Thursday, March 26, 2009

Japanese School Girls Invade City Hall

From Richmond City Council Reporter & Telegraph

I just happened to be on the second floor of City Hall around 9 AM, I was there for a meeting of the Audit Committee which was on another floor. I was there when 8 Japanese students and their two teachers from our Sister City in Saitama, Japan were welcomed to City Hall. They met several members of Richmond City Council including Council President Kathy Graziano, Mr. Tyler, and Mr. Conner. I overheard Mrs. Graziano later at the Audit Committee tell someone that she started talking to the group and she said their eyes glazed over because they didn't understand what she was saying.

No, that's the same response I have. It's normal. Just kiddin' you all.

Richmond Mayor Jones Presents Budget to City Council March 26, 2009

Mayor Dwight C. Jones presented the budget he and his administration prepared to Richmond City Council on March 26, 2009. Less than half and hour long.

Get the City of Richmond Fiscal Year 2010 - 2011 Budget here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hi-Lights from the March 23, 2009 Meeting -- My comments

I spoke to the City Council on various topics that were discussed on the evening of March 23, 2009. First I spoke in opposition to the appointment of Thomas A. Silvestri, Publisher and President of The Richmond Times-Dispatch, to the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau on the grounds that it would pose a conflict between objective reporting and supporting the goals of the Visitors Bureau, it represents a continuation of the "good ol' boy network," and the Bureau needs a more gender-balanced board -- currently only 5 of 21 members are women -- and Mr. Silvestri was appointed to replace a woman who had resigned, Nicole G. Hood.

I also spoke against the naming of an alley "Herbert Hamlet Alley" because the current process gives developers too much power to assign alley names rather than having a process where the public has a role in determining the naming of a public right of way. I also included the comments from the applicant for the alley name, Jane Allman from Monument Construction.

And finally I pointed out the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget which they were adopting (finally, after former Mayor Wilder declared the Council's adopted budget invalid) did not include $5750 for the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which the City previously had to restore to a recent annual budget.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

7th District Town Hall Meeting with Betty Squire

Interim Council member Betty Squire held her first town hall meeting since being appointed at the Peter Paul Development Center located at 1708 N. 22nd Street on Saturday March 21, 2009.

Mrs. Squire opened the meeting by introducing the mayor. Mayor Dwight C. Jones spoke.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Richmond City Council Finance Committee Begins Budget Review Process March 19, 2009

This meeting was held Thursday March 19, 2009 in Richmond City Council Chambers located on the second floor of City Hall located at 9th & East Broad Streets in Richmond, Virginia.

The meeting began at 2:34 pm. Chair of the Finance Committee and Council Vice President Ellen Robertson (6th District) was joined by Finance Committee members Bruce Tyler (1st District) and Charles R. Samuels (2nd District). Council President Kathy Graziano also attended the meeting.

Departments whose directors are appointed by the City Council reported their department's budget to the Committee. Presenting budget information were Council's Chief of Staff [Daisy Weaver, 3:00 - 24:45], City Attorney [Norman Sales, 25:00 - 37:00], City Clerk [Lou B. Ali, 37:40 - 45:20], City Assessor [James Hester, 46:00 - 52:45], City Auditor [Umesh Dalal, 53:00 - 58:00], and Council Fiscal Analysts [Anthony Dale (58:15 -1:03:50)and Ralph Harris (1:04:12 - 1:27:45)]. The meeting ended at 4:12 pm. This meeting occurred before the Finance Committee's regular monthly meeting which began at 4:20 pm

Monday, March 16, 2009

Baseball Update at 11 o'clock

I was just watching the local 11 o'clock news and it was reported that the Norwich, Connecticut City Council voted unanimously to allow the Defenders, out of their lease for Dodd Stadium.

I learned from The Norwich Bulletin that the team would move to Richmond in time for the 2010 season and would play its first two seasons at the Diamond. A new stadium, Shockoe Center, is proposed to be built in Shockoe Bottom for the 2012 season.

This news reminds me of my comments to Richmond City Council's Finance Committee during the Citizen Comment Period at its February 19, 2009 meeting.

And for good measure, we should also include Mrs. Ellen Robertson's response after all she is the Chair of the Finance Committee and Vice President of the Council.

