City Council Recap - June 22, 2020

After the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, President Newbille called a motion to suspend the rules for the citizen comment period to allow speakers five minutes instead of the regular three minutes. The motion passed. Before the citizen comments, Council Member Lynch asked for clarification regarding the resolution on the affordable housing trust fund. She was assured that paper is continued on the agenda.

Citizen Comments

The first speaker, Tray Peters, began by invoking the names of Marcus Davis Peters and Jeramy Gilliam, two Black men who were killed by Richmond Police. He spent his five minutes listing out the demands of the Justice and Reformation Movement. They demand the following: the reopening of the Marcus Davis Peters order case, to defund RPD and reallocate funds, creation of a Marcus Alert system, an independent Civilian Review Board with subpoena power, immediate release and charges dropped of all protesters, immediate removal of all monuments, and the release of names of all police officers investigated for use of force since May 29, 2020.

Christopher Gayler from the 4th district was the second speaker. He thanked Council Members Lynch and Jones for being at the protests. However, he went on to criticize the rest of the council for their lack of response. Mr. Gaylor condemned the Richmond police for their use of military weapons against peaceful protesters. He also reminded the council that the police assaulted a member of the press that clearly identified themselves just the night before. He ends by noting that PR stunts and empty platitudes will not solve anything.

The Co-director of the Richmond Community Bail Fund, Luca Connolly, joined the meeting to talk about how their work in the community has shifted in light of the protests. The bail fund began to prevent incarceration before conviction by posting cash bail free of charge for anyone. They have bailed out over 60 people in the city and surrounding counties. Mr. Connolly asked the City Council to do anything in their power to request the Commonwealth Attorney to drop all charges against all protesters. The money the amount of arrests would be better used to support other causes and programs.

Yohance Whitaker, a member of the Richmond Transparency & Accountability Project, spoke about the implementation of a Civilian Review Board. He highlighted that it should be completely independent of the police and that the community knows how to best protect itself. It would ensure that police are held accountable to who they serve. Also, there would be an increase in public participation in government.

Princess Blanding, the sister of Marcus Davis Peters, spoke to the council about the Marcus Alert System, which they have been fighting to have for two years. The system would call on mental health experts to be the first responders to suspected or confirmed mental health crisis with police only present to serve as back up. The relationship between the public and the Richmond police has been severely damaged. As result, Ms. Blanding noted that a feature of the system should be police accountability and zero room for them to resort to military tactics. She also listed two other demands: the establishment of an independent Civilian Review Board and the defunding of the RPD.

To supplement Mr. Whitaker’s public comment, Stephanie Rizzi, who is also a member of the Richmond Transparency and Accountability project, spoke as well. She highlighted the need for a Civilian Review Board and what needs to happen for it to be successful. It needs to be independent of the police, responsive to the community it serves, and fully funded by the City Council.

Phil Wilayto from the 4th district represented the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality. They initially called for the former police chief to be fired, but before they released their open call Mayor Stoney announced that he has accepted his resignation. The released it anyway and it had seemed like a major victory. However, the interim chief also has problems. Mr. Wilayto stated that the public should be more involved in the process of choosing a new chief as public trust with the RPD is gone.

More than 200 members of RISC were watching the council meeting with a select few chosen to speak during the public comment period. The main issues they spoke about were affordable housing, eviction diversion, and gun violence. The first was Dr. Aubrey Jones, who stated that there was not enough affordable housing in the city. A high cause of evictions is the nonpayment of rent. Dr. Jones asked the council to support fully funded affordable housing, eviction diversion, emergency rental assistance, and their proposed solution about gun violence. Due to COVID, people who could once pay their rent no longer can and when the emergency protections end in a week, they are at risk of being evicted. Steve Saltzberg introduced the idea of a Group Violence Intervention Program, which they have already spoken to Mayor Stoney about. Other members of RISC that spoke include Dr. Pam Smith, Janice Lacy, Marty Wegbreit, Nancy Kunkel, and Pastor Ralph Hodge.

Mark Shubert and Emily Bradley-Kane both called in to speak about defunding the Richmond police. The funds would be reallocated to other programs that benefit they community. The council meeting marked the 25th day of unrest in the city yet so far there have been no actions from City Council according to Ms. Bradley-Kane.

Carlisle Bannister lives by Monument Ave. and does not feel comfortable leaving his house. He states that since May 29th there has been a takeover of the city and want to know when the madness and anarchy will end. Lawrence D. Meyer had concerns about the lacking city leadership.

The comments ended with Jer’Mykeal McCoy who echoed many of the sentiments heard in the meeting. He called for the monuments to be all taken down, defunding the RPD, and mentioned Richmond’s public education problem.

After the Citizen Comments, the council voted to adopt the papers on the consent agenda.

Regular Agenda

On the regular agenda was Item 26 ORD. 2019-343, which deals with short term rentals. The first speaker during the public hearing was Thomas Courtney, who opposed the ordinance. He recognized that there are other more pressing issues in the city, so he asked the council to send it back and delay implementation.

Stacy Van Cherry had a different reason to oppose the ordinance. She stated that this ordinance would decimate short term rentals in the city. Tyler Rackley presented a similar case saying that 80% of short-term rentals in Richmond would be eliminated. Troy Kingsbury noted the ordinance as is would harm tourism in the city as people prefer to stay in short term rentals instead of hotels.

In support of the ordinance was Jerry Beverage from the Fan District Association who said that the ordinance would protect homeowners and residents by establishing regulation. Mark Olinger, Director of Planning and Development Review was also available to speak about the ordinance and to answer any questions the council members had regarding it.

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