taylor took the city’s motion under advisement, saying she’d issue a ruling “within a week or two.” In the interim, she told the lawyers to set a date for a hearing on the full suit within the next two weeks.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fast Lane

A bus rapid transit line on Broad promises quick trips, but get ready for a big debate over parking.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2015 at 10:55 PM

A rendering of a proposed bus rapid transit station on Broad Street. View more renderings here and here. - GRTC
  • GRTC
  • A rendering of a proposed bus rapid transit station on Broad Street. View more renderings here.

A proposed bus rapid transit line along Broad Street will eliminate 708 on-street parking spaces to make way for dedicated bus lanes, GRTC officials said at public meeting on the project Monday.

The transit agency also released station locations and designs for the planned line, which is expected to cost $54 million. Of that, $42 million will be covered by state and federal grants.

The potential loss of parking downtown didn't seem to concern the meeting's two-dozen attendees, but if recent wrangling over other proposed alternative transit projects is any indication, the issue could end up dominating debate over the bus line.

Stephen McNally, a GRTC project administrator, says the number of spaces lost sounds big, but represents only eight percent of existing parking spaces in the vicinity of the project. Of the 708 spaces, about 100 are currently loading zones. “The capacity is there now to absorb that loss,” he says.

The plan eliminates all on-street parking between Interstate 195 and 14th Street, replacing it with a permanent bus lane. From 195 to Adams, the bus lane will run in the median and be separated from traffic. Entering the central business district, the lanes will transition to a curb running lane.

Along much of the corridor parking is already banned during rush hour to make way for temporary bus lanes. McNally says the curb running lane in the business district won’t be any wider than the existing rush-hour bus lane, meaning the 10.5-feet-wide buses still won’t quite fit in the 9-foot-wide lanes.

The project is expected provide 65 percent faster service than current bus service on Broad Street. The efficiency comes from operating the bus like a light rail line -- with more buses, fewer stops, dedicated lanes and priority at traffic lights at some intersections.

GRTC plans to operate buses every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during off peak hours. The fare will be the same as other buses, currently $1.50. (Not totally related but worth noting: GRTC’s CEO, David Green, says the agency is in the process of installing new fare boxes that will allow the sale of day, week and month passes.)

The stations will have real time arrival information, bicycle storage and tickets will be sold prior to boarding the bus.

The locations of the 14 planned stations have been tweaked since the last time the project was presented. A station planned for Hamilton and I-195 has been moved to Cleveland Street to better serve Scott’s Addition.

Planned stops, as released Monday. - GRTC
  • GRTC
  • Planned stops, as released Monday.

The project also shifts a downtown station to the location of the proposed Stone Brewing Co. restaurant and brewery.

Members of the public questioned the logic behind some of the placements. One woman wondered why the project didn’t provide easier access to the Kroger on Lombardy. Others noted that the stations didn’t seem to mesh with existing lines connecting Broad Street to the North Side.

There were also questions about the seemingly erratic placement of stations, for example the plan lumps three within blocks from each other downtown and at Rocketts Landing and Stone Brewing. In other areas, the closest stations are as far as two miles apart.

McNally said the proposed stops are the result of a series of studies and public comment sessions. He says infrastructure issues also dictated location: the presence of traffic signals, drainage and underground utilities.

GRTC officials say they expect more than 3,000 daily boardings. They were unable to immediately say how many daily boardings the current bus line serving Broad Street gets, but predict the project will draw 500 new daily riders.

While GRTC released preliminary renderings of the stations, they don’t plan to release renderings of the rapid-transit branded buses until Spring. They recently held a survey to name the system.

McNally says they’ll be the same buses the system currently uses, only painted differently and with a fairing on the front to make them look faster.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Stadium Shuffle

Is City Council pivoting back toward the ballpark?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 3:23 PM

A proposed City Council resolution has turned into a test of allegiances in the ballpark debate, and it looks less certain that a majority of council members still oppose the development.

Five of nine council members said in May they would vote against the mayor's development plan: Jon Baliles, Charles Samuels, Reva Trammell, Parker Agelasto and Chris Hilbert.

