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  City Council Finally Leaves the Tracks
March 13, 2014

In an election year with everyone on the City Council but me campaigning for something, I suppose it’s not surprising that the fear of losing an election has overtaken the satisfaction of making rational choices. The entire City Council seems to have adopted the “The Campaigner’s Creed,” which goes something like this:

  1. “Never say no to anyone. Ever”
  2.  “Never do anything to make anyone unhappy. Ever. Each unhappy person is a vote for your opponent.”
  3. “Never turn down a request from a business interest or developer. That’s kissing a campaign contribution goodbye.”
  4. “Whatever the press says must be true.”


Last night, The Richmond City Council, sitting, with two resident commissioners as the nine-member Board of Commissioners of the Housing Authority, voted 6-3 to ignore the advice of City Manager Bill Lindsay and hold a no-confidence vote on two City employees.  See Lindsay’s advice copied at the end of this email.

Then, they voted unanimously, with me absent, to spend $500,000 that the City does not have to move some 130 people out of Hacienda as soon as possible. In the process, they will use up money for approximately 130 Section 8 vouchers that were being held in reserve because of anticipated further HUD funding cuts resulting from the sequester. Worst case scenario is that when that money goes away, Hacienda residents that will have been scattered all over in privately owned Section 8 rentals will lose their vouchers and will become homeless. No one conducted a poll to find out how many Hacienda residents would rather move out on Section 8 vouchers rather than stay. A vocal minority of Hacienda residents has been controlling this agenda ever since the yellow press descended on Richmond. See Campaigner’s Creed, items 1, 2 and 4.

Whatever problems it has, at least Hacienda groups together people who have need of certain social services, making it convenient for both providers and recipients. For example, the Housing Authority has an MOU with the CCC Mental Health and Vocational Services Department, which has an office on site at the Hacienda #115 and provides mental health and vocational services to the residents. Once they are scattered, service will be much more difficult.

Most people don’t seem to understand that the Richmond Housing Authority is supposed to be a 100% HUD-funded operation. All the City is supposed to do is manage it. When the City kicks in $500,000 it doesn’t have, that’s money that will never be paid back and will not be spent for public safety, potholes and parks. It’s like a subsidy to the federal government by Richmond taxpayers.

The City Council and the press, inexplicably, continue to ignore the fact that the root cause of the Housing Authority’s problems is severe underfunding by HUD. Instead, they want to blame Housing Authority staff, each other, racism, classism, elitism and anyone and anything else other than the agency responsible.

HUD Chair

This was all against the advice of Tim Jones who recommended at least waiting 90-120 days with the chance that HUD might pay for it rather than the City.

I left the meeting before the vote was taken because chaos reigned in the chamber and the mayor was either unable or unwilling to keep order and allow me to even speak on the issue.

If there is any good news it is that ultimately when Bates’ “no confidence” vote was taken, it failed with Booze, Bates and Thompson voting yes, McLaughlin and Myrick  abstaining, Hall and Rogers no, and Butt and Beckles absent.

Mayor and Members of the City Council:

You may recall nearly a year ago that the agenda for the April 2, 2013 City Council meeting included an agenda item, "Adopt a Resolution calling for Restoration of Public Trust through the Removal of Executive City Employee."  This item was placed on the agenda by Mayor McLaughlin and Councilmember Beckles.  At that time, I recommended to the City Council that the item be tabled without discussion or public comment, and the Council voted in a manner consistent with that recommendation.

The March 12, 2014 special meeting of the City Council (meeting as the Housing Authority Board) similarly includes item F-2, “Vote of no confidence in the performance of:  (1) Tim Jones, RHA Executive Director, and (2) Kathleen Jones, RHA Administrative Staff - Commissioner Bates.”  For the reasons outlined in this email, and consistent with the views that I have expressed to the Council in the past, I am recommending that this item be tabled without discussion or public comment.

Purely from the perspective of Council authority, and purely as a statement, I understand this to be a legally permissible action.  However, I believe that the proposed action raises serious issues regarding City Council encroachment into personnel matters that are inconsistent with the city manager form of government and could possibly lead to violations of State law regarding employee privacy.

As your city manager, I have obligations under the Charter to administer City affairs, including the appointment and removal of City employees who are not otherwise direct appointees of the City Council (i.e., city manager, city attorney, city clerk, and confidential investigative appeals officer).  Moreover, I have an ethical obligation as a city manager to administer these City affairs objectively and independently.

Tenet 10 of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Code of Ethics states that an obligation of a city manager includes to, "Resist any encroachment on professional responsibilities, believing the (ICMA) member should be free to carry out official policies without interference, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice."

This tenet is rooted in good government.  Employees of the City of Richmond, or of any city, should be able to undertake their responsibilities without fear of political reprisal.  While there are no stated reasons for the proposed “no confidence” vote, I will assume that there is a concern regarding the work performance of the employees in question.  Nonetheless, the form of the proposed action could be easily extended into situations where political judgments or acrimony are factored into a perception of work performance.  One can see a city council adopting a resolution calling for the removal of an employee who lawfully issues a building permit for an entitled development project that no longer has political support; or for the removal of a police chief who refuses to "fix" a ticket.  With respect to the Housing Authority, it could extend to proposing removal of an employee who seeks to enforce valid rules regarding tenant behavior, rental collection, or Section 8 administration.  An important role of a city manager is, in part, to prevent encroachment on an employee’s ability to carry out officially adopted policies and professional responsibilities.  The proposed agenda item leaves the door open for that type of encroachment.

In addition, the proposed action is at least premature.  The City Council has, I believe wisely, directed that there be a thorough, independent, management audit of the Richmond Housing Authority.  In my view, it is important to assess the performance of the Housing Authority as an entire organizational entity, rather than to single out individuals for blame, especially before the management audit has been completed.  The Council-approved audit will be useful to determine how the Richmond Housing Authority can improve, and will undoubtedly go beyond personnel changes in its recommendations.

Finally, a public forum such as a City Council meeting, does not offer an opportunity for the Council to be circumspect and cautious in dealing with this matter, and may not be conducive to respecting employee privacy rights.  By their very nature, comments by the public and by Councilmembers on the proposed action may well intrude on the rights of employees.

In sum, I believe that the proposed “no confidence” vote is (1) a serious encroachment on the professional responsibilities of your city manager, (2) an action that is being taken without full knowledge of the facts in this case, and (3) potentially intrusive of employee rights.

As I indicated above, I am recommending that the Council adopt a motion to table the agenda item, with no debate on this motion and with a simple majority required for passage.

I understand that this recommendation will not sit well with at least some City Councilmembers.   I also know that the City Council is interested in setting an example of respectful dialogue as a policymaking body.  Discussion on the proposed action (F-2) will not set such an example.

I appreciate your thoughtful consideration of my recommendation on this important issue. As always, it is a privilege to serve the Richmond community.


Bill Lindsay
City Manager

The rest of this year is going to be a miserable time to be on the Richmond City Council.