City Council Recap-November 13, 2017
The City Council meeting convened following a somewhat heated informal session. There was a moderate sized crowd present, with many children present in the audience. Despite President Hilbert’s determination to begin promptly at 6pm, the meeting did not formally convene until 6:10pm.
Awards and Presentations
Mr. Dick Harman Receives a Special Thank You from the City of Richmond
The City Council and Mayor Stoney recognized Mr. Dick Harman for his nearly thirty-year (30- year) career as Richmond’s television host for the City Council. Mr. Harman has served as the TV host announcer during Council’s formal meeting broadcasts, providing an overview of what is on the Council’s agenda and what is going to be discussed. Mr. Harman has been present at over 700 meetings during his thirty (30) years of service. The media gallery of the City Council Chamber was named the Dick Harman Media Gallery in Mr. Harman’s honor, with a dedication plaque placed at its entrance.
“We got you this time,” President Hilbert chuckled as he thanked Mr. Harman for all he has done over the years.
“You have done more for the City than anyone,” Mayor Stoney told him. “You deserve this honor.”
Councilmen Addison and Agelasto also acknowledged Mr. Harman for his years of service. “You were the voice of the people on the television before Internet was even around,” Mr. Agelasto said.
“We love you, and you will always be a part of who we are,” Councilwoman Trammel added.
“You are a constant in our lives,” Councilwoman Gray told him. “You have an amazing work ethic and an amazing spirit. When you were gone for one (1) day, we knew something was wrong.”
Council Vice-President Newbille commended Mr. Harman for being absent “only once per decade” during his thirty (30) years of service.
“You are the Voice of Truth and Facts,” Councilwoman Robertson stated. “This is an honor well-deserved.”
Councilwoman Larson told Mr. Harmond that he was “special and unique” and “known nationally” for his outstanding service to the Richmond City Council.
“Thank you for being a constant and steady voice,” Councilman Jones concluded. “Thank you for your service.”
“You got me,” Mr. Harman quipped. He thanked the Council and the Mayor, stating that the recognition is “unbelievable.” He joked, however, that he was glad the gallery would not be a “memorial” one. He noted that when he began his career, it was only expected to last about thirty (30) days. “That’s led to thirty (30) years,” he chuckled. Mr. Harman assured the Council and the Mayor that despite his health, he still intends to keep working.
Richmond HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
President Hilbert and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Selena Cuffee-Glenn declared December 1st to be “Richmond HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.” President Hilbert said that it is “unfortunate that we have to recognize this, but it important that we do.” Ms. Cuffee-Glenn said that HIV and AIDS have been “kept in the dark for years” but “now we are shining a light on the issue and finding treatments and cures for this disease that affects so many people.”
A representative from one of many community organizations that focuses on raising awareness of HIV and AIDS noted that we need “to make sure attention on this issue is constant.” The disease is affecting more and more people, and the goal is to someday find a cure. “That’s why we do what we do,” he said. He thanked the Council and the CAO for the proclamation.
Richmond Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month
Councilman Jones and the CAO proclaimed the month of November as “Richmond Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month” in order to encourage research into causes, treatments, and cures for the disease. “So many lives are affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Mr. Jones said, sharing that his own Grandmother had suffered from the disease. “The good days outweigh the bad days,” he noted. “There are some days when you all can laugh, and others where you all cry.”
The CAO thanked the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Richmond for their advocacy and their work in raising awareness of this disease.” A representative from the Association shared that over 26,000 people in the Richmond area are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. “We appreciate you bringing this to the forefront,” she said. “We hope that someday there will be a cure for or a way of preventing this disease.”
Councilwoman Robertson recognized Julia Warren for her work with Celebrate RVA, an organization that throws birthday parties for disadvantaged children in the community and those children living in shelters to escape domestic violence. Through her work, Julia has thrown over 5000 birthday parties for children.
“I want to acknowledge you for your heart and spirit,” Ms. Robertson said. “When you found out that there were children who had never had a birthday party before, you volunteered to give those parties. You add value to those children lives by letting them know that they are valued.”
Councilwoman Gray also thanked Ms. Warren for her work. “One person can touch a child’s heart, and you have been that person,” she stated.
“When you touch their hearts, they never forget,” Councilwoman Trammel added. “It touches them forever.”
Ms. Warren thanked the Council for their recognition of her work in giving children the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays. “Some don’t even know when their birthday is because it was never deemed important,” she shared.
HandsOn Greater Richmond
Councilman Agelasto took the time to recognize Elizabeth Houston for her work with HandsOn Greater Richmond, a community organization that performs neighborhood cleanups. Ms. Houston has shown dedication to the community through her work in assisting with mobilizing volunteers to improve the community.