Only four of those council members have signed a resolution asking Mayor Dwight Jones to reallocate $10.6 million that City Council set aside for the ballpark in the current year’s budget.

The resolution follows an agreement between Jones and City Council made during budget deliberations: Jones would reallocate the funds in consultation with City Council members if his ballpark proposal was unsuccessful.

Councilman Samuels said Thursday at a meeting of council’s Finance Committee that it’s apparent that the proposal indeed is unsuccessful and that it’s time for Jones to reallocate the funds. He suggested putting them toward the city’s struggling school system.

Councilman Chris Hilbert - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Councilman Chris Hilbert

Council members Trammell, Baliles and Agelasto agreed, signing on as co-patrons of the resolution.

Hilbert did not, saying he opposes the measure. “It seems to me that it just stirs a pot that doesn’t need to be stirred,” Hilbert told The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The statement further cements his position as a swing vote.

Hilbert had already softened his opposition, saying in September that he was open to a proposal that brings “honest economic development” to the city.

Hilbert since has assumed the position of council vice president, while Councilwoman Michelle Mosby, a strong ally of Jones, was elected as council president.

The resolution comes at a time Jones’ staff members have hinted they plan to bring the ballpark proposal back. Richmond Flying Squirrels officials confirmed a meeting with Jones administration officials Thursday.

Tammy Hawley, the mayor's press secretary, offered no details: “I'm sure some folks were in touch. But I don't have anything to report on.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Floyd Avenue Bike Boulevard Stalls

Posted By on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 6:36 PM

Supporters and opponents of the proposed Floyd Avenue Bike Boulevard packed into a Planning Commission meeting Tuesday. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Supporters and opponents of the proposed Floyd Avenue Bike Boulevard packed into a Planning Commission meeting Tuesday.

The Richmond Planning Commission deferred action Tuesday on a proposal to turn Floyd Avenue into the city’s first bike boulevard.

At this point, hardly anyone is excited about the project, which calls for replacing four-way stop signs on Floyd Avenue with traffic circles.

Proponents did their best to muster enthusiasm, arguing that at least the project represents a start toward building a network of bike friendly streets in Richmond. They said it can always be improved upon later if it prove inadequate.

Opposition fell into two camps: those who think the project doesn’t do enough to discourage car traffic and those that are obsessed with the idea that the project will reduce the number of on-street parking spaces.

Regarding parking, planners said the project would eliminate eight illegal spaces. They showed diagrams to that effect.

Some opponents were not convinced, insisting the plan will make it impossible for residents to continue parking within 20 feet of the intersection, which is illegal under city code but not enforced in the Fan. More than one suggested city planners were actively attempting to deceive them.

Those who said they wanted the project to go further to calm traffic cited experience in other cities, such as Portland, Ore., which has a network of bike boulevards. Planners there say they’ve shifted away from traffic circles as a means of discouraging car traffic because they don’t slow down cars enough.

Instead planners in Portland opt for diverters and mid-block speed humps. Diverters push thru car traffic onto neighboring streets while allowing cyclists to pass. Speed humps are exactly what they sound like.

Both measures were deemed too aggressive for Floyd based on feedback from residents at a series of community meetings last year, said Andy Boenau, a planner with Timmon’s Group contracted by the city to design the project.

Planning Commission members focused less on the parking issue and more on the efficacy of the project. They asked the city to implement the suggestions made by the Urban Design Committee, which voted last week not to recommend approval of the project.

Those conditions addressed lowering the speed limit, adding unique signage labeling it a bicycle thoroughfare, and requiring a future evaluation of the project with more public comment. They also touched on tees, lighting, and ADA accessibility, and yes, parking.

The commission will take up the issue again in 30 days.

How Much Does It Cost to Buy a Richmond Island?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 12:50 PM

If you’ve ever wanted to own a wooded island in the James River, well, you missed your chance. A coalition of outdoor groups lead by the Enrichmond Foundation recently bought the only one up for sale.

The group paid $175,000 for Vauxhall Island, a low-lying, flood-prone piece of real estate that houses a homeless encampment and a billboard that draws rental income.