You may be interested in a report of a presentation from the developers that appeared in Buttermilk & Molasses last month.

Or you can sign a petition to keep baseball on the Boulevard.

Many Meetings Coming up this Week

Monday, March 16 - Public Safety Committee. 6 PM at Richmond Police Academy, 1202 W. Graham Road, near Virginia Union University. Reva Trammell (8th District), Chair.

Tuesday, March 17 - Land Use, Housing and Transportation Committee. 3 PM in Council Chambers, 2nd Floor City Hall (900 E. Broad St.) Doug Conner (9th District), Chair.
Richmond Crusade for Voters - 7 PM at the Letter Carrier Building, 2416 Chamberlayne Avenue. They will host their quarterly City Council Forum. All candidates for statewide office have been invited to attend.

Wednesday, March 18 - Health, Human Services, and Education Committee. 5 PM in Council Chambers, 2nd Floor City Hall (900 E. Broad St.) Chris Hilbert (3rd District), Chair.

Thursday, March 19 - Finance Standing Committee. 2:30 PM in Council Chambers, 2nd Floor City Hall (900 E. Broad St.) Ellen Robertson (6th District), Chair.

* * * * NEXT WEEK * * * *

Monday, March 23 - Informal Session. 3 PM in Council Chambers, 2nd Floor City Hall (900 E. Broad St.)

Formal Session 6 PM in Council Chambers, 2nd Floor City Hall (900 E. Broad St.)

Thursday, March 26 - Governmental Operations Committee. 4 PM in Large Conference Room, 2nd Floor City Hall (900 E. Broad St.) Marty Jewell (5th District), Chair
Councilman Charles Samuels will hold a 2nd District town hall meeting from 6 - 7:30 PM. This will be his first district meeting since being elected. Richmond Police Department, 4th Precinct. 2219 Chamberlayne Avenue.

Friday, March 27 - Mayor Jones presents his proposed budget to City Council. 3 PM in Council Chambers, 2nd Floor City Hall (900 E. Broad St.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mayor Jones speaks to 6th District Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mayor Dwight C. Jones addressed citizens of the 6th district at Ellen Robertson's monthly town hall meeting held on Saturday, March 14, 2009 at the Bank of America building in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

With introductory comments Vice President Ellen Robertson explained her new meeting schedule for the 6th District. In addition to her regular monthly meeting at the Bank of America Building (Second Saturday of each month), since January she has been holding additional district meetings, that alternate monthly between the North and South Sides. The focus of the Southside meetings is improving education for children. The Northside meetings will emphasize the issues of housing, abandoned property, blight and illegal rooming houses.

At 6:00 minutes, Mayor Jones took the podium and opened with a prayer. Mayor Jones referred to Mrs. Robertson as "an energizer bunny" that "is handling the business." Mayor Jones said "City Council meetings are not fun. They take a lot of time." Mayor Jones recalled Mrs. Robertson's early support for him as a mayoral candidate, "When things were not going so well during the last four years, she was one of the first ones who came and said, We gotta do something and you oughta be the one to do it."

Mayor Jones repeated the mantra of his administration, "Collaboration, communication, and cooperation." The mayor said a vast majority of the city's 4,000 employees are "good, competent people who want to do a good job." Mayor Jones said he wanted employees, as well as City Council and the School Board, to know that they are valued.

At 9:00 minutes, Mayor Jones spoke about the Dove Court development and cited goals of decentralizing poverty and acknowledging "our need and responsibility to those who need affordable housing." At 10:00 minutes, Mayor Jones discussed his decision to drop the appeals filed by former Mayor Douglas Wilder which had cost the city $1.2 million dollars over the last couple of years. Mayor Jones expressed his hope that the Charter Review Commission would iron out any ambiguities that currently exist in the charter.

Then Mayor Jones repeated his goal of establishing a Tripe A bond rating for the City of Richmond to dispel "the perception of being inept and improperly managed."

At 14:00 minutes, Mayor Jones said that he had "inherited the need for a new city jail." The current city jail has a designed capacity for 800 but it currently holds 1500 prisoners. Mayor Jones said, "I'm not going to accept the projections of a jail that's so huge, that what we'll do is just keep on filling up the beds... I refuse to build a jail that is so huge." "We're going to find a way to handle the mentally ill by not sending them to jail, that's not where they belong." Mayor Jones also mentioned alternatives for non-violent offenders (ie. non-payment of child support, traffic violations) such as ankle bracelets as a means of saving money.

