City Council Recap - September 14, 2015

The first city council meeting after the summer recess interwove matters the city has been deliberating over the past months, as well as some that have garnered attention on the national radar. The council, with some vocal hesitance, approved a forty year lease with the Virginia Port Authority on the Port of Richmond, as well as shifted the tide of the conversation regarding a free-standing children’s hospital in Richmond.


Citizen Comments

Race Realtions and the "Justice or Else" March

In commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March that took place at the national capital in 1995, six citizens spoke to express their support for a renewed march, and asked for similar support from council. A crowd of around twenty supporters stood behind these speakers while they presented their comments. The 2015 march in Washington will center on the theme “Justice or Else.” Citizens at the meeting expressed frustration with the lack of enforcement of all Civil War Amendments, and called for an, “immediate end to police brutality and mob attacks.” They expressed a desire to unite racial minorities, Christians and Muslims, and the poor to join in the march.

Historical Preservation and Lumpkins's Jail

A representative from the Lumpkin’s Jail museum project was granted a special 10 minute presentation to discuss the historical distinctiveness and importance of the site to understanding the slave trade in the U.S., and its direct impact on Richmond. Located in Shockoe Bottom, Lumpkin’s jail was described by one of the presenters as “something like a Pompeii.” An ongoing process of excavating at the site revealed the jail and many well-preserved artifacts from the time of the slave trail. The presenters thanked council for their support to the Lumpkin’s jail and other Heritage sit projects.

Consent Agenda

The Consent Agenda passed unanimously with the exception of one item. Ord. 2015-160, which sets in motion a study to determine whether council’s salaries are appropriate, was opposed by Councilman Samuels and Councilwoman Trammel. There was no comment as to why they opposed the measure, nor was there a particular reason given in favor of the ordinance from the other members of council.

Regular Agenda

Lengthy Lease for the Port of Richmond - Ord. 2015-168, Ord.2015-169

The Virginia Port Authority (VPA) currently possesses a lease from the city on the Port of Richmond. Enacted in 2011, the current lease lasts for five years, with the option of three renewals. The mayor's administration requested bids for a new lease, after which three proposals were considered. After the administration chose VPA as the most favorable bid, council was tasked with approving the partnership.

At the meeting, a representative from the administration, as well as two representatives from VPA, spoke in favor of the ordinance, while a representative from PCI of Virginia LLC, the current operator of the port, spoke against the ordinance.

Council did not appear to realize the lease would last for forty years until Councilman Agelasto pointed this out. He expressed hesitance over making such a substantial decision for the city, in spite of the possible economic benefits. He stated, “…contracts are real, opportunities are just that.” Councilman Samuels expressed similar hesitation, wondering whether the duration of the new lease could be amended by council, which the city attorney confirmed as not possible. Councilwoman Trammel expressed vehement support for the ordinance, stating it would bring many jobs to her district. Councilman Baliles expressed similar support for the VPA, recounting their past successes operating other ports.

In spite of these reservations, the ordinances which give the VPA both the lease and operation of the Port of Richmond passed unanimously. Ord.2015-168 grants VPA a 40-year lease, under $180,000 annual rent, with the option of lowering it to $100,000 depending on the business brought to the port. Ord.2015-169 renews the existing lease with VPA for another 5 years, until 2021. For more information about the proposed bids for the lease and operation of the Port of Richmond, read here.

A Free-Standing Children's Hospital - Res. 2015-R045, Res. 2014- R184

Throughout the summer, the debate over the possible development of a free-standing children’s hospital at N. Boulevard near Scott’s Addition was related to Res.2014-R184, in which the city asked for a request of proposals from developers to determine how to invest "the city's most valuable piece of real estate." Since the summer months, a new resolution was introduced, which explicitly states council’s support for the development of a Children’s Hospital at the Boulevard area.

Before the public hearing, council proposed amendments to the resolution. The choice between the original or the amended resolution proved to be bumpy, as President Mosby and Councilman Samuels deliberated over the proper procedure to grant Councilwoman Trammel the chance to change her orginal vote in favor of the orginal resolution. When voting for the amendments, Councilwoman Trammel abstained from voting, tallying the votes at 4-4-1 (with President Mosby, Vice President Hilbert, Councilwoman Robertson and Councilwoman Newbille voting for the original resolution), failing to pass the amendments. After Councilman Samuels pointed out Councilwoman Trammel’s intent to recast her vote, the council voted almost unanimously to allow her to do that (President Mosby was the sole dissenter, expressing her desire to let Councilwoman Trammel revote, but frustration with the manner the procedure was carried out). After the revote, the amendments passed with a 5-4 vote.

During the public hearing, one speaker expressed his opposition to the resolution, stating that the idea of a Children’s Hospital, while noble, seemed to be “a pipe dream” after VCU and Bon Secour’s dropped out of the project. Supporters expressed similar concerns and desires as they have in the past. Three speakers, out of a sizeable crowd in the chamber also in support for the project, pointed out that every metro-region the size of Richmond has a free-standing children’s hospital, and recounted the difficulties to healthcare access brought by a lack of a hospital in the city.

All council members expressed their support for the Children’s Hospital, though some also pointed out the advantages of the passed amendments. Councilwoman Robertson referred to the resolution as, “the human thing to do,” while Councilman Agelasto said the amendments remove some specific requirements that will make the hospital’s development process easier, specifically by removing a section that would require a study from the administration. The resolution passed unanimously. Moving forward, the original Resolution associated with the hospital development has been moved to the September 28 meeting, and hospital advocates will have to find an operating partner by the end of the year.

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