“Cleaning up is not an easy task,” Mr. Agelasto pointed out. “And it is not something that you can do alone. Thank you for being there and helping us.” He commended her and HandsOn for lending their time and resources. “I am glad you will be there to help us with our efforts in the community and in the 5th District,” he said.
Vanessa Diamond, the Director of HandsOn, told Ms. Houston that she was also thankful for Ms. Houston and the other volunteers collectively. “We are a community, not just a city,” she said. “I look forward to working with you all.”
Ms. Houston told the Council that she is looking forward to spring so that she can “roll up her sleeves.”
“Save the West End Train Station”
Seldon Richardson, a local historian, spoke to the Council on the state of the City, noting that the presence of abandoned, condemned, deteriorating, and overgrown buildings and properties such as the West End Train Station make the Council appear to be callous and criminally negligent property owners. “There is no sense of the history of these buildings,” he noted. “My expectations of this Council have diminished.” He urged the Council to cease its negligent ways and to save the West End Train Station.
Councilwoman Gray thanked Mr. Richardson for having put the issue of the West End Train Station on her radar. “I’ve reached out to Parks and Recreation in order to work on that project,” she informed him. “We are going to work to save that building and preserve its history.”
“Keep Coach Earl!”
Daryle Blair, a volunteer coach at the Southside Community Center in the 9th District came forward to ask the Council to leave Coach Earl Hughes as the Director. “Southside has grown into the biggest center in three (3) years, serving over 200 children, with five (5) sports teams.” Coach Blair said that the Center is not just about the sports, but also about the kids and the adults. “We have reading programs, job programs, and we work in the community,” he explained. “It would be a tragedy to remove Coach Earl, as he has been a great success.” He asked that Council not take him away, as the kids love and appreciate him for his support.
One of the children who participates at the Center also told the Council that Coach Earl is a good coach who is “loving and caring.”
Councilman Jones thanked the Center for all they do in being one of the most successful community centers in the City. “You do good for the young people all over the City, and I love to see children that are often overlooked getting the attention they deserve.” He applauded the parents for their involvement in the Center, especially those who are breaking the “Absent Dad” stereotype. “You all do an excellent job.”
Councilwoman Trammel raised the question: “Why remove a coach when he’s not broken?”
A community member informed the Board that Coach Earl is an awesome coach, father, and friend, and that there is a petition circulating to keep Coach Earl. “He’s not just a coach,” she said. “He has a passion to help kids.”
There was no Public Hearing on the Consent Agenda Monday night, as no one came forward to speak in favor or against any of the items on the agenda.
During the Council discussion period, Councilman Agelasto spoke on Item 7: ORD 2017 – 194, with regard to a Special Use Permit (SUP) for property located on Grayland Avenue. Mr. Agelasto noted that he had received many messages regarding this property; he explained that there have been challenges due to the Master Plan not being updated. With this Plan not being updated, “it is challenging to access what can be done,” Mr. Agelasto said. He stated that this issue is an issue that the Council has to consider, and thus expressed his support for that paper.
(Item 7: ORD 2017 – 194: To authorize the special use of the property known as 3138 Grayland Avenue for the purpose of two single-family detached dwellings, upon certain terms and conditions.)
All papers on the Consent Agenda were adopted.
Councilman Agelasto brought to the forefront a paper that was introduced in back in March (Item 22: ORD 2017 - 069) regarding unsolicited offers for property. Mr. Agelasto stated that “the process is not well-defined, is ambiguous, and has an uncertain timeline.” He noted that there is a need to amend the City Code so that several outstanding offers can be addressed. He expressed that disposing of some of these properties is something that needs to be done; however, he stressed that the process of doing so needs to be addressed. “The first step would be to go to City Council and have that property declared surplus,” he explained. “The second step would be for the Land Use Committee to make recommendations on the selection criteria.” This process, Mr. Agelasto said, “provides more clarity and brings the Conversation to City Council earlier.” He asked that his colleagues put these reforms in place to create a process to reform such unsolicited offers. Councilwoman Robertson thanked Mr. Agelasto for putting a lot of work into the legislation regarding this real estate plan. She stated that she looks forward to there being a plan to declare a surplus as she “believes that the Council has the authority to do so.”
Councilwoman Larson commented that she knows this legislation could fall under a lot of scrutiny. She said that she is “glad there is a process” but she also says she has “worry about execution.” She cautioned that there could be roadblocks. “I support this but I hope that there will be amendments and that other ideas can be taken into consideration,” she concluded.
Council President Hilbert acknowledged that the system is “chaotic.” He said that he will support this paper and that he looks forward to its implementation so that there can be “transparency and order.”
(Item 22: ORD 2017 – 069: To amend City Code §§ 8-58, 8-61, 8-62, and 8-63, concerning the sale of City-owned real estate, for the purpose of providing for the conduct of a competitive process prior to the acceptance of an unsolicited offer to purchase City-owned real estate.)
