Nat Bates: Council Meeting Shows Richmond Needs Help

blogimage.jpgHoly Toledo!  $20 million plus in the red and the beat goes on and on!!!

The May 6 City Council meeting agenda represented 18 Consent Calendar items (passed by one vote of Council without discussion) and 19 regular action items. With the new rules in effect limiting Council Members to 5 minutes per agenda item, we collectively completed only one item and that was the first reading of the living wage ordinance. Again, we failed to address the other City business and who knows when we will catch up with the backlog. I have repeatedly requested the council schedule special meetings to no avail, as the Mayor consistently objects and thus the backlog continues. Another request to my colleagues went out today for a special meeting and I have received a positive response from both Councilmember Rogers and Booze. Will await Councilman Butt’s response and if he is positive, a meeting will be held next week with or without the Mayor.
Tuesday night the Mayor started the meeting on the wrong track and we never recovered. The Executive Session which started at 5:30 PM, dealt with a personnel disciplinary item which the Mayor allowed to be discussed for one hour and forty five minutes which delayed the starting time of regular City Council Meeting from 6:30 to 7:15 PM. With 19 items on the regular agenda, this personnel item was not a high priority because the disciplinary action had already occurred; therefore further action and discussion could have waited. From my perspective, when the Council Meeting is scheduled to start at a precise time of 6:30 PM, it is important the Council adheres to the policy and start the meeting on time.
As a result, unfortunately the only item discussed was the living wage ordinance.  Two weeks ago the majority of the Council directed staff to reach out to stakeholders and provide feedback as to the minimum wage impact. This was necessary because the RPA (McLaughlin, Beckles and Myrick) authors of the initial minimum wage ordinance had failed to involve the community at large and in particular those who would be affected by the ordnance. To staff's credit, they held meetings with the participation of the business community and provided how the ordnance would affect them both in a positive as well as negative manner.
As a result of those meetings, several amendments were included in the first reading of the ordinance voted upon Tuesday night. Some of the amendments include the following:

  1. Employers who provide benefits would be credited a like amount counted towards the minimum wage.
  2. Employers of non-profit organizations would be exempt.
  3. Small business exemption would be based on full time employees hours paid.
  4. Tipped employees who currently receive extensive protection under state law would be exempt.
  5. Employers who are primarily passing through State or Federal grants would be exempt.
  6. Employees 18 years of age and under would be exempt. 
  7. The ordinance will be reviewed one year from the final adoption.

One interesting interchange occurred during the deliberation of the ordinance in which once the Butt and Rogers proposal began to surface and become more in line with the wishes of the business community, the Vice Mayor became irritated and suggested in her words, “what happened to our ordinance because I feel we have been hijacked," to the amusement of the audience and members of the Council. What the three of them did not recognize is that when an ordinance is presented, it no longer carries the author's signature as his or her personal item in that it becomes the full City Council item which is subject to modification, amendments, etc. at the will of the majority of the Council. Thereby the final passage of the ordinance becomes the Council's ordinance. One should have learned this message as a freshman in college and it is called politics 101.

There is an old story about two ships traveling down the river simultaneously and as the RPA ship began to sink because of lack of support, the rats began to jump ship and try and get on the other ship. That is exactly what happened last night when the votes were obviously going to be Butt, Rogers, Booze and Bates for a new living wage ordinance.  All of a sudden McLaughlin, Beckles and Myrick abandoned their position and surprisingly voted unanimously in support of the new ordinance. Apparently the RPA, with McLaughlin and Beckles in particular, have been boasting how they single handedly passed the living wage ordinance and as a result of the Council new action, those headlines will no longer be true.
A final item prior to adjourning at 11:30 PM was a request by the City Manager to approve $166,778 for a prefab restroom building in the Marina Bay Park. This item was a consent item but was removed by Vice Mayor Beckles who questioned the expense. When questioned if this item was reviewed by the Finance Committee, of which the Vice Mayor is not only a member, but is the chair, she stated the committee had not reviewed the item. The City Manager responded after reading his notes, that the item was in fact reviewed by the Finance Committee on April 4, 2014 with a unanimous recommendation for approval. I only bring this up to make a point in the next paragraph.
The new buzz around City Hall is how in the hell has the City developed a $20 million plus deficit. Councilman Booze asked the question about the amount of deficit during Tuesday night's meeting.  The City Manager was hesitant in responding and the Mayor cut him off and would not allow the City Manager to answer the question. For some unknown reason, a motion to end the debate by the Vice Mayor and seconded by the mayor was immediately passed to shut up Booze. Thereafter, I requested the Council be forwarded the amount of the deficit ASAP. Now we know what was going on between the mayor and vice mayor in that on the following day, the $20 million plus in the red surfaced. The big question is: how did we get into this financial situation and what have the Mayor and Vice Mayor, who is the Finance chair, been doing?  Why are they not doing their job in reviewing the finances of the City and informing the Council and the public of this financial disaster? Twenty plus million dollars is a large deficit and the only way this can be overcome, as I have stated in the past, is through staff layoffs. The Mayor has been boasting how she has single handedly brought in businesses and balanced a budget for the past 4 to 6 years. Yet, it is obvious the Mayor and Vice Mayor, who incidentally cannot remember approving a $166,778 item only a month ago, provide clear evidence they have been asleep at the wheel.
The big question is why is the mayor, vice mayor and city staff taking such a cavalier attitude and first not reporting this 20 plus million dollars deficit to the public and second not dealing with this drastic situation immediately is a mystery to me. We should be meeting day and night in trying to resolve this embarrassing situation while determining how this deficit will affect city services tomorrow and in the immediate future.
Dysfunctional, dysfunctional, dysfunctional and a total lack of leadership throughout city government from the elected official legislative branch through the executive office branch of government. Richmond desperately needs help.

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