Tag Archives: City Auditor

Richmond’s Deskgate 2010

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

A $36,000 desk is at the center of the latest Richmond controversy. I’m dubbing it “Deskgate“. Technically the desk cost $11,000 to build. (technically it’s not finished, is the wrong size and needs to be re-built) (technically the desk cost 11,000 because of overtime). You get to that $36,000 figure if you count the $25,000 the city had to pay when one of the people building it suffered a groin injury with a saw. (not going to get into more detail about that). Seriously, I’m getting a headache and as Councilman Chris Hilbert said today, “You absolutely can’t make this stuff up.”

Deskgate started yesterday evening when City Auditor Umesh Dalal released his latest investigation. Two scathing reports that blast the city’s department of Parks and Recreation for mis-use of taxpayer money. Then came word that the department’s director of five years, J.R. Pope, resigned. I’m told by multiple sources the auditor’s report played a role in his resignation, but was not the only reason.

The Allegations:

A new desk was ordered up for the Pine Camp Community Center in North Richmond. Two employees spent 135 hours of overtime to build the desk. The hours were approved by several levels of management, including the Superintendent of Citywide Maintenance, the Operations Manager and the Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, J.R. Pope. The city auditor estimates the desk could have been built-in 40 hours by a trained carpenter. The auditor calls the whole ordeal “unnecessary” and alleges it was “made to collect overtime pay.”

The report also highlights the mis-use of city owned vehicles. The undercover investigation revealed that over 20 days a vehicle was taken outside City limits to Henrico or Chesterfield 18 times, 16 trips were made during work hours. One trip was made to Chesterfield County so the employee could look at buying a new car.  The auditor says there appears to be a lack of management oversight.

Mayor Dwight Jones responded to the report immediately saying the allegations are of “great concern. We hate to see these kinds of problems take place, and we want to act quickly to correct and improve operations. Thus far, we have placed the Department of Parks and Recs under the interim direction of Deputy CAO Dr. Carolyn Graham. A national search for a new director will take place immediately. Disciplinary hearings have been ordered for the employees involved in the improper incidents.”

J.R. Pope:

Pope was appointed by former Mayor Doug Wilder and has been with the city for 5 years. We’re told Pope is not interested in speaking publicly at this time. The date of his resignation is not known, and I’m told it is partly to do with the investigation, but that there are several other reasons for his departure.

Reaction:

The $36,000 desk was for the Pine Camp Community Center in Councilman Chris Hilbert’s district. He says, “it’s outrageous!” Hilbert has been fighting for years for lighting to be added to the parking lot for the center. “A registration desk means nothing to the people who come to Pine Camp. If we waste money on a desk, we can put in lights out there to secure the safety of the people.” He went on to say, ” We need lighting, We need performing arts programs and fine arts programs.”

City Council President Kathy Graziano is also upset at the waste of time and resources. She says, “Clearly there was a management problem here and it’s the responsibility of the Administration to address that. This is why we have an auditor and that’s why we need to keep going into these departments, making sure that our management team has management skills and that taxpayer dollars are being put to the best use.”

And some who worked closely with Pope say the wrong man was let go. They question why Pope resigned, but no other people who signed off on overtime or actually abused city resources is gone. Chris Hull is the president of the James River Outdoor Coalition. He says, “No one supports the mismanagement of city funds, money is tight, but we’d also like to recognize the many tremendous things that he (Pope) has done for our city over the years.”

Maureen Egan is the President of Friends of the James River Park, a volunteer organization. She says, “I honestly think the wrong guy has left. I’m saddened by his leaving and I wish the Mayor had not accepted his resignation.” She says Pope was honored by a state agency in September for his work on city parks. His department was also honored by the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods, (A.C.O.R.N.) just last week. Egan sites Pope’s work on the Forest Hill lake restoration as an example. “That is a project that came in under budget, $145,000 dollars under budget, and ahead of schedule.” She goes on to say, “He understood that people want to take pride in their parks and he brought that to Richmond in a way that hadn’t been obvious before.”

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Fighting Blight

Rachel DePompa – bio | email    

Did you know 85% of houses in Richmond were built before 1979? Each year the city invests $2 million into code enforcement… aka fighting blight. Did you  know there are 1,400 vacant buildings in the city? I learned a lot today from the city’s latest audit. It’s an eye opener. According to the report the Property Maintenance Code Enforcement Division in the city has some major problems.

There’s no doubt blighted properties ugly up the neighborhood. But several recent studies suggest they do way more than that. It’s called the broken window theory. Studies show that blighted, vacant properties invite illegal activities. They invite crime. The audit as a very interesting diagram that shows high crime areas of the city versus high blighted property areas. You could almost overlap the two and get the same map.

Here are the salient findings from the report:

* PMCED has taken steps to reduce blight through property rehabilitation. However based on available data, auditors were unable to determine the total number of properties rehabilitated or the overall impact of these efforts on the resolution of code violations in Richmond.

