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Media Coverage
Richmond approves 200 layoffs
April 15, 2004


The City Council approved actions Tuesday designed to directly and indirectly net $11.5 million in savings, including the layoffs of more than 200 workers and paying up to $125,000 to the law firm representing the city in labor talks.

The council also voted to create a "blue-ribbon committee" to choose still another consultant to evaluate the city's financial practices.

But with the abrupt departure of interim City Manager Jay Corey, no sign of a confirmed audit that was due out March 30, and no haste to collect revenues over the past few sobering weeks through existing mechanisms, many in the community expressed flagging confidence in city officials.

Bond counsel John Knox declined comment about the status of a program to salvage $28 million, mainly through bond conversions and fund transfers.

More than 40 speakers lined up to plead on behalf of programs for seniors, youths and the disabled -- and to blast the council for its choices.

"I cannot believe that you would even consider taking away the pleasures enjoyed by our seniors, that we as non-paid volunteers worked so hard to create," said Arnie Kasendorf, who heads up the commission on aging and is facing the closure of a senior center.

"Why would you pay $25,000 for (a salary survey)?" said Kathy Scharff. "Did you know the California League of Cities provides that information (at no cost)?"

The salary survey would be done by the law firm of Winston & Strawn, whom the council also voted to retain through June 30, at a cost of $75,000 to $100,000.

Purchasing manager Chris Schroeder questioned how it would speed up the city's financial recovery to eliminate his department.

"This city has a long history of poor purchasing practices," he said. "Is it any wonder we're in the place we're in? Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish. You need purchasing now more than ever."

But in the end, only two council members voted against the cuts, aimed at vaporizing a $7 million shortfall by the end of this fiscal year.

The one change that appeared to instill public confidence was Leveron Bryant's new role as acting city manager: Usually pensive and self-effacing, Bryant stood and grinned at the prolonged ovation that greeted the news.

"Everybody loves Leveron," said Corky Booze. "They know he can get the job done."

It will be the second time Bryant has taken the helm; the first was a period of about six months between the departure of former City Manager Floyd Johnson and the arrival of Isiah Turner, who retired in January.

"He did a good job keeping things together," Councilman Tom Butt said. "He probably knows more about the city than anyone up there right now. In baseball lingo, he's a 'utility man' -- and he's an honest, straightforward guy."

Bryant, who said he took the job with the condition that he could bring together civic and business players to brainstorm revenue sources, told the council Tuesday he will return next week with a spate of money-making recommendations.

"The model is that of a business roundtable," he said to the applause of the audience. "It's a daunting challenge, but we have to make the effort."

Butt excoriated the staff for resorting to layoffs when they've failed to jump on revenue-generating ideas.

"December 2, the City Council voted unanimously to direct the city manager to produce a study in 90 days of benefit assessment districts," he said. "That would have been March 2, and March 2 is long gone. The staff also promised us a full report April 13 and now April 13 is almost gone. I've lost faith in our senior staff."

A number of residents called on officials to pursue bankruptcy protection.

"Bankruptcy, as hard as it seems, is not that bad," said Naomi Williams. "Other cities have done that and they are on their feet." Council members have recoiled at the word in weeks past, fearful of a plunging bond rating and bondholder lawsuits.

Bond counsel John Knox declined comment on the matter.