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City officials: Confidentiality agreement is confidential.

click to enlarge Richmond's recently resigned chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, and Mayor Dwight Jones.

Scott Elmquist

Richmond's recently resigned chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, and Mayor Dwight Jones.

The mystery behind the sudden departure of the city’s chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, is taking an "Inception"-like turn.

City officials already went to unusual lengths to keep quiet the circumstances surrounding Marshall’s resignation, requiring City Council members to visit an outside employment law attorney to sign a confidentiality agreement before they could be briefed on the situation.

Now the mayor’s office says that the confidentiality agreement itself is confidential. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Style for a copy of the contract that council members were signing, the mayor’s press secretary, Tammy Hawley, argues that it’s exempt from release.

In an email, Hawley says the document is protected under the city’s attorney-client privilege. She also says it qualifies as a personnel record.

Hawley says the agreements were “executed by legal counsel and handled under the direction and advise of legal counsel.” The city has hired an outside lawyer to handle Marshall’s resignation at a cost of $330 an hour.

Jones said yesterday that the city hired an outside lawyer because it’s “always good to have more than one set of eyes on the issues.”

At least three council members -- Reva Trammell, Parker Agelasto and Jon Baliles -- have said they refused to sign the agreement and therefore haven’t been briefed.

In an interview Tuesday night, Marshall told the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Michael Paul Williams that no single event preceded his departure. It’s unclear from the report when Marshall agreed to resign, but Marshall says the decision was mutual.

It remains unclear why, if the departure was amicable, the city felt compelled to hire an outside attorney and force City Council members to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to disclosing those circumstances.

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