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Friday, January 29, 2016

Richmond School Board Chairman Undecided on Tax Increase Referendum

But Jeff Bourne says that a citywide discussion must begin on schools needs.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 3:40 PM

Richmond School Board Chairman Jeff Bourne says that he doesn’t know what to think about the mayor’s call for a public referendum on raising taxes to fund schools.

But he cautions that the city should specify how much tax rates could increase and what cuts could be made to city services if rates stay the same.

“Any question that’s on a referendum has to be one that doesn’t present an incomplete thought or proposition,” Bourne tells Style, the day after the mayor's final State of the City address.

“I think everybody wants more specificity because it would necessarily frame the conversation,” he says. “And I think it’s a great conversation to have.”

Bourne says that it’s important to immediately begin talking about how to tackle the school system’s funding issues.

“As we all know, while money doesn’t solve all problems, it certainly does help fix a lot of the challenges that we face and the money has to come from somewhere,” he says. “So we have to have an honest conversation with everyone around the city like, this is how much it would cost to make the schools what we want.”

Mayor Dwight Jones proposed the referendum during his address last night. He said that he favored posing the question of a tax increase on the November ballot, and would consider the idea with City Council.

“This is very important and the conversation has got to be a conversation that does not just take place at City Hall,” Jones said.

Jones said the city spends more money on education than on any other department, with schools improving only marginally. School officials continue to ask for more funding for operations, and are calling for the start of a roughly $169 million first phase of a 15-year capital improvement plan.

Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden told the Times-Dispatch that a referendum should be specific. He said that the public should be informed about the measures a tax increase would support. He also said that there have been definite increases in the number of accredited schools.

Sturtevant's Surprising Independence

New state senator from Richmond bucks GOP colleagues.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 11:17 AM

Republicans were thrilled in November when young, telegenic Glen Sturtevant, a Richmond School Board member, defeated veteran politician and developer Dan Gecker in a hotly contested race for the state Senate's 10th District.

Sturtevant’s narrow upset kept the Senate in GOP hands. He would seem to buck up the party in its nasty standoff with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe over his attempts to expand Medicaid coverage and put his choice of Fairfax County’s Judge Jane Marum Roush on the state Supreme Court.

Not so fast.

Sturtevant, 33, has shown himself to be dramatically independent. He was in office for mere days when he announced he wouldn’t support his party’s plans to dump Roush in favor of its candidate, State Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr.

His position is critical because the Republicans control the Senate by the slenderest of margins -- 21 to 19. They also wield control in the House of Delegates.

It wasn’t Sturtevant’s only show of independence. When Sen. Charles “Bill” Carrico (R-Grayson) pushed a bill to allow state clerks or deputy clerks to deny marriage licenses to gay couples because of their personal beliefs (in opposition to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling supporting the rights of gay couples of to marry), Sturtevant said no.

His opposition puts him in the same camp as the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting Carrico’s bill.

Political analyst Bob Holsworth says that Sturtevant’s decision on the judgeship “was a big surprise to the Republicans.”

It also aligns him to the legacy of the man he replaces in the senate, John Watkins. The veteran Republican legislator was known for marching to his own tune and brokering deals.

“He’s different from Watkins,” Holsworth says, “but sure has an independent streak.”

Sturtevant’s plays are not all that risky, according to Holsworth. His 10th District is unusually competitive because he has an unusual mix of progressives, moderates and conservatives.

GOP legislative leaders have vowed to blunt McAuliffe on issues such as Roush’s appointment because he didn’t consult them before announcing his choice and then used his executive power to have her put temporary on the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy.

Sturtevant just isn’t going to go along with “exacting political revenge,” Holsworth says.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Flying Squirrels Say They Welcome Governor's Help

Team officials have threatened to leave if new stadium isn’t built.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 28, 2016 at 4:41 PM

The Richmond Flying Squirrels praised Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s call for city and team officials to put their heads together to find a way to give the team a new ballpark.

During his monthly "Ask the Governor" call-in show, which aired this morning on the Virginia News Network, the governor said that the city should heed warnings from the Squirrels that they will nest elsewhere without a new stadium.

