Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Power of Social Media: Union Hill Style

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

The folks in Union Hill started an interesting campaign on Twitter three months ago. They began calling out drug dealers in the neighborhood to Richmond Police via the popular social medium. As a result, they were also calling out Richmond Police for not paying enough attention to their neighborhood. The messages that hit the internet were often colorful and frankly, honest.

Here are a few examples of the tweets….

“Black SUV at 900 block of 24th owned by known dealer.”

“Known dealer hanging out at the corner of 24th/M White shirt/white jeans/white hat.”

” Lots of car and foot traffic to the green/white crack house near 24th/M. Come back and visit again today.”

 They neighbors sharing this twitter account have asked to remain anonymous, as it’s dangerous to be calling out illegal activity. It could be the first known twitter campaign in the world to take on drug dealers…. I can’t find another like it through searches on twitter, but who knows?

About 45 days into the campaign, Richmond Police and its chief did a walk through of the  neighborhood. Unfortunately, police denied it had anything to do with the twitter campaign. I know for a fact, police were well aware of it, as was Richmond Crimesolvers.  That organization actively began planning ways to reach out and help the residents in Union Hill with their problem. 

Either way, it appears Richmond Police have stepped up their presence and it seems to be making a difference. The anonymous tweeters posted this message today…. “Richmond Police we can’t say it enough, your noticeably increased presence is appreciated and effective!”

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Hiring Bonanza at City Hall

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

New faces are coming to City Hall!

Mayor Dwight Jones has hired for three key positions, including one job that’s been open for more than a year and a half.  That’s right, the city has finally hired a Director of Economic Development. Councilman Chris Hilbert famously worried the job had a “reputation” and consistently asked the administration about the vacancy over the last two years. Here’s more on that exchange.

Economic Development:

Lee Downey

There’s been 14 directors in 15 years. Mayor Jones acknowledge the jobs stigma, but also reiterated the fact that economic development was happening in Richmond, director or not.  Jones said today, “We’ve had so many economic development directors our Deputy (Peter Chapman) has been doing double duty, and so, an announcement today is welcome news.”

Jones hired Lee Downey, who starts May 2nd. Since 2008 Downey served as the vice president of business development for McKinney and Company in Ashland. He’s also worked as Marketing Manager for McGuireWoods LLP and as a business development project manager for Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). During his time as VEDP, the city says Downey managed a variety of business development projects, creating more than 4,000 new jobs and $375 million in new investment for the state.

Downey said today, “I’m excited, I’m excited! My family lives in the city, we love the city. My background, my love, my career, my excitement is economic development and blending the two is a dream come true for me as a career. Being able to have my job be something that I’m so passionate about is exciting.”

As for the job’s notorious turnover rate, Downey says, “no reservations in that point.”

Chris Hilbert said today he’s excited to finally see the job filled. “The Picasso exhibit, the VCU men’s basketball team, the Squirrels… people who live in the counties are coming into the city now because of these things and we need to build on that.”

Mayor Jones said, “It also would not have helped us to choose somebody because the gun was at our neck. We wanted to make sure that we got somebody good. Somebody who had the training and the expertise. Someone with a record of having done economic development. A lot of times (the city’s) named people to economic development because they’re a good guy. We need somebody who can get the job done.”

Parks and Rec:

Dr. Norman Merrifield

This is another job a lot of people in the city had their eyes on. Former director, J.R. Pope left in the middle of a scandal involving a scathing audit report on his department. You can get the back story here on “Desk-gate”. 

Today the Mayor announced he’s put Dr. Norman Merrifield in the position. Merrifield starts on May 21st. He most recently served as the administrative executive officer and director of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.  He’s also served as director of parks and recreations for the city of El Paso, TX.

 

 

Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Finance:

Eric M. Tucker

A position I usually dub the “finance guru”! Marcus Jones early this year to take a job as the City Manager in Norfolk. You can read all about that here.  Today the mayor announced he had selected Eric M. Tucker for the position. Tucker comes to Richmond from Prince George’s County, Maryland and Detroit, Michigan where he coordinated ratings efforts leading to upgrades for both jurisdictions’ bond ratings. The city says Tucker managed a turnaround of a $63 million deficit into an $18 million surplus.

