The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, January 06, 2008

News and Notes: The Plots Thicken

"Five Girls Reading Newspapers In The Library At The
Emily McPherson College," Museum Victoria Collections.

The Richmond VA blogosphere is clogged with metropolitan current events musings, mullings and mischievousness, thus, the Blue Raccoon has for the most part let others, who are often much more qualified, do the squawking. But one egregious event caused me, and others, to raise our virtual voices united by disbelief and disappointment.

My posts were made in an emotional flurry between September 22-25, 2007 and concerned the attempted forced removal the Richmond School Board from City Hall, the prevention of entry by the public and press by police. The nocturnal eviction was stayed by a judge and legal wrangling and political posturing occurred.

Given my excitation at the time, I thought that recent reports in Style Weekly and the Richmond Times-Dispatch that I should make at least reference to what is still not quite clear about what the School Board knew and when.

The January 2, 2008 issue of Style carries the article headlined, "Did schools help plan attempted move?"

Chris Dovi writes, "Schools administration officials, who have maintained their ignorance about why the move was carried out so suddenly — under the cover of night and with the aid of Richmond Police — were far more involved in the planning of that move than previously disclosed, according to internal documents obtained by Style Weekly.

City documents and interoffice communications obtained through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that schools officials not only knew about the planned move, but also were initially involved in negotiating the lease for the 3600 W. Broad St. building where Wilder tried to move them. They also helped develop the timeline to move schools offices out of City Hall by Sept. 30."

I refer you to the article linked above; suffice to say, the school administration doesn't come across as more sinned against than sinning but more confused and willful than smart. And the Governor-Mayor is, well, his intransigent self. The immovable object and the irresistible force paradox comes to mind...

By Saturday, January 5, matters had proceeded further, as described by the Times-Dispatch's Michael Martz, as "members of a special committee of Richmond City Council are demanding a full accounting of a botched attempt to evict the school administration from City Hall."

The day before, the committee issued a subpoena "to Chief Administrative Officer Sheila Hill-Christian, who didn't work for the city when Mayor L. Douglas Wilder ordered the school offices moved.

The decision to issue the subpoena for documents related to the eviction was made without fanfare or speeches, even a formal vote."

The Governor-Mayor blustered and basically called the committee silly geese.

The meat of the matter is thus, as Martz described:

"Yesterday's meeting was the committee's third since its inception in the fall. The committee has received a substantial volume of documents and information from the administration -- the stack is about 5 inches thick -- but City Council Chief of Staff Daisy Weaver reported yesterday that some information requested hasn't been delivered, including:

  • Forms showing signed authorization for 35 procurement orders made by the administration to carry out the attempted eviction;
  • E-mails, correspondence, instruction sheets, schedules and the written minutes of meetings related to the move; and
  • Documentation of who authorized the transfer of up to $500,000 used for the move from a budget fund for repaying a loan that was used to buy properties damaged by flooding around Battery Park during Tropical Storm Ernesto in 2006."

  • While this is transpiring, effusive and celebratory headlines proclaim Richmond's plummeting murder rate and general increase of safety. Articles credit the leadership of Chief Rodney D. Monroe, who was also featured in the recent Style as Richmonder of the Year.

    The story by Scott Bass didn't shy away from Monroe's role in the September fracas at City Hall.

    "... There was also Monroe’s role in ensuring that City Hall, a public building, remained closed to public officials, journalists and other citizens the night of Sept. 21, turning City Hall into a mini police state during Wilder’s attempted eviction of the School Board and Richmond Public Schools.

    Monroe doesn’t view either decision as a mistake, or the potentially damaging perception that his police department has become the strong-arm of Mayor Wilder. As for the City Hall fiasco, he says he strongly believes his department had a duty to man the doors to prevent a potentially “volatile situation” from getting ugly."


    For all his strengths and leadership skills, Monroe can come off as painfully simplistic. He equates the City Hall closing, for example, as no different than police helping a landlord evict a tenant, a common practice. He’s seemingly oblivious to the analogy’s main weakness: Closing City Hall to the public more closely resembles evicting the landlord at the request of the tenant."

