City Council Recap-October 9, 2017
It was a quieter evening in the City Council Chamber Monday evening. There was not a large crowd present.
Awards and Recognitions
Richmond's Fire Prevention Week
Council President Hilbert and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Selena Cuffee-Glenn (on the behalf of the Mayor) declared that every week in which the 9th of October shall fall will be Richmond’s Fire Prevention Week. “Many people say they do not like the government…yet we still rely on it,” President Hilbert quipped. “When your house catches on fire, who do you call? When someone shows up at your home, intending to do you ill-will, who do you call?” He commended the men and women of the Richmond Fire Department for their amazing amount of courage. “Not many people would run into a burning building,” he acknowledged, noting that even he himself would not have the courage to do so. President Hilbert encouraged the citizens of Richmond to be safe during holidays times – a time in which the likelihood of fires from cooking and electricity tend to increase – and to also stand in solidarity with our Fire Department. “Keep up the good work and God Bless,” President Hilbert said.
The Fire Chief thanked the President, the CAO, and the Council for the proclamation and the responsibility that it entails. The Fire Department had recently extinguished a fire that had resulted in the death of an elderly citizen. “We are out there every day to prevent these events from occurring,” the Chief said.
Thank You Sergeant Carol Adams
Council Vice-President Newbille took the time to recognize Sergeant Carol Adams of the Richmond Police Department for dedicating her life to protecting and serving and for working hard to prevent domestic violence and helping victims of domestic violence. “You’re not dedicated only to public safety, but also to helping the victims of domestic violence in the community,” Vice-President Newbille said. She characterized domestic violence as an epidemic. “It is about having power and control over another person,” she explained. “We appreciate all that you do,” she told Sergeant Adams.
President Hilbert said that Sergeant Adams is “there, and everywhere – at community meeting, in hospitals, etc.”
“You stay strong, despite all you’ve been through and all you’ve seen,” Councilwoman Trammel commended. “Thank you for all you do.”
Councilman Agelasto spoke on the foundation that Sergeant Adams has established for victims of domestic violence. “You are highly admirable,” he said. “You give your time, passion, and dedication.”
“Thank you for your leadership and for being the watchperson in the community,” Councilman Jones added.
“You are very special to the City,” Councilwoman Robertson said. “You’re always on the job, and ready to everything you can.”
“Thank you for being a strong woman and a role model for all women,” Councilwoman Larson said.
“I took an oath to protect the community and that’s what I’m going to do,” Sergeant Adams stated, thanking the Council for the recognition. “So many people live in silence and violence.”
Richmond Food Justice Alliance
Vice-President Newbille also acknowledged the Richmond Food Justice Alliance, an advocacy group with the mission of eliminating food deserts in Richmond. “There are many places where there is limited access to healthy foods,” she explained. “The Food Justice Alliance works closely with the food access and equity taskforce in the City. It is the only residential program/organization to be formally recognized.”
A representative for the Food Justice Alliance explained that the Alliance focuses on the historical inequities – the “why” – behind these food desert. The Alliance also focuses heavily on the impacted individuals.
Thank You Clerk Capel
President Hilbert gave a special thanks to Clerk Capel, who will no longer be the City Council’s clerk. Monday night’s meeting was her last Council meeting. “Thank you for all you do,” President Hilbert said. “Thank you for your work and patience in helping us to run expeditiously.” He wished her well in her future endeavors.
Clerk Capel acknowledged that it has been a pleasure working as clerk for the Council, and noted that she will still be around.
“I Believe there is a Scam Going On.”
Ms. L. Shirley Harvey, who described herself as a very shy accountant, came forward to tell the Council that the current tax amnesty program confuses her. She explained to the Council that individuals seem to be more adversely affected by the program than businesses. She stated that the Collector is the problem, as they are adding on more money, which is causing people to be unable to pay their taxes. “I believe there is a scam going on, and no one is doing anything,” she concluded. She entreated the Council to look into this issue.
“City Workers Deserve a Raise”
Mr. Melvin Jones asked the Council to consider giving raises to city workers and retirees. He gave the crews of workers KUDOS for cleaning up the Maggie Walker Plaza when it was left a mess by the public. He also gave KUDOS to the City of Richmond for being on the move to doing greater things. “We got some good people in the City of Richmond,” Mr. Jones said. “City workers do a good job. You should pay these workers more for all they do.”