Tucker said today, “Having worked in Maryland and being familiar with this area, I know that Virginia has historically been one of the best-managed states in the country and Richmond is now becoming one of the best-managed cities. I certainly hope to be part of, as the mayor said, continuing that process to make this a top-tier city in the state and in this country.”

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VCU Wants City Stadium and Talks Football

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

Football???? VCU??? Now that I have your attention, I know many of you will say, “but they are undefeated right now?” (That’s the joke I heard over and over this week over Twitter and Facebook.) But in all seriousness, let’s talk football and VCU. It’s definitely all the buzz. I sat down with VCU Athletic Director Norwood Teague this week, he had no problem talking about it.  

CITY STADIUM:

Let’s start from the beginning. Two weeks ago I obtained copies of Fulton Hill Partnership’s proposal for a shopping center on the City Stadium site.  Many residents who live near the 82-year-old venue have been up in arms over the idea of  tearing down the stadium. I began hearing buzz that VCU was meeting with Richmond’s Mayor this week. And sure enough, Athletic Director, Norwood Teague was kind enough to sit down with us. He says unequivocally, VCU wants the City Stadium property. “We’ve been following the debate closely. Certainly it’s something that we’re interested in. We’re definitely in discussions with the powers that be. We are very interested in the stadium.”

Teague says VCU wants to keep the property a stadium. He says, “there’s a lot of other uses that we would have from an athletic standpoint, whether it be tennis or baseball, there’s a lot of options…. It’s such a great piece of land, that’s close to VCU… and it would be tough to see it go away from an athletic venue.”  

FOOTBALL:

As for football Teague said,  “It’s something that if we do, we want to do right. We know that it costs a lot of money and the economy’s not great right now, but it’s something that begs the question because we’re a large school.  A lot of our fans want it, a lot of our students want it. There’s some that don’t, but it’s something that we’re going to research and research pretty heavily over the next year.” He went on to say, “Most schools that have started a football program at the Division I level, whether it be Old Dominion, UNC Charlotte, or where ever, they have a stadium they can play in right away. If football is a possibility I think you can connect the dots that City Stadium would certainly work well for us. It’s something where looking at. Something we’re trying to evaluate and see where it all ends up.”

Richmond’s Mayor, Dwight Jones had this say this week, “We’re going to do a series of community meetings to find out once again the community wants. As a part of that process you’re going to have entities that have vested interests. They’re going to do what they want, and so I would imagine VCU will be out there pumping up the volume. I would imagine developers will be out there pumping up the volume. When we hold our community meetings, we want to find the highest and best use for the property. We don’t want to do that absent from the community’s input, we want them to have input.”

And so the debate continues…

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Top 10 Richmond Stories of 2010

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

The list is back! The top stories to happen in the city this year. My only qualification is that the news happened in “city limits”. Here’s my list from last year if you want to compare.  

#10. JR Pope/Deskgate: (Auditor Strikes Again)

This story eeks in at number 10 on our list.  JR Pope (longtime city parks champion) resigned days before a City Auditor’s report revealed extreme waste in his department. In fact, we haven’t heard the full story yet. The entire audit on the Department of Parks and Recs will be released in 2011. What grabbed people’s attention was the $36,000 spent on a desk for a community center.  Council members were outraged,  citizens angry and many people also came forward in defense of Pope.

#9 Rudolph Deflation: (Red Nose Blows Out)

A viral video makes the list purely for its hilarity. (If you haven’t seen in please look it up on You Tube!!!) Rudolph goes down in the city’s annual Christmas Parade. Its head ran into a light post and Rudolph popped! Then the video, taken by a Richmond family, hits the internet and  news outlets around the country. The video appears on the Nightly News and even the late night talk shows. Richmond’s Rudolph rupture will go down in history!

#8 VCU/Michael Rao: (The Non-Story Story)

Did his wife fire someone in the president office? Why were there confidentiality agreements on a University campus? What happened during his review by the Board of Visitors? The Michael Rao saga of unanswered questions makes our list at number 8.  

#7 Tameka Claiborne: (Missing Mother)

A mother goes missing. Her toddler is found wandering in an apartment complex. Her boyfriend, gone. It was a wild and heart wrenching story that ended when Tameka Claiborne’s body washed up in Charles City County in the James River. Her boyfriend goes on trial for murder next month.  