* The auditors also found that certain City owned properties and City right of way areas were not in compliance with City code. PMCED must communicate code violations on City owned properties to the appropriate agencies.

* During the audit 46% of requested files could not be located. Some of the files may not have been maintained because inspectors have been instructed to destroy environmental files once abated.

*  Auditors found that 40% of selected vacant properties were not monitored in a timely manner. It is important to monitor vacant and abandoned structures because they invite crime, cause community blight and present potential hazards.

The city declined to comment and said the audit speaks for itself. However, it is noted in the audit that several of the recommendations will be implemented.

PS.. I interviewed the writer of Church Hill People’s News for my story on the NBC12 homepage. Check it out!

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Investigations and Vacations…

Rachel DePompaRachel DePompa – bio | email 
The City launched an investigation today into the Richmond  Department of Social Services. (The agency hasn’t had a permanent director in over a year) Well, turns out it was also over billing the state… to the tune of 3.8 million!

Now, according to new Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall, this was not fraud or corruption but a sheer mismanagement and bad record keeping. (that’s comforting) City Auditor Umesh Dalal told me the city found out about this today and in a matter of hours launched an investigation and audit and began making personnel changes. (the quick response is comforting.) It looks like the state made changes this year to the way it is billed, but the city failed to keep up with those changes resulting in this multi-million dollar error. We’ll follow the audit and update you as soon as we know more.

VACA:

Now, as for vacation…. I’m off to the great state of Florida for my birthday.  I’ll try to update my blog with a picture or two, but I make no promises. I plan to be as far away from the office as possible! 🙂

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Wilder’s Legacy: Defining the Balance of Power

Rachel DePompaRachel DePompa – bio | email 

After 4 years of doing battle, the City Charter may finally get an overhaul. And I believe we have Former Mayor Doug Wilder to thank. (In fact, it may be his legacy from his time at City Hall) For better or worse, Wilder constantly pushed the boundaries of his authority. You could say,  he helped the city discover the holes in the charter.  The charter was never fully changed after city voters changed Richmond to a Council/Mayor form of government. Wilder tried to establish a stronger role, but may have ended up creating a stronger charter.

An independent review commission was formed in July of last year to patch the holes. The group is made up of 9 members,  with 8 of them evenly appointed by the Mayor and the City Council. The 9th member is selected by the other members to be the leader. The commission has come up with 10 recommendations. Here’s a link to the proposal

The most controversial centers on City Auditor Umesh Dalal. The group wants the mayor to appoint the City Auditor instead of City Council. Several City Council members tell me they oppose this idea. Some say it would place all the checks and balance with the executive “which is not a good idea.” These recommendations still have to be fleshed out. There will be a public forum this September. The General Assembly also has to vote on the changes. Not the most titillating blog post, but something I believe all Richmonders need to know about.

 

 

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Filed under City Council, City Hall, Doug Wilder, Dwight Jones, Uncategorized

Doug Wilder: Out of Office, In the News

Rachel DePompaRachel DePompa – bio | email 

When you least expect it, Doug Wilder slips back into my blog. And this one has turned into a doozy of a story. I had a headache most of the day trying to track down all the sides to this one. Here’s the basics: In 2007, (Under the Wilder administration) Richmond decided to buy 40 new police cruisers. The city bought them from Sheehy Ford and spent just under a million dollars. Sounds easy enough, right? Leave it to City Auditor Umesh Dalal to find the rub.

Turns out the city broke its own rules. (Procurement rules) Dalal says the city should have used a sealed bid process and given every Ford dealership in the area a chance to get that contract. We don’t know why this one dealership was choosen. (I’m digging) A city official has now resigned. 

ERIC MENSDirector of Procurement Eric Mens handed in his resignation on June 30th for August 30th.  And Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring is investigating. We tried to reach Mr. Mens but he’s out of the office until Monday. This story is not over yet. If this investigation makes it to a grand jury, it will be interesting to see who names who and who says what.

Here is Mayor Dwight Jones full statement on the matter:

“These are very serious allegations. I’ve had discussions with my leadership team about this matter. As a result, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Byron Marshall, has initiated an administrative review that will be conducted by the Deputy CAO for Operations, Chris Beschler and will be completed within a week to ten days. While this review is underway, Garland Williams will serve as acting director of Procurement Services. Williams is presently acting as assistant director of the City’s Department of Budget and Strategic Planning and has previously served as acting director of the City’s Department of Economic Development.

“This administration has respect for the rules of law and will not condone any misuse of public office. In follow up to the City Auditor’s submission of his report to the Commonwealth’s Attorney, I contacted the Commonwealth’s Attorney to indicate the City’s desire to cooperate and offer any assistance that may be necessary if the matter should require action on their part. We want to ensure a procurement process that is fair, competitive, transparent, cost-efficient, impartial and above all, ethical.”

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Filed under City Hall, City Investigation, Dwight Jones