Monday Night’s City Council Meeting comes in the wake of the 2016 national, state, and local elections. The chamber was unusually crowded on this evening due to the presence of many people wishing to speak in regards to the Reedy Creek Restoration project. The meeting’s commencement was delayed about thirty minutes due to some minor confusion in the clerk’s office. Council President Michelle Mosby and Councilman Jonathan Baliles were both candidates in the mayoral race, but Mr. Baliles dropped out of the race about a week prior to the elections and President Mosby placed fourth in the race. Councilman Baliles will be replaced in 2017 by Andreas Anderson. President Mosby will be replaced by Michael J. Jones. Councilwoman Graziano, who is retiring, will be replaced by Kristen Larson, and Councilman Samuels will be replaced by Kimberly Gray. Both Larson and Gray are current School Board members. City Council president has yet to be determined.
Special View Project
Robert McCracken voiced his concern over the Special View program, which is causing issues with business and the project itself. He conveyed his frustration over the fact that it has taken nine months just to construct four houses. He asked the Council two crucial questions: “1. Is this the status quo? And if so, then 2. How do I resolve this?” Councilman Agelasto responded to Mr. McCracken’s worries by thanking him for his work and said “The last thing we want to see is you walk away from this project.” Mr. Agelasto suggested that establishing a timeline is likely going to be the best way to improve the project.
New Mayor, Public Safety, and Tree Trouble
Marie Norton Hart came forward to express her hope that the new mayor, Levar Stoney, will do something for the Southside of Richmond. In referring to the current mayor, Mayor Dwight C. Jones, she declared that she is “glad that joker is gone!” She is hopeful that Mayor Stoney will be a better mayor than Jones. Councilwoman Trammel, who represents the Southside of Richmond, shared similar sentiments. “This new mayor better not put us through hell again, and he better not use Mr. Mayor as a mentor. He needs to come to the City Council for help.” Ms. Hart also expressed that more money needs to go into the budget for policemen and firemen, and that the trees in her yard are causing her safety problems. She claims that she stumbles over these trees on a daily basis and that if the city does not do anything she is going to “huff and puff and blow those trees down.”
Support for the Police
Sheryll O’Connell, a retired police officer, came forward to show the Council her new smile. O’Connell was shot in the face while in the line of duty and has been undergoing reconstructive surgery over the last two years. O’Connell explained that she is very concerned about public safety. She said that, “If the community thinks they are safe, they don’t know what’s going down in the city.” She also concerned about officer safety as well. Officers are understaffed and often work 12-hour emergency shifts. “Please give these folks a retention raise, appropriate more funding for them, and implement appropriate training,” O’Connell pleaded. She informed the Council that Richmond will likely have the highest homicide rate in ten years out of all of the surrounding areas (Henrico, Hanover, Chesterfield, etc.) if the city continues on this tract. There have been between 40-55 homicides in Richmond this year and four officers have been shot this year. “Make our community safe again,” O’Connell said. Councilwoman Trammel agreed, stating that “Officers need more and public safety needs more.” Vice-President Hilbert suggested having a meeting after Thanksgiving in order to get the city administration on this issue.
Keep the Statutes
Glenwood Burley of the Richmond Police Memorial Committee thanked the leaving council members for keeping statutes pristine and entreated the remaining council members to leave the statues be.
The Amendments to the Council’s agenda were continued to later meeting. A motion to accept these amendments was accepted and passed.
Consent Agenda: Public Hearing
A VCU student came forward in support of ORD: 2016-245, in regards to the establishment of a human rights commission. She expressed that her involvement with Newport News’s commission has shown her that such a commission is necessary for educating people on human rights. She states that human rights violations, especially minor ones, can be quickly resolved without legal action. “The point of this taskforce would be to do research on the impact of this resource in our city and to educate everyone on the importance of human rights,” the student said. She recommended partnering with non-profits in order to accomplish this.
Councilman Samuels vocalized his support for an ordinance that would lead to criminal punishment for not providing the Inspector General with information in appropriate timing. He changed his wording throughout the conversation, from “criminal punishment” to “disciplinary action.” “Delaying the Inspector General should have consequences,” he said. “And these should be enforced through disciplinary action that include, but is not limited to, termination.” Mr. Samuels believes that such an ordinance is necessary, as 5% of city funds are used for fraud. He states that it needs to be made clear what is expected and what is not. “The Inspector General should also,” states Mr. Samuels, “have access to the city charter at all times.”
John McKlane from the HR Department expressed his disagreement with Mr. Samuels about the consequences in place. “There are policies to punish such city employees who delay the Inspector General. It would be inappropriate to hold folks accountable to such extreme extents.”
Mr. Samuels responded by critiquing the ambiguous language of these policies that do not address the issue. He believes that the ordinance would move things forward. “The Inspector General can ask for information at any and all times, whenever they want,” he said. “The policies in place to not stop employees from withholding information. There need to be consequences for denying access to the Inspector General during fraud investigations. We need to criminalize this behavior.”
Councilwoman Graziano asked Councilman Samuels who determines “appropriate timing” or “immediacy.” Mr. Samuels estimated “a couple of days.” Ms. Graziano objecting, stating that “That is your interpretation of immediacy, not the Inspector General’s interpretation.” Mr. Samuels countered, saying that because the Inspector General does not have to power to sanction or punish, such an ordinance is necessary. However, Ms. Graziano stated that she has problems with such an ordinance because “it compares apples to oranges.” She reasserts that the interpretation of immediacy is left to the discretion of the Inspector General and that to place people’s jobs at risk over the interpretation of immediacy is unfair.
Mr. Samuels responded: “If we lose, we lose, if we win, great.” He reiterated again how names have been with withheld from the Inspector General and how the Inspector General has had difficulty receiving information in a timely manner. “Vote according to your conscience,” he said.
The Council collective offered the following definitions and synonyms for immediate from various sources, such as Webster’s Dictionary and Dictionary.com: then and there, right now, swiftly, promptly, a couple of days, with haste, at once, instantly, accomplished without delay, and temporary.
Councilwoman Newbille pointed out that the charter does not have provisions for such an ordinance and that the charter does not define immediate. She also noted that the appointing authority deals out punishments, the Inspector General only reports. She also stated that the auditor may have a different opinion of immediacy and may make employees respond when they should not. “It’s wrong to subject them to termination if they don’t move fast enough.” Vice-President Hilbert concurred, saying that the Council needs to establish what immediacy is before passing a law. Mr. Samuels asked the ordinance to be continued, if not amended, either at the next City Council meeting or at whatever regular meetings the Council have prior to the next City Council meeting. The Motion to continue was approved, although not having a confirmed date created more confusion.
Regular Agenda: Public Hearing
Reedy Creek Restoration
Many citizens came forward in opposition to and in favor of the Reedy Creek Restoration Project. ORD: 2016-217 authorizes the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to receive funding for the Environmental Reedy Creek Steam Restoration Project and to receive the tools to utilize for reaching a consensus. Citizens wore shirts and carried signs that objected to the project. During the public hearing those in opposition spoke about the cultural and historical significance of the creek, the threats to wildlife and the environment, the outrageous funding (2/3 of a million dollars), water quality and the sacrifice of the watershed, the lack of scientific research and data associated with the project, and how the project causes more water pollution which increases algae growth and eliminates aquatic life. Those in favor spoke of the importance of environmental stewardship and the benefits of the project. Many mentioned that many of the people in opposition are the people who are responsible for the current pollution that is plaguing Reedy Creek.