Tag Archives: Dwight Jones

City Hall’s 60 Million Dollar Spending Spree

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

Let the quibbling begin! This week we learned Richmond’s Mayor had scored big. He negotiated a deal with the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA) for $60 million. The money is a decades-old debt, owed to the city from when the Downtown Expressway was built. It was supposed to be repaid in 2022 when the road was officially turned over to the city. Jones got it much earlier than expected and kicked off a welcome “firestorm.” Everyone has an opinion on what to do with the money.

Which brings us to today. Three city council members called for a press conference. It was clear, the mayor’s announcement of the money and some of his ideas for spending it had hurt some feelings. Marty Jewell wondered  aloud why the Mayor hasn’t yet asked for council member opinions on how it should be spent. It was clear today, we’re in for a long debate over how the money should be budgeted.

The mayor made said on Tuesday, he believes some of the money should go to the communities that were pushed aside when the Expressway was built.  He’s targeting poverty and believes several projects in those area would boost the tax base and spur development. He’s made suggestions about helping build a new ball park and re-paving areas like Jeff Davis Highway.

Reva Trammell, Marty Jewell and Bruce Tyler focused on Richmond’s historically high tax rates. Trammell says the city should find ways to lower the admissions tax, meal’s tax and real estate tax. Tyler added, “At the end of the day we have to figure out a way to reduce taxes so that we can take the burden off the citizens.”

Jewell said, “clearly there are a lot of needs. Some of his approach (the mayor) makes sense, but then there are other ideas. We’re not short of them on council.”  Trammell added, “The money belongs to the citizens of Richmond, not the mayor, not the council.”

Council President Kathy Graziano was not a part of the press conference. She said today that the city should be cautious with the money; spending as much time “saving it” as spending it.

Now the city doesn’t actually get any of this money until at least November and you probably won’t see it budgeted until the 2012-13 budget cycle. So, there’s several months for the mayor and council to get together and work out a plan.

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Filed under Budget, City Council, City Hall, Dwight Jones

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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Details on City Stadium Proposal

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

UPDATE: (Thursday Afternoon)

NBC 12 has obtained copies of conceptual drawings for the City Stadium site. This is what Fulton Hill Properties is proposing. I received the renderings from a source and not from the developer. In a statement this afternoon a spokesperson for the Fulton Hill Partnership, Paul Bratten, told me, “We are in the preliminary planning stages. We are eager to engage the public and talk to them about the possibility for the highest and best use for the site.”

Conceptual Drawing of City Stadium Proposal

Original Story:

NBC 12 has learned some of the details given to City Council members about the controversial proposal for City Stadium. A good source tells me that Fulton Hill Partnership is going to send the Mayor’s Administration an unsolicited proposal for a mixed use development. The plan leaves about 15% of the 20 acres site for retail. About 40% would be for a mixture of high and low-rise residential units. I’m told there could be some underground parking and even a medical building on the property. Of course, these details are subject to change. There’s no timeline yet on when the proposal will go to the Mayor’s office. The developer wants to buy the land from the city and pay for it upfront. There’s already been one contentious meeting. People who live near the stadium are very concerned about what will be put there. Many have voice opposition to a shopping center. At that meeting Mayor Dwight Jones announced that there was no done deal.

City Stadium Background: The stadium was built-in 1929 and seats about 22,000.  For several decades the stadium was the home of the Richmond Spider’s football team. Richmond built a new stadium last year and moved out. The City Council voted to restore the name, “City Stadium.”

The Richmond Kickers use the stadium now as do the football team the Virginia Hornets.  The stadium is in Councilman Marty Jewell’s district.

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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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City Loses Financial Guru

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

One day after I write about the lack of stability in the city’s “Economic Development Director” position, we lose another one. Marcus Jones, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer for Finance, is leaving for a BIG promotion. He’s been hired to run the day-to-day operations of the city of Norfolk.

In a statement released late this afternoon, Mayor Dwight Jones (no relation to Marcus) called Jones’ new job, “bittersweet”. Mayor Jones went on to say, “When I recruited Marcus to Richmond, I knew what a great talent we were bringing to our city. The work that he has done over the past 16 months has met or surpassed every expectation that I had…. This is clearly an important  move for Marcus’ career, and he deserves this opportunity to ascend to the city manager role.”

Marcus Jones

Mayor Jones tapped Marcus to be his CAO of Finance soon after taking office. Marcus Jones came to Richmond from Norfolk, so it’s not a surprise he’d want to go back.  Marcus is leaving, just as the city is about to embark on its all important budget process. Mayor Jones says Marcus Jones will be missed. No word tonight on how long the city plans to take to fill this new opening.

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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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