Sunday, October 4, 2009

Post to the re: City Auditor's Policies

Here is a comment I left on an article in today's Times-Dispatch regarding their article " City Auditor’s work won’t be as publicized " about City Council devising a policy to prohibit the City Auditor from announcing the completion of audits and investigations.

My comment:

Ineptitude at City Council should hardly be surprising. Open government and transparency are best practices in the field of government. It leads to accountability. When the public can see how decisions are made, they can understand why decisions were made and WHO is accountable for the decisions made.

I asked Council members earlier in the year if they supported open government and many of them did not seem familiar with the concept, though they said they said they supported it.

Since when should our government seek to emulate the government of Chesterfield and Henrico.

Especially, when what you seek to emulate is keeping information secret. The City Auditor works for the citizens of Richmond; not the City Council or the Mayor.

The news coverage of city government is already apathetic. Press releases from the Auditor's Office help inform the public. It cost relatively nothing for the auditor's office to email press releases and even to hold a press conference to allow the City Auditor to explain the findings to the media, who need all the help they can get. City Council members should also try to attend City Auditor Press Conferences, so they will know the questions from the media and know more directly the results of Audit Reports.

This article comes on the heels of tomorrow's interviews with appointees for the GRTC Transit System Board. See the Times-Dispatch article, "GRTC board appointments a point of contention" Oct. 2, 2009,


Published: October 2, 2009

Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones wants one of the city's new administrators to help run the GRTC Transit System.

But City Councilman Bruce W. Tyler is pushing back and expressing concern over a role the city could play in a sale of GRTC's coveted headquarters property near the Fan District.

Jones wants the 6.8-acre site to go to the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority for private development guided by the city through a review of proposals.

The council is scheduled to appoint three members to the GRTC board this month. This week, the list of 13 applicants was pared to eight finalists, including Peter H. Chapman, the city's new deputy chief administrative officer for economic and community development.

Another is former Chief Administrative Officer Sheila Hill-Christian, who has worked as a consultant to the Jones administration. She previously held executive positions with GRTC and RRHA.

Tyler said he's concerned about the possible appointments.

"I don't believe it should be anybody from the administration or with close ties to the administration," he said. "That body needs to be independent and it needs to report to council."

The Jones administration sees no conflict and nothing unusual in having one of its members on the GRTC board, said Tammy D. Hawley, the mayor's press secretary.

"Our motive is to have the highest amount of experience to move the transit system forward," she said.

John M. Lewis Jr., CEO of GRTC, said residency from the appointing locality is the only requirement for the GRTC board. While directors have historically been local civic and business leaders, many public-transit agencies are governed by elected and appointed officials, he said.

Chesterfield County, which owns GRTC with the city, also is set to make its three appointments to the six-member board.

The city's other finalists for appointment are the current representatives -- Linda G. Broady-Meyers, James M. Johnson and Michael Rohde, as well as Robert P. Englander Jr., a real estate developer and principal of The CathFord Group; Mark Romer, president of James River Equipment Co.; and Grindly Johnson, chief of business and employee opportunities for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Tyler said he's bothered that candidates recommended by him -- developer Paul W. Kreckman [Editor's note: the same fellow from Highwoods Properties that was pitching the stadium in Shockoe Bottom], architect Robert C. Burns and attorney R. Webb Moore -- won't be interviewed. The council's Land Use, Housing and Transportation Standing Committee will meet Monday to conduct closed-door interviews.

Chesterfield County Administrator James J.L. Stegmaier had no comment on the city appointments or on how the GRTC property might be developed.

"We think it's important that the property be sold at fair market price and those resources be used to enhance the quality of public transportation in the region," he said.

The property, at 101 S. Davis Ave., has been appraised at more than $5 million but could require substantial environmental cleanup.

Tyler said he sees no reason for the city and RRHA to play a prominent role in the site's future. He said the city has a poor record of guiding development and cited several projects, including the city-requested and now-withdrawn proposal offered by Kreckman's firm for a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom.

Tyler said the city would be able to control whatever happens on the GRTC site because the council's approval would likely be needed for any development.

GRTC is expected to vacate the property by early December when it moves to a new operations and maintenance center on Belt Boulevard in South Richmond. Lewis said no sale offers are pending, and there's no timetable for a decision.

"That's up to my board of directors," he said.

Council has said it would be a closed door session on Monday Oct. 5, 2009 from 8 AM to 10:30 AM -- though I can't understand the grounds for closing the meeting to the public. All candidates have received the questions in advance. This is not a discussion of discipline, legal issues, or discussion about employment.

This is about appointing members to a public board that deals with the City's bus system and future development of a light rail system. The term is for one year.

What are you afraid of City Council? People deserve to know what you are doing on our behalf and in our names. You represent us and we deserve to know how and why you make decisions. This is known as Open Government.

-Silver Persinger

Below, watch the last Governmental Operations meeting of September 24, 2009 where the proposed policy was discussed.

Governmental Operations Discusses Auditor's Reporting Policies - Sept. 24, 2009 from Silver Persinger.

Below, watch the July 23, 2009 Governmental Operations meeting where the policy was first discussed.

City Auditor's Office Policies Discussed at Governmental Operations - July 23, 2009 from Silver Persinger on Vimeo.

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