Enrichmond’s executive director, John Sydnor, says in a statement that “future plans for the island are in development and will be announced at a later date.”

The island sits just west of the Mayo Bridge adjacent to the great blue heron rookery. The only pedestrian access is by a train bridge, which is marked no trespassing.

The island is named for Vauxhall Gardens, an 18th-century pleasure garden in London, according to Enrichmond. Once accessible by from a footbridge from the Mayo Bridge, it has played host to a barroom, shuffleboard court, fishing and other amusements.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Joe Morrissey Live Blog

A delegate’s day legislating from jail.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2015 at 11:13 AM

  • Scott Elmquist / File

Last night Joe Morrissey won reelection to the House of Delegates while serving a six-month jail sentence for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Today, the General Assembly convenes its 2015 session, and Morrissey has been granted work release, meaning he’ll spend his days at the Capitol and his nights at Henrico County Jail.

Joe Morrissey has left the building.

5:30 p.m.

Morrissey has departed the General Assembly. He declined to say where he was headed.

”I’m going out -- that’s all,” Morrissey said, adding that he intended to return for Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s first State of the Commonwealth address at 7 p.m.

Morrissey exited the General Assembly Building and walked up Grace Street a block to St. Peter’s Catholic Church. He tried to enter but the doors were locked. He then walked into a nearby parking garage.

Morrissey spent the afternoon in his office, where he said he wrote thank-you notes to supporters, talked with his law partner, Paul Goldman, and went over legislation.

Toward the end of the day, Morrissey’s staffers unpacked boxes of files and personal effects that had been sitting on hand carts outside his new office. Among the items: Scooby-Doo, Sponge Bob, Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird costumes he employed during a 2012 press conference taking aim at the so-called King’s Dominion law.

Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade, who is overseeing Morrissey’s work release, said the delegate is due back in jail by 7 p.m., but will be allowed an extension tonight for the governor’s address.

”He’s not going out to any party’s or any socials or anything like that,” Wade, who’s office is tracking his whereabouts at all times via a GPS ankle bracelet, said. “But he’s got to be able to do his job in the General Assembly.”

Morrissey could lose his seat or, maybe just his special license plate?

3:30 p.m.

It now sounds like some House leaders are leaning away from the possibility of seeking to remove Morrissey from the General Assembly. They say they’ll have a clearer idea of how they intend to proceed in the coming week.

“An expulsion hearing would be a really big distraction,” said House Minority Leader David Toscano. “He got the most votes -- he won. We can’t be distracted by Joe Morrissey and all that he’s doing.”

House Speaker William Howell said in a statement last night he is disappointed by Morrissey’s victory and he is exploring options “a number of options available to the body to address questions of conduct regarding its members.”

Howell’s office also said today not to expect any action on Morrissey today.

Toscano said the House’s options are only to expel, censure or do nothing. “And I don’t think anyone wants to do nothing,” Toscano said.

A censure could be as simple as the House passing a resolution condemning Morrissey’s conduct, Toscano said. Or the House could also vote to suspend some of his privileges -- for example by removing him from his committee assignments or even taking away his official House of Delegates state license plate.

Morrissey is done addressing reporters for the day.

2:50 p.m.

Morrissey, who rarely shies away from media attention, seems to be growing weary of the barrage of cameras that have followed him today.

Reporters have been camped out in the lobby outside his office all morning and since this afternoon’s session went into recess at 1 p.m.

Morrissey spent the afternoon consulting with his law partner and former Democratic strategist Paul Goldman.

In a brusque exchange with a television reporter, Morrissey initially refused to answer questions, saying he’d been addressing reporters all morning and didn’t want to answer any questions he’d already fielded. The reporter protested, saying he hadn’t been a part of any of the prior interviews. Morrissey relented and brought the reporter into his office for an interview.

Morrissey also addressed his new secretary. “I apologize,” he said, throwing up his hands, “for all the drama.”

Morrissey has a history with his new seatmate.

All alone: Joe Morrissey on the floor of the House of Delegates Wednesday. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • All alone: Joe Morrissey on the floor of the House of Delegates Wednesday.

2:20 p.m.