“Together We Can" Former police officer turned social worker Cheryl Nici-O’Connell humorously warned the Council that she was going to be back in the City, and also thanked the citizens City of Richmond for working with the Police Department and allowing them to do their job. “We set an example for this country,” she explained, referring to the peaceful outcome of the attempted Neo-Nazi in Richmond a few weeks back. “This an example of what it should be – stopping the violence.” Ms. O’Connell stated that we all need to work together. She also thanked the Police Department for their professionalism, transparency, and communication during the event. Furthermore, she noted the important role of partnerships and relationships. “This couldn’t have been done without the entire community,” she said. “We did a good job. When we all come together, we can do some great things.”
“We Have Other Problems”
“I love history and I love Richmond,” Nancy LaNeve said as she stood at the podium to address the preservation of monuments. “The monuments present a narrative of American history.” She argued that the City has other problems to worry about, and that removing the statues takes money away. “When will it end?” she asked. “An archaic meaning, based on unfounded racial divisions, have been attached to these statues. Most people want them to stay. Why be intimidated by the opinions of the few who do not?” She stated that those in favor of removing the monuments have hate towards the city. “We need to get together to enlighten, unify, and grow Richmond,” she concluded.
“Talking Loud but Saying Nothing”
James Haymes Jr., a retired private citizen, told the Council that they have to ability to do the right thing. “Leave the monuments in place and use my money wisely,” he said. “We have bigger fish to fry.” He pointed out that money could be more wisely spent on education, public housing, mental illness and homelessness, and on helping the African American women that have been murdered and have been disappearing. “Stop talking loud and saying nothing,” he said.
Reginald Reaves had complaints about rats and roaches and gentrification in public housing. He also spoke on the facility issues of Armstrong Highs School. Furthermore, he noted that Richmond had had no problems tearing down a Union Monument; so why is there all the debate over the Confederate Monuments?
A couple came forward in opposition to Item 16: ORD 2017-182. They were concerned about the special use permit and the rezoning process that would take place, and were hoping to get some support. “What they are planning would make our neighborhood less historical,” she explained. “We are against the rezoning process.” (Item 16: ORD 2017-182: To authorize the special use of the properties known as 2911 Ellwood Avenue and 2917 Ellwood Avenue for the purpose of permitting five single-family attached dwellings and one single-family detached dwelling, upon certain terms and conditions.)
Avis Wright spoke in favor of the project proposed by Item 6: ORD 2017 -154, sharing that he was excited for the opportunity. (Item 6: ORD 2017-154: To authorize the special use of the properties known as 2411 M Street and 2416 Jefferson Avenue for the purpose of allowing a building to exceed the applicable height restrictions, upon certain terms and conditions.)
Councilwoman Trammell addressed Item 19: ORD 2017-185, noting that there have been many conversations about this area being “an eyesore” to the community. She extended a thanks to the administration for cleaning up the area and creating new homes for the people looking for homes. (Item 19: ORD 2017-185: To authorize the special use of the properties known as 305 Plazaview Road and 309 Plazaview Road for the purpose of permitting two single-family detached dwellings, upon certain terms and conditions.)
Councilwoman Gray asked the applicant on the project whether there had been rejection or oppositions from the neighborhood associations regarding Item 16: ORD 2017 -182 (noted above). She noted that the special use permit (SUP) was for the existing property to remain and for further dwellings to be constructed. She explained that staff and boards had been talked to, and that there were comments about satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
The planning commission’s secretary replied that there had been no opposition from the civic association.
Councilman Agelasto noted that while unable to get full documentation, the project has gone through a lot of reviews regarding certain characteristics and designs. “In the end, it became a better project,” he said.
No one came forward to speak during the public hearing on the regular agenda.
The central issue of the Council’s discussion was Item 32: ORD 2017-175: To amend section 23-44 of the City Code, concerning times and places of solid waste collection, bulk items, brush collection, and collection of loose leaves, for the purpose of modifying the manner in which the requirement to remove refuse receptacles and recycling bins from City property or the right-of-way is enforced.
Councilman Agelasto explained that he had received calls about trashcans blocking the pedestrian right-of-way. The garbage receptacles are not being moved by citizens. Mr. Agelasto noted that this ordinance does a good job on both educating about the proper storage of these receptacles and enforcing the law on those who fail to do so.
Councilwoman Gray found the ordinance “slightly problematic,” as there are only two people on the payroll to do the job of enforcing the proper storage of the SuperCans. “They would have to visit a place three (3) times before citing,” she pointed out. “We need to step back and look at it before we have the same issue that we’re currently having again.”
Councilwoman Trammel echoed these sentiments, asking “What is going to happen?” and “When will this be enforced?” She asked if it would be feasible to continue this item for two (2) weeks, or until the next Council meeting, in order to get more information. “Would this delay implement?” she asked the Director of Public Works.