#6 Justin French: (Police Fizzle French Plans for Richmond)

It started with his declaration, Justin French was purposely defaulting on 10’s of millions of dollars in loans on 5 local banks. Than came word he was under investigation. Days later the feds raid his Shockoe Slip office. A week after that he’s arrested at the Richmond Airport trying to leave the state. The saga of high-profile developer Justin French will continue well into 2011. What exactly he did with State and Federal money is the question to be answered. In the meantime, many of his city properties remain in limbo.

#5 Noise Ordinance Unconstitutional: (City Law Quieted)

It was meant to help neighborhoods in the city gain some control over nuisance neighbors, but when City Council passed its new noise ordinance, controversy ensued.  A rock band was cited and then decided to fight. The judge agreed with a local attorney and ruled the ordinance over board and unconstitutional for making a religious exemption. City Council is back at the drawing board. A new proposal is expected next year.

#4 Richmond Squirrels Success: (Going Nutzy for Baseball) 

Gotta have some good news stories on the list! The Squirrels certainly know how to make an entrance. They built excitement after announcing their arrival and the ball park was packed both opening and closing weekends. The organization drew sizeable crowds throughout the year and they provided family fun entertainment (just like the promised). Also, that darned Mascot was EVERYWHERE! Nutzy headlined ground breakings, was caught skating and even scaling tall buildings. Where will we see Nutzy next?

#3 Apostle Anthony Taylor: (Police Chase Death)

Coming in at number 3 on our list is a story that broke a lot of hearts this year. A pastor, who had just wrapped up a sermon, was driving home and was hit and instantly killed by a man leading Henrico Police on a high-speed chase. Apostle Anthony Taylor’s church was devastated and so were many in the tight-knit Church Hill community he worked in. And now his death may lead to major changes in police polity, statewide, when it comes to police chases. The General Assembly will take up the issue this January.  

#2 Snowmageddon: (Winter Wipe-out 2010)

It closed schools, airports, entire interstates and trapped Richmonder’s weekend after weekend. Old man winter certainly played a joke this year, pelting the region with record snowfall. Snow removal budgets were blown state-wide and grocery stores couldn’t get enough bread or milk on the shelves. When I moved to Richmond, people told me Summers were HOT HOT HOT and it NEVER snowed. Um, yeah…  

#1 Ukropalyse: (Ga-Ga for Groceries)

What’s more Richmond than a grocery story dominating the headlines, TV, Radio and blogosphere for months? The Ukrop family is iconic Richmond and the brand, a part of the city’s fiber. The deal to sell was inked at the end of last year, but it took months in 2010 for the sale to finalize and the transformation into Martin’s to happen. I’m anxious to see which grocery chain is on top when the yearly rankings come out after this winter. In the meantime, you can still get those famous white house rolls at Martin’s and I won’t be surprised when they are one day available at other grocery story chains.

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Search Continues for Economic Guru

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

Help Wanted:

The job’s been open for more than a year. The city is still  looking for a “Director of Economic Development”. We learned today that a candidate was flown in, interviewed and offered the job, but was unable to accept for personal reasons. So, the city’s moved on to another person. 

The news came out today at a lunch between the Mayor and City Council. Councilman Chris Hilbert wanted to know why the job has been so hard to fill. He credited the Mayor’s ability to keep people in their jobs and stop the turnover, but wondered if that particular position had a “reputation”. The Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer, Byron Marshall, admitted it’s because that position has not been stable for years. Marshall said, “prior to this administration and even the last administration, there have just been a number of Economic Development Directors. It’s like a revolving door and that gives people pause.”

Mayor Jones urged patience and said the city is close to finally filling the position. And he said, “we ought not to imply that economic development is not going on. It will be great to have that one other person in the shop as another tool in our tool kit, but economic development is aggressively taking place.”

Marshall added that he’s been looking for a specific set of skills. He says this job is not just about attracting big companies. It’s also about bringing in small businesses and growing the ones that are already here.

I hear there could be an announcement by the end of the month.