Joe Preston, a newly elected Democrat from Petersburg, is Morrissey’s new seatmate in the far corner of the House of Delegates where members without seniority sit.

Preston, a lawyer, also represented Morrissey in a civil suit over twenty years ago when a client Morrissey represented sued him, alleging fraud.

Preston says it was a “very, very long trial,” but that the jury returned its verdict in 11 minutes. They found for Morrissey, he says.

Preston talked briefly with Morrissey after today’s session went into recess for the afternoon. Otherwise, Morrissey’s fellow delegates seemed to avoid him. As one reporter put it, “nobody will talk to him.”

Does Preston have any misgivings about getting stuck sitting next to someone so politically radioactive?

“Obviously a lot of us feel the conduct is reprehensible,” Preston says. “He’s a sitting delegate that was just sit back here by his constituents and it’s not for me to judge him.”


1:00 p.m.

Expulsion efforts unlikely to begin today.

12:50 p.m.

Morrissey told reporters this morning that he expects “certain people” to take “certain actions.” But those actions aren’t likely to come today, according to multiple sources.

When they do, Morrissey says he’s ready:

I am going to take it each battle at a time. The most important thing though is that the voters of the 74th District spoke, and they spoke very clearly last night. And their vote, their decision, has to be honored. That’s why the founding fathers, Jefferson and Monroe, walked these halls for that principal -- that each vote counts.

Morrissey also hinted that he’s ready to move on from the House of Delgates, saying “I will finish serving this term in the House of Delegates and move on to other life doings and experiences.” But when reporters asked him to clarify, he insisted that he wasn’t saying this will be his last term. “I’m not saying anything,” he said.

Election results came in as Morrissey arrived at jail.

12:32 p.m.

Morrissey says he’d returned to jail for the night but had not yet relinquished his cell phone when he found out he’d swept precincts in Charles City County, suggesting he’d won.

Shortly afterward, confirmation came from a news reporter who got permission to interview Morrissey in the facility last night.

”A reporter from channel six said it’s 100 percent and you’ve increased your margin,” Morrissey said.

Asked whether his fellow inmates cheered his win, Morrissey said he got the same reception in the cellblock he usually gets. He didn’t elaborate.

The shunning continues.

12:10 p.m.

The 2015 legislative session has begun, with House Speaker William Howell delivering a few opening remarks. In another sign of Morrissey’s loss of status, the delegate has lost his old desk at the center of the floor of the House of Delegates and has been moved into the far right corner of the room.

Morrissey is still facing the threat of expulsion. House Minority Leader David Toscano, said lawmakers are still “having discussion about the appropriate consequences.”

“When we land on one, we’ll let you know,” he said.

Morrissey gets a lift.

11:50 a.m.

Morrissey says that because of the icy weather, he was unable to get the doors of his Jaguar open when he released from jail this morning. But a Washington Post reporter was waiting for him outside the center and she offered him a ride to the Capitol. Morrissey called the reporter's presence "fortuitous." He didn’t respond when asked how he’d get back to jail tonight.

A (sort-of) low key swearing in.

11:45 a.m.

Minutes after Joe Morrissey arrived at the General Assembly Office Building this morning, House Clerk Paul Nardo gave him his oath of office in front of a crowd of reporters in his small, undecorated office.

Nardo said Morrissey opted to take the oath in his office rather than on the House floor.

“Is this normal protocol?” asked a reporter.

“Normal protocol is winning an election and getting sworn in,” Nardo replied.

Nardo offered his congratulations and promptly left. Morrissey proceeded to take questions from reporters.

Iced out and late for session.

11:00 a.m.

Foul weather apparently has complicated Morrissey’s commute from Henrico County Jail East in New Kent County to the State Capitol. A Washington Post reporter posted a picture of his car covered in ice at 8 a.m., and as of this writing, he still hasn’t appeared. Session begins at 11:45 a.m., before which Morrissey presumably will be sworn in.

A small crowd of reporters is waiting for him in the lobby of the General Assembly building.

Because Morrissey lost all seniority in the House by resigning his seat, he’s been forced to vacate his comparatively nice office on the fourth floor, which offered a pleasant view of the Library of Virginia and City Hall, for a walk-in-closet-sized space on the seventh.

