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Historical Society Gets Huge Donation; Budget Cuts Threaten Programs for Youth; Dominion Dissenter Takes to the Airwave; Indie Label Moves to Richmond 

Street Talk

Historical Society Gets Huge Donation

The Virginia Historical Society is about to receive the largest monetary donation in its 171-year history, a gift for which it's waited nearly two decades.

"It's a lot of money," says director Charles F. Bryan Jr., with a chuckle. Bryan won't disclose the exact amount, but says it's at least $13 million — a sum equal to half the society's current endowment.

Of course, Bryan hastens to add, don't expect to see the society adding new wings to its building on Boulevard. The donor, the late Glasgow Clark, stipulated that the money would go to the Society's endowment — money meant for investing, not for day-to-day expenses.

"This has always been a part of our strategic long-term planning," states Maribeth Cowan, public-relations director for the Society. "This is not like a windfall." Still, some excitement is audible in Bryan's voice as he talks about the forthcoming donation.

Income from the endowment provides about half of the society's $5 million operating budget. For the last few years "we've been stretching ourselves," he says, by using 6 percent of the proceeds instead of 5 percent, the amount large institutions consider prudent.

Despite the magnitude of his gift, Clark himself is a mystery. "We don't know that much about him," Bryan says, only what is contained in a brief obituary from 1984.

Clark, the nephew of famed writer and Richmond native Ellen Glasgow, grew up in Norfolk, Bryan recounts. He became the president of a building-supplies company there and retired in 1956. Clark was "an inveterate traveler," Bryan says, and never married.

His will established a charitable trust to provide for a woman living in Germany. Upon her death, which occurred in November, Clark had arranged for his fortune to revert to the society.

The gift comes at a fortuitous time, as the state's budget cutbacks "blew an 8 percent hole in our budget," Bryan says. "A good strong endowment allows you to weather the storms of economic downturns," he adds.

The society still needs support from its donors, Bryan says, but now administrators can also contemplate making improvements such as higher salaries for employees. — Melissa Scott Sinclair

Budget Cuts Threaten Programs for Youth

Here's an interesting conundrum: Why would you slash a city program that would save more money than it costs?

That's the question Nancy H. Ross plans to ask state legislators this week. Ross, the director of the city's Department of Juvenile Justice, is trying desperately to save six services that stand between juvenile offenders and jail.

Former Gov. Jim Gilmore's proposed budget eliminates the annual $783,600 in state funds for those programs. With the additional loss of matching funds from the city, the department stands to lose more than $1.5 million, Ross says.

Ross contends that money is well-spent. By her calculations, the department saves the state more than $3 million each year by keeping juvenile offenders out of detention homes. That's why the state started funding the city department in 1994. And since then, Ross says, the city has seen a 42.5 percent drop in the number of juveniles kept out of state-run institutions.

The state pays for, among other things, intensive supervision and counseling for young offenders; extended day care and tutoring for children after school; placement in community service programs in lieu of detention; and some administrative costs. All these are threatened, Ross says.

Combined, these diversion programs have a 62 percent success rate, measured by the number of young offenders who don't come back through the system, Ross says.

Why would Gilmore target Richmond's juvenile programs? Ross isn't sure, but she's guessing they stood out on paper as an unnecessary local expense. Tidewater is the only other locality where the state pays for juvenile justice services, she says, and the state made no cuts there. No one from Gilmore's administration was available to comment on why Richmond's programs were chosen.

Ross also acknowledges that two years ago (before she arrived), the department was in poor shape. There were "huge gaps" in the department's referrals, actions and assessments for young offenders, she says — but not anymore.

Soon after Ross arrived a year ago, she met with the city's juvenile-court judges, police officials and city administrators to restructure the department. Now, she says, "we have developed what I know is a model."

She's got some city muscle on her side. Vice-Mayor Joseph Brooks appeared on her behalf at last week's public hearing on the budget, and Ross plans to make her case before House and Senate subcommittees this week.

"I am not remotely optimistic," Ross says. But if she fails to get the legislature to reconsider, she adds, "it won't be for lack of trying." — M.S.S.

Indie Label Moves to Richmond

Mark Rainey began installing his national record label here last week, and hardly anyone noticed.

But maybe the only people who notice such things are the sorts who Rainey found mulling around San Francisco when he started TKO Records five years ago — a sprawling scene of obscure punk bands scrounging in the shadow of West Coast icons like Rancid and The Swinging Utters.

Rainey's new Richmond office, above the Baja Bean Company on Lombardy and Main streets, is the first he's ever been able to afford. He's in town to hook up utilities, just finished lunch from Star Lite and feels like he waited too long for the phone company to show up.

In San Francisco, the high rent always kept the 29-year-old Charlottesville native working out of his home, with his computers and file cabinets in the living rooms and a basement overflowing with boxes and piles of CDs. Now that he's married with a child, the D.I.Y.-ethic and punk-rock lifestyle just isn't as easy anymore. He is, he sadly explains, "settling into old age."

TKO is a small label with two full-time employees and a few itinerant part-timers at the San Francisco office. It handles bands you may or may not have heard of. Richmond's Sixer once called it home. It regularly digs up dinosaurs like Slaughter and the Dogs (they once opened for the Sex Pistols). Rainey says "one of our best-kept secrets" is Florida's The Beltones. Those of you who flip through the esoteric pages of underground punk zines are probably reeling with excitement.

Rainey admits his business will barely make a blip even on the local radar, but points out that TKO holds its own in its field.

"We fool a lot of people," he says of his PR savvy. "For a label our size we have a ridiculously large presence in underground punk rock." — Wayne Melton

Dominion Dissenter Takes to the Airwave(s)

In a single-handed, darn-near-impossible, last-ditch-wacky attempt to thwart Dominion Virginia Power from building its new headquarters along the James River, local radio hound and City Council critic Christopher Maxwell has done the unthinkable.

No, really. He has.

Drive to the end of Laurel Street in Oregon Hill and you'll hear it, right near the site of Dominion's proposed new headquarters. All you need to do is tune your car radio to 600-AM, as long as you're listening in the daytime, and as long as you're within a few feet of the secret hidden transmitter.

Then, and only then, you'll be able to hear the unfettered dialogue that unfolded back in November when opponents and proponents of Dominion's plan had their say before City Council. For three weeks now, the audio portion of WCVE Channel-57's live airing of the hearing has been broadcasting continuously.

Why would Maxwell do this? Because he can. Maxwell is using a legal "micropower" AM transmitter. Its signal only travels a few hundred yards in the daytime. It's a grassroots civic adaptation of a sales tactic used by real-estate agents to sell houses.

"I've turned the power down so it only works at the overlook" at the end of Laurel Street, Maxwell says. (Don't bother trying to find the transmitter. It is hidden and secured where vandals and thieves can't get it. He refused to reveal its location to a reporter and photographer.)

The tapes, Maxwell says, offer proof that some people were locked out of council chambers during the meeting. More than a dozen people who did get in were not allowed to speak, violating city charter laws about special-use permits.

Then the videotapes of the meeting apparently disappeared. Maxwell contends in an e-mail: "This contentious [Nov. 26] council meeting, filled with over 20 civic groups opposing Dominion's request for a special-use permit was withheld from public rebroadcast [on television]. Those citizens who called asking about the rebroadcast were told it was 'lost.'"

Maxwell decided to make the council meeting available to the public. So he rigged a broadcast of the tapes on his own.

Maxwell says he hopes anyone who wants to take the time to drive to that singular spot in the daytime and tune in to hear the broadcast will do so. "We hope Dominion's executives will enjoy tuning in on their way to work," he adds. — B.W.

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