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It's About Time ...Capitol Press Corps Chooses SidesOregon Hill Parents Win Playground FightWho Lost City Utility Bill Payments?He's Got the Magic TouchIt's About Time ...

If you can't do the crime, talk to Time.

Richmond law enforcement officials were all abuzz last week with news that the city's vaunted Project Exile program could end up on the cover of Time magazine.

Time reporter Elaine Shannon is working on a story about the positive results of gun control. She has interviewed Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver, Eastern District of Virginia U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Comey about Exile, the innovative program that has successfully cracked down on illegal firearms in Richmond and has spawned similar initiatives around the nation.

The reporter also interviewed police officers and an informant, according to one source.

Richmond Police spokesperson Cynthia Price says a photographer for Time followed Richmond police officers who were executing a search warrant for illegal guns last week, and "they told us that the photo would most likely end up on the cover."

As of Style's press time last week, the Exile story was slated to run on Time's cover Aug. 9, but one interviewee said it was possible the story could get absorbed into a cover story about the Atlanta shootings.

Exile came out of the Richmond branch of the U.S. Attorney's Office. It is a cooperative effort with the Richmond Police and others such as The Martin Agency, which came up with a groundbreaking ad campaign of billboards, TV spots and signs on buses aimed at warning criminals from carrying guns.

In its first two years, Exile, which was founded in 1997, resulted in the confiscation of 475 illegal guns and 404 indictments with an 86 percent conviction rate.

"We're really excited about it because it's a reflection of all the hard work by many agencies and the community," Price says, "and for a publication of Time's stature to come here and want to do this story is really good recognition of all that hard work."

— Richard Foster

Capitol Press Corps Chooses Sides

For the third time this year, a reporter who covers the General Assembly has chosen a side and taken a political job.

Tim Murtaugh, state capital bureau chief with WVIR-29, the NBC affiliate in Charlottesville, will become press secretary and communications director for the Republican Party of Virginia this month.

"More and more, I think it's the Republican Party I see as going in the direction of what I think is right for Virginia. They're the ones who have the ideas, and they're the ones who have driven the debate," says Murtaugh, who has covered the General Assembly since 1994 and was president of the Virginia Capital Correspondents Association.

In June, J. Randall Davis left his job as a public affairs reporter for Virginia Capitol Public Television and became deputy director of communications for Republican Attorney General Mark Earley.

Lynchburg News & Advance reporter Steve Vaughan, who was demoted this year after allegedly shouting and cursing at Republican state Sen. Steve Newman, quit his job in April to work as a political consultant for Newman's opponent, Democrat John Campbell.

Murtaugh says it's only natural that Assembly reporters would eventually gravitate to one party or another: "It's been my experience that most everybody in the press corps makes a great effort to keep his or her own opinion out of what stories they're doing, but I think it's impossible not to form an opinion within yourself about which side is right."

— R.F.

Oregon Hill Parents Win Playground Fight

In the summers, Holly Street Playground is a Mecca for the kids of Oregon Hill, its sprinklers providing a much-needed heat-relieving romp for children whose families often don't have air-conditioning.

And the newly formed Save Holly Street Playground Association wants to make sure it stays that way.

The group was formed last month when, in a departure from past policy, the Richmond Department of Parks and Recreation refused to lend local parents a key to the playground at Holly and Laurel streets.

The playground is staffed by city parks employees from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays, but at all other times, the neighborhood kids were locked out of the playground and sprinkler equipment.

Some sneaked through a hole in the playground fence near Hollywood Cemetery, but even then they couldn't use the sprinklers. "That's all we have," says playground association member Julia Wiles. "It's very important to the children of Oregon Hill. The only other place they have to get cool is the river, and there's safety issues with the river."

Wiles says the playground also gives her 17-year-old son Jordan a place to play basketball and keeps him off the streets.

About 100 concerned and angry parents held a meeting with city officials at Pine Street Baptist Church. The parks department was concerned with liability for the playground when employees weren't present, says city parks spokesperson Angela Jackson-Archer. Also, a parents group that had been established to keep the playground key had disbanded over the years, and there was no one accountable, she says.

The dispute ended amicably after parents formed the Save Holly Street Playground Association. Parks officials gave the group a key.

But the group isn't finished. They sponsored a community cleanup last week and members plan to petition City Council for money for longer staff hours at the playground.

They've also raised money to buy new playground equipment and are soliciting private and corporate donations for a community pool.

— R.F.

Who Lost City Utility Bill Payments?

Bonnie Hamalainen and Jamie Barnett have had their gas cut off twice by the Richmond Department of Utilities this summer for not paying their bill. There's just one problem: They paid their bill in May.

Hamalainen and Barnett, self-employed roommates who live in the East End, apparently are among 100 to 150 utility customers whose bills were lost this summer, either in the mail or by Wachovia Bank.

When customers send their payment by mail, the payments go to a post office box also known as a "lock box" and are then sent to a Wachovia processing center.

City Director of Finance Alphonso Johnson confirms that 100 to 150 payments were "misrouted" during one billing cycle this summer and are still missing.

"There have been periodically problems with the lock-box operation," Johnson says. "Wachovia is still researching it. There's nothing on their end they can ascertain that is causing this problem. They have never been able to ascertain the disposition of those 100 to 150 checks that were misplaced. ... They're working with the postal service to determine what may have occurred."

Hamalainen says the city has restored her service without charge both times, but it's been a nuisance to make sure she's home for the utility workers. Also, she says, utilities employees have advised her to cancel the lost checks, but she hasn't done it because she doesn't think she should be liable for the $25 cancellation fee her bank will charge.

"I'm paying the city for goods and services, and if they are unable to take responsibility for errors they make, that's what's frustrating," says Hamalainen.

— R.F.

He's Got the Magic Touch

Too bad there aren't card tournaments in Crazy Eights.

If there were, more of us would stand a chance to win a whopping cash prize like Kyle Rose did July 4 at the Magic: The Gathering U.S. National Championships in Columbus, Ohio.

At that tournament, the 19-year old Chester resident beat out 155 contenders from throughout the United States for the national title and a $25,000 purse.

But Magic is no game of Crazy Eights. The intricate fantasy card game created by gamemakers Wizards of the Coast — of Dungeons and Dragons fame — is compared to chess and boasts six million players in 52 countries. And for Magic players, that's stiff competition and serious business. Or is it?

You'd think that after winning $44,000 in Magic tournaments over five years in Chicago, Indianapolis and Los Angeles, Rose would be flaunting success like sporting a new car. But he's not. His money is tucked away in the bank. You'd think too, that with the world championships just around the corner — Aug. 3-8, in Tokyo — he'd be concentrating on his game and in constant practice. But he's not.

Instead, this rising Virginia Commonwealth University sophomore takes it easy right up until takeoff time. Rose says he got into Magic not as a player but as a card collector when he was 15 after his favorite baseball card store closed. "I don't like the game that much, but I have to play it," says Rose. "I really like the computer and I like to sleep. They're my favorite things."

If Rose plays his cards right in Tokyo — he's a member of the four-person U.S. team and is competing in the individual tournament — he stands to win another $39,500. But the money isn't the only motivator for Rose. "Not playing is the funnest part. You get to travel and meet people," says Rose. "And there's winning the money."

— Brandon Walters
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