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The Jones/Wilder Comparison: Salaries

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

This summer,  Mayor Dwight Jones asked to boost the pay being offered for the vacant Minority Business director position. Council member Bruce Tyler, immediately voiced concerns. He also started looking into the pay of high level city leaders under Jones, versus two years ago under Doug Wilder. Tyler told me, “The salaries in those two departments are 20% higher than what they were when Mayor Wilder walked out the door. We have been in a freeze for almost two years now, and yet these two departments have grown significantly in dollars.”

We took a look and here’s what we found. First I’ll list a few salaries to compare.

      Under Doug Wilder (in 2008)        Under Dwight Jones(2010) 

Chief of Staff: S.Robinson $162,000       S. Denslow-$174,559                            

Mayor:       Doug Wilder- $167,039         Dwight Jones-$174,559

Policy Advisor: Kim Neal $106,380       David Hicks-$146,964

CAO:     Sheila Hill-Christian $198,280   Byron Marshall-$243,664

When to add up everything in the Mayor’s Office and CAO’s office under Dwight Jones the total spent on employees is $2,510,990

When you do the same with the figures from the Wilder Administration in 2008, the total spent on employees is $2,079,798

Under the Jones Administration the salaries in the top-level are 21% higher.

The Mayor’s Press secretary issued this statement today. Tammy Hawley said, “Putting together a talented team takes an investment. We must be competitive with our surrounding counties and be able to attract the necessary talent to Richmond to move us toward becoming a Tier One city. The results and the outcomes speak for themselves. For example, in our first two budgets, we’ve achieved $30 million in reduced spending with  no tax increases and no reduction in essential services. We can only realize these types of accomplishments by having the right team in place for a well-managed government. We intend to operate at full throttle; anything less will not serve the residents of Richmond well or move this city forward.”

We also showed the numbers to a politic professor at the University of Richmond. Tom Sheilds said, “I think someone’s trying to make political hay out of not a lot there.” Shields went on to say, “The best people demand the best salaries. If you do a national search and you try to get the best people in then you  might as well pay them the best you can.” He also points out that the city’s top salaries are still much lower than the counties. Shields said, “If you want to do a comparison, Virgil Hazelett in Henrico County makes $290,000. There’s no one in the city of Richmond that makes $290,000. “

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Breaking Down Richmond’s Budget

Rachel DePompa – bio | email   

It’s here! It’s here! (You’d think I was writing about a new Harry Potter movie hitting the theaters.) Nope! I’m referring to the Mayor’s 2011 proposed Budget. To a journalists it means lots of stories this week. It takes a few days to comb through all the fine print and pages. For now, I’ll give you the quick run through.

No New taxes. No major cuts to service. No furloughs for city employees. (No raises, either) And only 11 layoffs out of more than 4,000 positions. We’d been reporting about a $30 million shortfall. Well, it grew to $34 million. So how did they fill the gap without cutting services? They cut the fat and duplicate services. It looks like Richmond is trying to be more efficient. Mayor Dwight Jones said at the meeting, “We can not tax our way out of this situation, nor can we cut our way out of these financial challenges. We’ve got to implement new strategies that allow the city to weather the storm while positioning ourselves for stronger and sustainable growth.” The mayor called his budget an economic recovery strategy and went on to say, “We’re intentional about trying to change the way city government operates.”

I caught up with City Council President Kathy Graziano today. She said she liked the Mayor’s presentation and hopes, “that working together we can begin to be a city where people say, ‘hey we can get stuff done in Richmond.”

The budget:

*$637.2 million

*Proposes Semi-annual Property Tax payments. (you pay half in January/half in June) Projected to save the city $1.7 million each year. Currently the city borrows upwards of $70 million each year. The two payments will

*Gets tough on Delinquent Parking Fees. There are 47,819 outstanding parking tickets in the last three years on 33,548 plates. The bill totals $3,000,000.

*Adds a $30 Administrative Fee for taxpayers who are late paying real estate and personal property taxes

*Combines city and school plans for a projected savings of $3,000,000. (Currently the two city schools employees are on a different plan) The switch also means premiums will not go up.

*Dissolves the Broad Street Community Development Authority. (Expected to save the city $2.5 million each year)

Council will set the tax rate on April 12th. It currently sits at $1.20 per 100 dollars of assessed value. There are proposals to raise it, but my sources say that won’t happen. The council will vote on the Mayor’s budget on May 24th.

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