At 17:15, Mayor Jones spoke again about the need for regional cooperation. Mayor Jones told us he had been participating in regional meetings and working with county managers and supervisors. Working with Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover, Hopewell, and Petersburg.

[18:30] Mayor Jones discussed working with the City Auditor to implement suggestions made by the auditor, and his support for implementing the recommendations of the City Master Plan.

At 20:00, Mayor Jones got a question about affordable housing. Mayor Jones responded, "We don't [want to] replace these depositories or concentrations of poverty with other concentrations of poverty." "The plan is to spread affordable housing out," mixing affordable housing with market rate housing. "Our goal is to make sure that we have affordable housing but that you don't know where it is."

The mayor's comments wrap up around 24:00 minutes, followed by four more minutes of Vice President Ellen Robertson. Mrs. Robertson said we would be seeing more in the way of regional cooperation because of Mayor Jones' initiative in working with other local governments. She also talked about the mayor appointing her to the Regional Workforce Commission and the previous way workforce development had been handled in the past with Richmond receiving just over a million dollars a year and the 8 surrounding counties collectively receiving about half a million dollars.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Introducing "Telegraph Raw and Uncut" - Informal Session of March 9, 2009 - 'Financial Tsunami'

Good evening readers. This post is something of an experiment. I am currently editing this afternoon's meeting and hope to be uploading it shortly. This is the first of what I hope will become a regular feature of this blog -- full video of Council meetings and their committee meetings. Of course, this is something I believe our local government should be doing already. However it is not; and it is not likely to occur in the foreseeable future. So I humbly present to you the Informal Session of Richmond City Council of March 9, 2009. The Informal Session is the meeting that occurs before the televised meeting. The major topics of the meeting are 1) David Rose from Davenport and Company presenting the mayor's plan to raise the city's bond rating to AAA; 2) Rayford Harris, Jr., Director Department of Finance on the state of the city's finances (1:27); 3) Council's Proposed Tax Rates on Real Estate (2:08).

President Kathy Graziano opened the meeting at 3:10 PM. She introduced Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones. He opened his comments by saying that the following presentation was one of the most important aspects of his plan for Richmond's financial future. The mayor said, "We are in a unique moment in time. We are in a dire economy, the worst economy since the great depression."

Mayor Jones introduced the Tier One Plan. The basic plan is to upgrade the City's Bond Rating to "Triple A." The Mayor said that it would not be easy and it would take several years. He also called on citizens and government to "tighten our belts" and " to make tough choices." Mayor Jones said that bond rating agencies look at several factors when determining a city's bond rating: 1) does the Mayor and the Council work together collaboratively, 2) crime rates, and 3) level of poverty. According to recent statistics I've heard, most recently from Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, Richmond's current rate of poverty is 23%. Mayor Jones said, "We have moral and financial reasons to address these problems." Mayor Jones introducing the consultants from Davenport & Company was a little reluctant to mention Roland Kooch's (former RMA Board Member) name which ensued a moment of levity.

The presentation was given by David Rose of Davenport & Company (begins 6:19 minutes into the video). Here is a copy of the document (minus Appendices) he presented to the Council which he references during his presentation. Mr. Rose told us that Davenport and Company has worked with the City of Richmond for about ten years. Mr. Rose made this presentation to the mayor the week before and to all department heads the Friday before this Monday meeting.

He said he would be presenting an executive briefing on the state of the city, future city investments, and the city's debt capacity, and the compliance with self-imposed and financial best practices. Mr. Rose mentioned being "shovel-ready" with projects to take advantage of stimulus money (10:00 minutes) and "formally introduc[ing]" the Council and the Mayor to the national credit rating agencies.

Here is a compilation of interesting statements gleaned from the presentation. Richmond enjoys a "very strong" credit rating and has received 4 credit rating upgrades since 2001. Richmond's concentration of poverty is second only to New Orleans in the South Eastern United States. Richmond currently borrows $70-75 million annually to continue city operations. It cost the city about $2 million in interest for this annual short term loan. At 22:00 minutes, Mr. Rose said that the city should look at twice a year real estate billing as a way to avoid annual "revenue anticipation" loans beginning in 2011 or 2012.