“The Richmond Flying Squirrels welcome Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s enthusiastic support for keeping the team in Richmond in a new stadium,” the Squirrels said in a statement issued this afternoon. “The governor has been a great fan and we love seeing him around the ballpark.”

During a recent annual fundraising event for Flying Squirrel nonprofit initiatives, Pat O’Conner, president and chief executive of Minor League Baseball, said that the team may leave Richmond if a deal on a new stadium isn’t made. The Braves left Richmond in 2008 after demands for a new stadium weren’t met.

“Stop the rhetoric, stop the finger-pointing and come up with a plan to build a new ballpark,” O’Conner said. “They [the city] lost baseball once already.”

McAuliffe said that he'd be willing to bring the city and team officials together for a sit-down at the Executive Mansion to hash things out.

"They could not make this any clearer. We cannot lose the Squirrels," the governor said. "We're Richmond. Are you kidding me? How do you lose a ball team? Is that a good message?"

Even if discussions get underway, the team is up against a ticking clock on a lease at The Diamond, which ends in 2017. And with the city beginning its first steps toward developing the Boulevard, it remains unclear whether the Squirrels will stay there.

The city is holding a series of public meetings to determine the best use for 60 acres of city-owned real estate, on which The Diamond sits. After public feedback and a study, the city plans to solicit developer proposals.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Richmond Still Late in Filing 2015 Financial Report

Comprehensive documents were due to state Nov. 30.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2016 at 2:27 PM

The City of Richmond is nearly two months late in filing its latest comprehensive financial report with the Virginia auditor of accounts, and finance staff expect to fall yet another month behind.

Martha Mavredes, state auditor of accounts, says today that the city filed preliminary draft documents, but to her knowledge had not yet filed the required 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report that was due Nov. 30.

Tammy Hawley, press secretary to Mayor Dwight C. Jones, said last week that the city now expects to complete the document by the end of February.

The report, a CAFR, is an annual review of the city’s finances, and is used to guide future budgetary plans. The revised deadline would put the report just before Mayor Jones typically unveils his proposed biennial budget in March.

The new delay comes after Lenora Reid, the city’s top finance official, told council Dec. 14 that the CAFR would be completed by the end of January, which would have put completion a month behind schedule.

Reid said that part of the problem was that she wasn’t given an accurate picture of how much work remained to complete the CAFR. She said that former Chief Deputy Administrative Officer Norman Butts, who left his post in June, misinformed her that most of the finance staff were working on the 2015 document.

Contacted at his Maryland home, Butts says that he has no comment about Reid's remark.

Reid said that substantial manpower went toward completing the previous 2014 CAFR, which also was behind schedule. This report, due Nov. 30, 2014, was filed in October 2015.

“July 1, 2015 was the first day of the 2015 fiscal year, and we are going back there trying to do some of the day-to-day work that has not been done that we were told was completed,” Reid said.

Two weeks ago, Reid said that she expected the 2015 document to be completed by February because two auditing tests remain to be completed by Grant Thornton LLP, the firm in charge of compiling the annual report for the city.

City officials have also blamed the faulty installation of a new database. The delays were central to accusations of mismanagement within the city's financial department, which has seen a large turnover of officials in recent years.

Mavredes couldn't say how many other localities are late filing their reports. “The number is larger than usual because pension accounting has changed,” she said.

She confirmed that Richmond city and schools are up to date with their 2014 reports. Editor's note: The name ofthe firm hired to perform the city's external audit, Grant Thornton LLP, was previously misspelled. We apologize for the error.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Flying Squirrels Could Say Bye-Bye to Richmond

League president says team may leave if deal for new stadium isn't made.

Posted By on Sat, Jan 23, 2016 at 9:45 PM

With the city beginning its first steps toward developing the Boulevard, it remains unclear whether the Squirrels will keep their nest on the corridor.

But even if the team stays, it would have to be in a new stadium, says Pat O’Conner, president and chief executive of Minor League Baseball.

O’Conner says he wants to send the message that the Squirrels could leave Richmond -- as the Braves did in 2008 -- if demands for a new facility aren’t met.

The team also is up against a ticking clock on a lease at The Diamond, which ends in 2017.

