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“Most Livable” Status Cost $10,000 

All of the cities agreed to pay, says Irene Garnett, program officer for Partners for Livable Communities. “None of the communities that we went to had any issue with it,” she says.

Some cities paid with taxpayer dollars. Others used corporate donations or asked to pay in installments. In Richmond, the city put out a call for corporate dollars late last year. Dominion Resources gave $7,500; Wachovia Bank paid $2,500.

The fee wasn’t a just a request for donation or ancillary advertising. Garnett says it was required if the cities wanted to be included on the Web site and attend the D.C. reception where Secretary of the Treasury John Snow was scheduled to speak (but canceled at the last minute).

Cities could still be included on the basic list without paying, Garnett says.

Gary T. Johnson, an urban studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, says the fee raises questions of validity.

“It’s very suspicious to me. You shouldn’t have to pay to get an award,” Johnson says. “If you have to pay for it, it’s not worth it.”

There were no specific criteria used to select and rank the award-winning communities. Instead, Garnett says the group used a subjective list of measures after talking to a variety of consultants and city officials.

Cities were measured on such things as the new economy, leadership, human development, neighborhoods and regionalism, she says. Regionalism, for example, is explained on the group’s Web site: “Creative Places are not divided into local jurisdictions, but instead cooperate with surrounding areas and suburbs to finance and support regional projects that benefit all residents.”

“It does make you wonder,” Johnson says.

Richmond’s designation made a media splash locally — in radio, on television newscasts, in a Richmond Times-Dispatch story and on local Web site Richmond.com. The other midsize awardees include Roanoke, Va.; Louisville, Ky.; St. Paul, Minn., and Riverside, Calif.

City Manager Calvin Jamison was out of town last week and couldn’t be reached for comment. Deputy City Manager William E. Johnson says he was unaware there was a fee. Richmond sent a delegation to the D.C. reception that included Jamison, Johnson, Richmond Mayor Rudy McCollum and five others.

Greg Wingfield, president of the Greater Richmond Partnership, the region’s top economic-development agency, says his group has never paid a fee or any kind of required donation to receive an award on behalf of the city. There are instances where periodicals, such as Forbes and Inc., run rankings and solicit advertising, but it’s not directly tied to the award.

“Some of the magazines will put a little muscle to you to advertise, but it’s not a fee to play,” he says of the ‘Most Livable’ award. “It is odd. I would put it in a different category.”

John F. Berry Jr., president and chief executive of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, says paying to be part of the celebration is no big whoop. The award is prestigious, he says, nonetheless.

“It’s a great honor to have it,” he says. “I don’t think it’s a big issue.” — Scott Bass

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