    Monroe is capable and committed administrator and law officer, though there is criticism about some of his management decisions. Further, attorney Stephen Bemjamin muses in the Bass feature about whether the murder rate's wonderful decline is due togood policing, or a stabilization of Richmond's unfortunate drug market. There haven't been any huge busts of rings or gangs of late, and hence no murderous jostling for control in trafficking.

    But for me, as a citizen, the saddest part of this is that Monroe permitted his officers seal off City Hall as though his force was the Governor-Mayor's gendarmarie. The excuse that the Chief was just.... following orders shouldn't wash with anybody and should raise concern.

    In the meantime, RVA's to-ing and fro-ing diminish before the life and death issues of politics in Kenya, and the Russian states of Georgia and Ukraine.

    All that considerable business aside, I am a Richmonder, who lives, works and wanders in its sacred precincts.

    Still, when contemplating the whys and hows of Richmond's municipal vagaries, I am reminded of Dan Aykroyd' s Saturday Night Live character Leonard Pinth-Garnell. A tuxedoed spoof of Masterpiece Theatre's refined yet avuncular Alistair Cooke, Garnell hosted a show that celebrated lousy performances. He'd introduce the bits as "Bad Red Chinese Ballet" and "Bad Playhouse" and "Bad Conceptual Theatre." The skit always concluded with Pinth-Garnell giving some enthusiastic embracing of the sheer awfulness of the presentation, capping it with glee in proportion to the poor quality of the presentation, like "Stunningly bad!" and "Astonishingly ill-chosen!" and "Unrelentingly bad!"

    I echo Pinth-Garnell when considering the late matters involving City Hall. "Monumentally ill-advised!"

    Where the Pinth-Garnell's appearances were restricted to short, funny three-minute skits, Richmond's City Hall history is a long and unrelieved history of the botched and bungled. One may point out this credible official, or that admirable public servant, but the exasperating aspect of studying the city's governance reveals a quality, as a whole, to quote Ross Perot, "that is just sad."

    Perhaps light may break through the clouds of Richmond's City Hall history. After all, during most of its urban political life, neither women nor minorities could vote. For the latter half of the 20th century, Richmond's mayors were appointed from City Council, and the the city was run like a quarrelsome quilting bee, except with money, an often pliant city manager, a drug problem and a tragic murder rate. A needed charter change bequeathed to Richmond the Governor-Mayor. Somebody had to go first.

    It's been making the rounds that perhaps Governor Tim Kaine, a former mayor, could step into the presidency of Virginia Commonwealth University after the institution's current executive 2010 retirement. Kaine, as I've noted in this space earlier, isn't too hep anymore on the rigors of elected office. His leadership would be a boon for VCU, my alma mater, but I have a suggestion. We've had one Governor-Mayor, bring Tim back but armed with the tools of a strong mayor-at-large that he suggested years go. But, Richmonders may well be done with a past Governor as Mayor.

    I'd just like to see someone with a depth of experience at the state level to work toward a greater regional vision. It ain't gonna happen with the present city administration which despite high flown rhetoric is mired in the petty and picayune. I wanted The West Wing and got Spin City.

    Finally, the Governor-Mayor, City Council and the School Board are all elected. They weren't transported into office on a beam of gold light while thrones of angels sang their praises. The city's population offer up a representative few who for varied reasons, enlightened and opportunistic, seek office. The rest of us who bother to vote install them, and, for some reason, even if they are proved of mediocre ability, we keep voting them in. This is endemic throughout the nation, not just here in the Holy City.

    And that perhaps is the nubbin of the problem. This is democracy; and Richmond's civil government hasn't really practiced the form until lately, and it's a messy business.

    On a consistent basis, somewhere, something almost always goes wrong with Richmond's government. There must be a formula for making it operate for the greater public's benefit. If I had a clue as to this peculiar unified field theory, the Nobel Committee would be paying for my first class trip to Stockholm.

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