“Stop the rhetoric, stop the finger-pointing and come up with a plan to build a new ballpark,” O’Conner said at the Squirrels' annual Hot Stove Banquet, held at the Siegel Center on Thursday. “They lost baseball once already.”

The Braves also pleaded for a new stadium to replace The Diamond, built in 1985. The Squirrels have reiterated the demand since coming to Richmond in 2010.

The city is holding a series of public meetings to determine the best use for 60 acres of city-owned real estate, on which The Diamond sits. After public feedback and a study, the city plans to solicit developer proposals.

The first two of six meetings drew mostly Squirrels fans and the team sent out emails asking them to come out to show support.

O’Conner said that countless maintenance issues, such as flooding and crumbling concrete, continue to plague The Diamond.

“We need a new ballpark. The Diamond has done her time, she’s served her purpose,” he said. “Physical assets don’t last forever.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Great-Grandson of Maggie Walker Weighs In

Says descendants in agreement that tree must be cut down.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2016 at 1:08 PM

Descendants of Maggie Walker insist that the statue planned in her honor mustn't be overshadowed by a towering oak, according to her great-grandson.

Johnny Mickens says that it was the dying wish of his mother, Elizabeth Walker, that a statue of Maggie Walker be placed in the triangular intersection of Brook Road and Adams and Broad streets, and that the tree at its center be removed.

Mickens was one of several speakers at a public hearing held by the city Tuesday, an early step in shaping the look of the statue and the memorial plaza planned for the surrounding intersection.

“[Elizabeth Walker] loved the placement of it at Adams, Brook and Broad and grew up three blocks from there,” he said. “She wanted the statue there and the tree removed. Now there are seven great-grandchildren. One of the eight is deceased and I’m speaking for all when I say we would like to see the tree removed.”

A few hundred people packed the Richmond Public Library auditorium, which was chosen as the location after a previous space proved too small because of overwhelming interest.

But instead of focusing the discussion on design elements of the statue, speakers turned to issues of race, and the importance of honoring Walker or sparing the oak. Some said that the statue instead should be located in Abner Clay Park to protect the tree and to be close to the Maggie L. Walker museum. Others were concerned about the tree diminishing Walker and said that placing her under the tree gave the impression of lynching.

Sculptor Toby Mendez, commissioned by the city to sculpt Walker, gave a rough idea about what the plaza could look like. He said that he's open to designing the statue in a plaza with or without the tree. Mendez said that if the tree stays, he wouldn’t place it under the tree, but somewhere off to the side.

“I think if we design this with or without the tree,” he said, “folks are going to first be looking at Maggie Walker -- I’ll make sure of that.”

The artist also wants the statue to be easily accessible and aims to portray Walker as a woman of the people, who is respected and not “deified” with a statue on too high a pedestal.

City officials polled those in attendance about the tree issue. In all, a third responded that they wanted the statue to stand without the tree, in a sitting or gathering space. Respondents answered four questions about the look of the plaza -- two options considered a space with the tree, and two without. Respondents said that they favored a portrayal of a Walker in her 40s, at the height of her career.

City planners also said that they had the option of adding parking on Adams, because a section of Brook Road may be closed to accommodate the memorial plaza.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Maggie Walker’s Biggest Fan Says Oak Must Go

Man who championed statue of Walker says tree should come down.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Melvin Jones, who spearheaded plans to bring a statue of Maggie Walker to Broad and Adams streets, says a landmark tree in the area planned for the sculpture must come down.

He’s another voice in the debate over whether to remove the southern live oak or have it stand next to Maggie Walker.

The city also plans to turn the area around the statue into a memorial plaza and wants to close a portion of Brook Road that fronts the triangular intersection to do so. The road closure is another issue that has sparked heated discussion.

But plans aren’t finalized. The city will hold a public meeting Jan. 12 to gather feedback on the design of the plaza, with plans to complete the project this year.

Jones, who worked for more than five years to gather community and city support for the project, took a different position in a December interview with Style, in which he said the tree could be “cut back” so that it could stand near the statue with no problem. Now he says he regrets his previous remarks and calls them “conciliatory, off-handed comments” in a letter to the editor.