President Hilbert explained to those present that the General Assembly passed a law stating that when there is an increase in the revenue of a municipality there will be an automatic increase in the tax rate. President Hilbert stated that he would like to keep the rate at its current rate of $1.20. “No increase or decrease,” he emphasized. He noted that while there have been increases in the population and in property values, he would like to keep the elderly and the disabled in their homes by not increasing nor decreasing the tax rates.
Councilwoman Trammell thanked President Hilbert for his stance on this paper (Item 24: ORD 2017 – 172) and for explaining it to everyone.
President Hilbert encouraged qualifying individuals to apply for Elderly and Disabled tax relief.
Councilwoman Gray noted that the program is worthwhile for Veterans, the disabled, and the aging. She expressed that she hopes that an increase in income limits will be discussed at the next meeting. “Keep homes affordable while still providing affordable new homes,” she said.
(Item 24: ORD 2017 – 172: To amend and reordain City Code § 26-355, concerning the levy of tax on real estate, to establish a tax rate of $1.20 for the tax year beginning Jan. 1, 2018, pursuant to Va. Code § 58.1-3321(b), and increasing such rate from the Rolled Back Tax Rate of $1.17 as computed in accordance with Va. Code § 58.1-3321(a).)
There was no public hearing on the Regular Agenda. The papers were adopted.
Councilwoman Robertson presented a paper that she said has made it “reasonably clear” that Richmond has benefitted from greatly from the historic tax credit program (Item 26: RES 2017 -R081). She said that the Council needs to “let the U.S. President and Congress know that the program gets the job done.” She also noted that “It would be great to show Washington that the Council voted together on the issue.”
Councilman Agelasto said that the historic tax credit program helped Richmond obtain its “authenticity and uniqueness.” However, “The House suggests cutting it completely, and the Sentate suggests cutting it in half,” Mr. Agelasto said. “Any cuts to this program could be detrimental.” He expressed that it is important to send a strong message about this important investment.
Councilwoman Trammell quipped that she “cannot believe that the City Council is going to tell the President of the United States what do when he probably does not even know who they all are.” She expressed that while she supports the idea, she would have gone about it differently. “I will personally write a paper,” she said, as she shared that she did not want her name on the paper sent by the Council collectively. “The way the President thinks makes it hard,” Ms. Trammell explained. “Plus, Virginia did not vote for President Trump.”
Vice-President Newbille stated that “Our City and Commonwealth has a significant historical inventory, and thus we should urge our President to continue the tax credit.”
President Hilbert said it would be “a huge detriment” if this tax credit program goes away. “The properties will languish…,” he noted. “This is the last one that needs to be ended. It is critically important to the health and welfare of our community. We need to urge the President and Congress to take a serious look at this, and show them how it reduces blight and creates jobs in our community.”
Councilwoman Trammell asked whether or not the Mayor has been asked about this, and whether any Delegates have been talked to regarding this matter. Councilman Agelasto replied that the Mayor has not been asked directly, but is known to be in favor of the tax credit.
Cyane Crump, Executive Director of Historic Richmond, thanked the Council for supporting this tax credit program. “It assists with revitalization, is a catalyst for attracting new investments, and benefits due to new residents and businesses,” he said. “It is very, very important to the City of Richmond.” Mr. Crump noted that he had reached out to the Mayor through former Council member Jon Baliles, asking for his support to retain the historic tax credit. “Time is of the essence,” Mr. Crump concluded. “Write to the Representatives and Senators and tell them that you support this program.”
Marshall May also thanked the Council for their initiative. He told the Council that he is happy to assist in any way and that they can reach out to him with any questions.
Back to Council
President Hilbert announced that he and Vice-President Newbille will pen the letter to the President and Congress in Washington.
(Item 26: RES 2017 - R081: To urge the President of the United States of America and the United States Congress to continue funding the federal Historic Tax Credit program at the current funding levels.)
Love Lights Program
The “Love Lights” Program is an annual event in which the City is lit with lights for the holidays. “To see Richmond lit up reduces the stress of the wintertime,” mused President Hilbert. This was a program begun by Ray Boone of the Richmond Free Press, who passed away in 2014.
Councilwoman Robertson suggested renaming a street in honor of Ray Boone in correspondence with the event.
(Item 27: RES 2017-R082: To encourage and support participation in the “Love Lights” program for the 2017-2018 year, with the display lasting through January 1, 2018.)
Richmond’s Kindness Day in the City – November 13th
President Hilbert expressed that he was “appalled by daily political intercourse,” stating that people “cannot disagree; they have to demonize.” He explained that this is not the way to discuss, as it is not helpful to just throw nastiness around. “I hope that we can disagree in an agreeable manner,” he said. “We are all about kindness in the City of Richmond.”
(Item 28: RES 2017 – R083: To establish November 13, 2017, as Richmond Kindness Day in the City of Richmond.)