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Battle for Monroe Park 

Oregon Hill resident fires salvos at city over alleged Monroe Park mismanagement.

click to enlarge news13_monore_park.jpg

Scott Elmquist

Charles Todd Woodson, a resident of Oregon Hill and longtime advocate for Monroe Park, the city’s oldest public park, is fed up.

Now he says he is taking action with the Monroe Park Conservancy and the city, both of which he believes have escaped accountability for alleged mismanagement of millions of tax dollars in the park’s renovation.

The bottom line according to Woodson: The conservancy and the city wasted a lot of money and did a lousy job.

Woodson says that on March 1, he filed a 13990 complaint with the Internal Revenue Service requesting action because Alice McGuire Massie, the president of the Monroe Park Conservancy, a nonprofit foundation, and the conservancy’s treasurer, Matthew Stanley, have refused his repeated requests to view the foundation’s most recent 990 reports. By law, these are to be available to the public.

Massie denies there was anything to show Woodson and says the conservancy is up-to-date on all its required filings with the IRS. She is dismissive of his concerns and maintains that “Woodson is a complainer and a whiner and I do not want my name and his used in the same sentence.”

Woodson was awarded the 2005 Jesse Reynolds Award from City Council and the 2017 Green Giant award from the Sierra Club Falls of the James Group.

The conservancy was incorporated in 2011 and agreed to raise $3 million in private contributions to be matched by $3 million in tax dollars from the city in a private-public project to renovate the 7.5-acre park that sits on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. Massie says that “all the forms required have been filed and the Conservancy has fulfilled all financial obligations to the City.”  

The most recent 990 form filed with the IRS by the Monroe Park Conservancy was from the period of July 1, 2018, until June 30, 2019, and shows a deficit of over $322,000. The deficit comes from an unsecured bridge loan taken out to cover the full amount that the conservancy gave to the city. The 990 form for the period of July 1, 2019, until June 30, 2020, is not published on the IRS website or the GuideStar website for such organizations – although the IRS has had to extend many deadlines because of the pandemic.

Woodson says he also filed a formal request for an audit of all city funds used in the project directed to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, acting Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders, the city’s inspector general and City Council.

His request comes 2 ½ years after the park reopened following a $6.3 million renovation, a cost Woodson contends is closer to $7.5 million once cost overruns and unforeseen infrastructure issues were encountered.

In his letter requesting official action, he contends he is doing so because shortly after the park reopened in 2018, it began to deteriorate.

“Pathways in the park are now condemned and off limits to the public. Bollards on the park’s perimeter have broken and remain unfixed. All public restroom facilities were removed. The healthy, mature tree canopy was severely compromised by removal of so many beautiful trees.”

In an interview with Style Weekly, he explains that the list of needs goes on and current conditions have existed for well over a year. He believes that repairing the dereliction of the property may cost into the millions of dollars.

As further justification for his request, he notes that previous reports of the misappropriation of more than $800,000 of school construction money and more than $300,000 for infrastructure repairs in the city’s 5th District have never been reconciled or formally addressed by the Stoney administration.

The former chief administrator, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, was fired by Stoney after an inspector general investigation found that five of her relatives received jobs in city departments she oversaw.

There are many questions regarding the fiscal machinations of the renovation, which was overdue in completion and way over budget. He ends his letter stating, “As a concerned citizen and Richmond resident, I hereby respectfully request the Honorable Mayor, City Council and Inspector General to insure a complete and comprehensive audit of the Monroe Park renovation and to make it available to the citizens of Richmond.”

A request for comment from Stoney’s office was unanswered at deadline.

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