Mayor Dwight Jones took a different position than Jones when he added his name to a petition to save the tree.

Here’s the full letter from Melvin Jones:

In regards to your Dec. 11 article “Maggie Walker’s Biggest Fan” I am writing to clarify my position regarding the oak tree at Broad and Adams streets. My understanding has always been that the oak tree would be removed to ensure that there would be a 360 degree view of Mrs. Walker with a lighted statue.

Those who have signed the many petitions that I have circulated to support the statue would have expected the same, I’m sure. I regret that I made conciliatory, off-handed comments regarding trimming the tree. After considerable thought, the tree and statue cannot coexist, based on my initial vision for the statue and the plaza.

The focus of this plaza needs to be Mrs. Walker, in her full glory, so her likeness will remind us of her achievements in context with the African-American history of the Jackson Ward community. She needs to be the centerpiece and the exclusive focus of the plaza to honor her and the much beloved community whose values were the heart of Jackson Ward.

Should Legislators Report Trysts With Lobbyists?

The Show-Me State could require reporting sexual liaisons as gifts.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2016 at 1:00 AM

Virginia's General Assembly officially convenes Wednesday, with some of the country’s most lax ethics laws for public officials.

Consider what they’d be up against in Missouri.

A proposed bill in the state legislature there would require that lobbyists and legislators report to an ethics panel when they have sexual relations together, registering such acts as a gifts.

According to BuzzFeed and the Kansas City Star, no actual dollar amount is set for each specific sexual act or what it would consist of, but it still would be reportable.

The requirement wouldn’t apply if a lobbyist and legislator are legally married or if they entered into a close relationship before the legislator entered public office or before the lobbyist registered as such.

Missouri is taking a tougher line on public ethics after scandals forced two officials from office last year.

Virginia adopted new ethics rules last year after the conviction of former Gov. Bob McDonnell for corruption in 2014. McDonnell and his wife, who also was convicted, were found to have taken $177,000 in jewelry, loans and vacations from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a local vitamin supplement maker.

McDonnell’s appeal is being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court today. A decision could come about whether the high court will take the case. If it declines, McDonnell must begin serving a two-year prison term.

After the conviction, the Virginia General Assembly agreed to limit gift-giving to an aggregate of $100 from people seeking to influence the state. It refused tougher measures such as forming an independent ethics commission.

It’s unclear if Virginia would consider making sexual relations a reporting requirement and, if it did, what monetary value would be placed on it.

Here is the wording of the proposed Missouri law:

"For purposes of subdivision (2) of this subsection, the term 'gift' shall include sexual relations between a registered lobbyist and a member of the general assembly or his or her staff. Relations between married persons or between persons who entered into a relationship prior to the registration of the lobbyist, the election of the member to the general assembly, or the employment of the staff person shall not be reportable under this subdivision. The reporting of sexual relations for purposes of this subdivision shall not require a dollar valuation."

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Report: Richmond Public Works Director Worked on Mayor's Church

Adediran ordered to give up 38 hours of vacation pay.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2016 at 2:17 PM

Richmond’s director of public works has spent city time overseeing construction at a church where Mayor Dwight C. Jones is senior pastor.

Emmanuel O. Adediran spent hours on conference calls providing “guidance” on the project at First Baptist Church on Iron Bridge Road in Chesterfield County, according to a finding by City Auditor Umesh Dalal first reported in the Times-Dispatch.

In response, the city has told Adediran to relinquish 38 hours of his accrued vacation leave.

Dalal sent this letter to Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Selena Cuffee-Glenn, saying that allegations he investigated related to Adediran are substantiated and that she should “take appropriate action, as deemed necessary.”

Adediran “spent at least 38 hours” over 18 months on church-related conference calls, according to Dalal. The public works director told Dalal in interviews that he serves as an assistant pastor at the church.

Cuffee-Glenn said in a statement: “This worker has assured the City that he only used personal time for matters unrelated to city business. However, out of an abundance of caution, the Mayor has instructed me to take appropriate action in an effort to remove any concern. The employee has been directed to relinquish 38 hours of accrued vacation leave. All parties are in agreement with this action.”

The city auditor has been highly critical of how the Jones administration has handled city finances.

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