The Director of Public Works, Mr. Bobby Vincent, replied that they are ready to move forward. “We will have an intense campaign,” he assured her. “We are okay to go forward with the ordinance as it is.” He noted that leaving SuperCans on the sidewalk not only results in bad smells, but also in the presence of rats and roaches.
“I don’t know how sanitation workers do it,” Councilwoman Trammel commented. She then noted that the current law on the books says that the cans “should not be left out after a certain amount of time.”
Mr. Vincent noted that the previous ordinance is lenient, and that what they propose with the new ordinance will “tighten the belt on the previous one.” He stated that the previous ordinance gave residents the “opportunity” to remove the cans; the new one will give residents twenty-four (24) hours to remove the cans. Previously, it was hard to give residents multiple warnings and enforce the law because of the trash collection cycle; by the time it came to cite the can, it was time for the can to be outside again. Scarce resources were also a hindrance.
“This will make sure cans are pulled in on the same day,” Mr. Vincent continued. “This is what will be addressed and that is the behavior we want to correct and change.”
Councilwoman Trammell stated that she did not want to take two steps backwards. “But if this will be enforced strictly, then I am fine with it,” she concluded.
Councilwoman Gray countered that she was not fine with it as is. “If there hasn’t ever been a citation written, how do we know whether it will be challenged or not?” she asked. “Why not just give a ticket right away? That is the law – that is the number one (#1) thing that discourages the behavior. This will help us enforce the law.”
Councilwoman Trammel agreed with Councilwoman Gray, comparing this ordinance to the ordinance about grass cutting. “Those people aren’t given chance after chance to cut the grass,” she said. “If we fine them right away, fifty dollars ($50), then they’ll stop.”
Mr. Vincent disagreed, noting that they need to work with citizens, instead of incessant fining, to keep the community clean. “We’re not trying to backlog the Courts,” he noted.
Councilwoman Larson asked how the changes are going to be communicated.
Mr. Vincent replied that the changed will be communicated through the media, through pamphlets, and via their campaign.
Councilwoman followed up by asking whether change can be indicated on the Utility Bill. Mr. Vincent answered that it could.
Councilwoman Trammell noted that she was concerned about defiance. Mr. Vincent acknowledged that this ordinance is not a cure all, but simply a tool and a mechanism to begin the process. “We don’t want to send people to court over a trash can.”
Councilwoman Gray commented that the ordinance “doesn’t seem workable” to her.
The City Attorney, Mr. Jackson, stated that the first citation would constitute a warning; the second one would warrant a ticket. “You have to give a notice first,” he explained. “It’s a civil matter, not a criminal one.”
Councilman Jones agreed that cleanup, especially on the Southside, is an important issue. However, he noted that there should be a way to enforce compliance without excessive fines. “We need to make sure everyone is doing the right thing.”
Councilwoman asked about trash cans being used to block alleyways and walkways. She noted that police sometimes have to move the cans in order to get through.
Attorney Jackson explained that these are two different offenses: (1) not removing the trash can on time and (2) blocking traffic or pedestrian rights of way. “There are different penalties for this,” he said.
Councilwoman concluded that the Council ought to be prepared for more confusion and “a hell of a lot of phone calls.”
Councilwoman Gray was the only one to vote “No” to passing the ordinance. It was adopted as presented.
The second item the Council addressed was Item 33: RES 2017-R073: To request the Richmond delegation to the General Assembly of Virginia to introduce and support the enactment of legislation to amend section 5.05, concerning the duties of the Mayor, and section 5.05.1, concerning the duties of the Chief Administrative Officer, for the purpose of providing that the Mayor, the Chief Administrative Officer, and their designees no longer have a right to attend closed meetings of the City Council.
Councilwoman Larson explained that this is something that has come up several times and that has caused conflict. “The Mayor and the administration should not be privy to our work and processes,” she said. “This is an area where we need to separate.”
Councilwoman Gray agreed. “Would it be allowable for the Governor to go to General Assembly closed sessions? No, it would not.” She spoke on the sensitive nature of their discussions, and the concerns this raises over privacy and confidentiality. “We don’t have the censure power over the administration that we have over each other,” she explained.
Councilman Agelasto noted that this was an appropriate step to take, but it would require a charter change. He supports his colleagues, but noted that they would need a patron to shepherd this through the General Assembly.
“Didn’t we receive a letter stating that the General Assembly would not sponsor this?” Councilwoman Trammell asked. She then added that she does not particularly care for closed sessions anyway. “I don’t like them,” she said. “I don’t believe we should keep things from the citizens.”
Councilman Agelasto explained that the letter said the City Council should focus on the education referendum, and not this one. “That referendum is on the November Ballot, and the citizens can vote on it this term.”