Democratic Delegate Kathleen Murphy got Morrissey’s old office. Democrats are distancing themselves from Morrissey, issuing a statement explicitly noting that while Morrissey has been affiliated with the party his entire career, he ran as an independent and is no longer a Democrat. A volunteer outside Murphy’s office says General Assembly staff painted and cleaned before the delegate moved in, but no further measures were taken to cleanse the room -- as in, no sage was burned.

Morrissey hasn’t had the chance to move in yet, and his office nickknacks, including a pair of pink boxing gloves, a nod to his “Fighting Joe” moniker, are sitting in carts in the hallway.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Joe Morrissey Wins Reelection While Serving Jail Sentence

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 8:28 PM


Delegate Joe Morrissey is serving a six-month sentence in Henrico County Jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He also just won re-election to the House of Delegates.

Because a judge granted Morrissey work release, he can serve in the General Assembly by day and sleep in jail at night.

Morrissey, whose curfew on election night was 8 p.m., would have learned the results while in his cellblock, either via a television or pay phone.

While Morrissey wasn't available for comment, his opponent, Democrat Kevin Sullivan said he is disappointed by the result but proud of his campaign, which he launched and ran on short notice.

Morrissey, a Democrat who ran as an independent, announced he was resigning his seat on Dec. 18 -- a week after his conviction. But during the same press conference, he also announced his candidacy in the special election to replace him.

Morrissey’s colleagues on Capitol Square had roundly called for his resignation. And even though he’s won re-election, he still faces the threat of expulsion.

"There are a number of options available to the body to address questions of conduct regarding its members," House Speaker William Howell said in a statement Tuesday night. "We will begin the process of assessing these options in order to determine the appropriate path forward."

The General Assembly's session begins Wednesday, when, presumably, Morrissey will be sworn in by Howell.

Investigators said Morrissey had sex with a then-17-year-old receptionist at his law office in Highland Springs. Morrissey has maintained his phone was hacked by the girl's lesbian ex-lover, who he says planted the evidence against him.

He's continued to deny guilt, entering an Alford plea in the case, meaning he hasn't admitted guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict him.

This is the second time Morrissey has held public office while serving a jail sentence. In 1992, he was sentenced to five days in Richmond City Jail while he served as the city's commonwealth's attorney. The sentence followed a courthouse brawl with an opposing attorney.

Morrissey’s Jailhouse Watch Party

Delegate gets half-hour curfew extension for election night.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 1:25 PM

Joe Morrissey is serving a six month jail sentence, but has been allowed to campaign as part of a work release program. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Joe Morrissey is serving a six month jail sentence, but has been allowed to campaign as part of a work release program.

Joe Morrissey could find out whether he’ll win reelection tonight from behind bars at Henrico County Jail East.

“There’s a TV in the cell block,” Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade says. “He has access to a phone, so he could also call” to find out the results.

Morrissey, who campaigned on work release while serving a six-month sentence, is due back in jail by 8 p.m., Wade says.

That’s a half-hour extension beyond his usual curfew of 7:30. But depending on how tight the race is, it might not be enough time for him to find out whether he’ll get to keep his seat in the House of Delegates.

Polls close at 7, and typically election results start flowing in around 7:30, though it often takes more than an hour for enough precincts to report results to call the race.

Last month, Morrissey entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in connection with an alleged relationship with his then-17-year-old receptionist. The two have denied any sexual relationship.

Morrissey resigned under pressure from his colleagues, who threatened to expel him. But he immediately announced his run in today’s special election to replace him.

Sheriff Wade says he’s given Morrissey permission to campaign in person at three polling places across the district. Morrissey is being tracked by an ankle bracelet but also is texting the sheriff directly with updates on his location, Wade says.

State Song Pitch Comes Back Around

The GA takes up the old debate over what the state's new song should be.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 1:00 AM

  • Photo Illustration Ed Herrington

Virginia hasn’t had a state song since 1997. It’s a deficiency James Robertson, a retired Virginia Tech history professor, has found increasingly untenable.