The "Rainy Day Fund" (also called the "Undesignated Fund Balance") is currently set at 7% of the General Fund Budget and is valued at $47 million; Mr. Rose suggested raising it to 10%. $380 million in Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) have been identified. It is currently proposed to borrow $360 million to fund the Capital Improvement Program. At 31:00 minutes, Mr. Rose told Council the city had a debt capacity of $300 - $400 million for the next 5 years and it would cost about $72 million per year to finance.

On Dec. 31, 2008, the City Finance Department estimated that the city budget would have a $13 million shortfall.

Questions from City Council begin at 42:00 minutes with Chris Hilbert (3rd District) asking about how poverty affects the bond rating and the ability of the city to pay a premium for AAA rating. At 48:00 minutes, Ellen Robertson (6th District) said she was excited by the discussion on twice a year real estate billing, and discussed the anti-poverty commission, COLA for retirees, and stimulus funding impact. At 53:00 minutes Marty Jewell (5th District) lamented rising juvenile crime, reduced spending on Parks & Rec for 20 years, lack of opportunities for youth employment, and preventing homelessness. At 56:25, Bruce Tyler (1st District) thanked Mr. Rose for "the most comprehensive presentation I've seen on finance since I've been on the Council." He agreed with the need to "reign in borrowing" but was concerned about the impact of twice a year tax collections.

At 58:55, Mr. Tyler asked about Capital Improvement Projects and got Mr. Rose talking (around 1:01) about a new city jail, "that big elephant in the room" that Mr. Rose states could be funded by debt.

Here's a link to the minutes of Wise County Board of Supervisors meeting from March 21, 2001 where Mr. David Rose and Mr. Roland Kooch presented "on the findings and recommendations of the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Task Force for Establishing the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority." Don't be surprised to hear similar proposals for Richmond from these two soon.

At 1 hour 4 minutes, Richmond City Clerk Lou B. Ali reviewed upcoming appointees to Council's Boards, Commissions and Authorities. There were 9 reappointments and 10 new appointments. Proposed appointments included: Thomas A. Silvestri (President and Publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch) for the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau replacing Nicole G. Hood who resigned; Reappointments of James H. Harris, Clarence N. Jenkins, David E. Cheek, J. Stephen Buis, Wilson J. Washington, Susan D. Hansen, Kelly K. Horne, and Esther J. Windmueller to the Community Criminal Justice Board; Appointments of Matthew P. Geary (succeeding John Hugh Moss, PhD) and Irving C. Wright (succeeding Willie B. Fuller) as members of the Capital Area Alcohol Safetly Action Program (ASAP) Policy Board; Appointing Glenn Hudson, Robert W. "Robin" Miller Jr., G. Andrew Nea Jr., and Marcia Reid Woody as members of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Oversight Board. Mr. Hilbert reported that he had a conflict of interest with the appointment of Robin Miller so he would not be discussing or voting on Miller's appointment. For the City Planning Commission, reappointment of Charles W. Wray and appointment of Amy Howard. Reappointment of Napoleon L. Peoples and new appointment of Jodi Mincemoyer to the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA).

A very interesting dialogue with Mr. Rayford Harris, Jr., Director of Department of Finance, City Economist Jonathan Cohodas, and the Council begins at 1 hour 27 minutes and continues for half an hour.

Then came the interesting display of Council members discussing tax policy, from Mr. Tyler's adamant insistence for the lowest tax rate to voiced sympathies of hard times. With no input from the public, the city's budget is being drafted by Mayor Jones' administration, and the Council is contemplating setting a tax rate in the face of declining revenues, questionable housing values, growing unemployment, and with no budget in hand. Every 1¢ change in the real estate tax rate (which is currently $1.20 for every $100 of your home's assessed value) represents a $2 million change in revenue to the city. The "roll back rate" which is set by the state is $1.19. Council agreed to introduce papers for the rates between $1.17 - $1.21.

Council Chief of Staff Daisy Weaver closed out the last ten minutes of the meeting starting at 2 hours 27 minutes with a report to the Council.