“We’re a mother state,” the 84-year-old says. “We began the whole country. America planted its seed at Jamestown. Virginia should be the lead in everything, and the fact that we lack a basic ingredient -- a state song -- I find that deplorable.”

With some encouragement from House Speaker William Howell and a few other lawmakers, Robertson commissioned a songwriter to set fresh, Virginia-focused lyrics to the tune of “Oh Shenandoah,” a folk classic often associated with the state but lacking in lyrical references to the commonwealth.

Robertson liked what came back. Apparently, so did Howell, who proposed legislation to make “Our Great Virginia” the state’s official song.

The move sidesteps years of debate over the issue that goes back to the legislature’s 1997 decision to retire the former state song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia,” which contains lyrics that have drawn fire for references to laboring for “massa” and “this old darkey.”

An official contest in 1998 to pick a new song garnered 339 entries, from which a subcommittee of lawmakers narrowed the field to eight finalists. But then things got weird. One entrant sued the state, raising allegations of impropriety after it came to light that musicians Jimmy and Donna Dean had donated to the campaign of a committee member. As a result, the entrant claimed, his entry didn’t receive due consideration.

The committee disbanded without picking a winner, leaving Virginia to stand with New Jersey as the only state without a song. Neighbor West Virginia has four state songs, while Massachusetts has a state song, a folk song, a ceremonial march, an ode and a polka.

While various lawmakers have raised the issue through the years, the proposals never gained much traction. With Howell carrying the bill, the effort could gain momentum. But while the song is refreshingly free of racist references, it’s likely to generate some controversy.

Robbin Thompson, who co-wrote “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” a catchy beach-music number that was a finalist in the 1998 contest, says “Our Great Virginia” sounds contrived.

“It’s a nice enough song,” he says, “but it sounds like somebody said, ‘I think I’ll try to write something that someone in Virginia will like.’”

The song is by Mike Greenly, a corporate speech and songwriter in New York. Indeed, he says he wrote the lyrics with goal of “inspiring anyone who cares about Virginia.”

A native of North Carolina, Greenly came up with the lyrics through a combination of research and interviews with Robertson.

“What I have learned about Virginians is that it seems Virginians feel a special degree of specialness and affinity for their state -- more than the average,” Greenly says.

Robertson says Greenly’s work captured the sentiment he was hoping for, and that when he debuted the song last year during the General Assembly’s special session on a portable CD player he brought to state Sen. John Edwards’ office, the reaction was unanimously positive.

“We started playing it,” Robertson says, “and actually a crowd formed outside his office with the music started echoing out that way.”

Erin Freeman, the director of choral activities at Virginia Commonwealth University and the director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus, oversaw a performance of the song in the rotunda of the Capitol last year. She said the audience found the performance moving.

“It was impactful,” she says.

But she isn’t sure whether it should become enshrined in code as the state song. “It’s a difficult question to answer,” she says. “Everyone will have individually different feelings about what represents the state.”

Activists Threaten to Stage “International Protest” at Bike Race

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 1:00 AM

  • Ned Oliver

About three-dozen activists started singing “Amazing Grace” and chanting protest slogans in the middle of a Richmond City Council meeting Monday night.

The protesters identified themselves as members of the #blacklivesmatter movement. Earlier in the meeting, speakers threatened “international protest” in September when the city hosts the 2015 UCI Road World Championships if the city didn’t address a list of grievances and demands.

The protesters said City Council and Mayor Dwight Jones are failing black residents. Among other things, the protesters said they wanted to see Shockoe Bottom, where Jones proposed building a baseball stadium, designated as a protected historical district. Other issues they listed include: funding for city schools, the Department of Social Services, Care Van price increases, and failure to follow the recommendations of the city’s Food Policy Task Force.

The interruption in the proceedings led City Council President Michelle Mosby to call the meeting into recess and most of the council members left the chambers until order was restored about 15 minutes later.

Following several minutes of chanting, someone yelled, “Alright, y’all, let’s get out of here,” and the group left en masse, only to return about five minutes later to march a final loop around the room as they chanted “we told y’all we’d be back.”

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