City Council: A clear cut mistake

It’s a cold drizzly night, and there’s a sparse crowd for the inaugural Council session of 2013. Not much on the agenda, although it looks like the Redskins training camp has stepped in a big pile of doo-doo.

It’s a cold drizzly night, and there’s a sparse crowd for the inaugural Council session of 2013. There’s a few changes this evening. Not only do we have three new councilmembers and a new president, but everyone except Reva Trammel and Ellen Robertson has decided to change seats. I’m not sure why, but Chris Hilbert has moved all the way across the chamber and is now sitting directly in front of me. Where once I had the contemplative countenance of Marty Jewell, I now am looking directly at the back of Chris Hilbert’s head. Jon Baliles has moved across the way and is sitting in Doug Conner’s old seat and Kathy Graziano is sitting where Samuels used to sit. Maybe it was first come, first serve and whoever called “dibs” got to sit where they wanted. I wonder who came in last? It feels like the first day of school.

There’s precious little business on the docket tonight, but here’s what happened before we got here. Sheriff Woody decided to fire his family, something City Council asked for some time back. In the other branch of law enforcement, Police Chief Brian T. Norwood may be leaving soon for Raleigh, all of which means there will be some job openings and something to talk about. With the new City Jail on the rise, expect some news on that front also.

Before we start, there’s time for a little housekeeping. C. Wayne Taylor has pointed out that despite what was reported here, the City Charter only entitles the Council President to preside over meetings and he’s right, as far as that goes. In practice it is another thing. The Council chooses its president by majority vote, in this case a unanimous vote, and that gives him a lot of leverage in both appointments and running the agenda. In addition, as the head of the Council, he represents it in public meetings and is the defacto contact with the Mayor. The power of the gavel is no small thing either, unless Marty Jewell is in the room, which he is not, who simply ignored it. The president, while he can muster five votes, has a lot to say about what goes on here. How Samuels handles the job is going to be one of the more interesting things to watch these next two years.

And finally the Redskins Training Camp has stepped in a big pile doo-doo. Here’s the story as told by the flurry of press release sent out today starting with Samuels.

This weekend I drove past the Redskins training site to see how construction was moving along. I was shocked when I saw that every single tree on the property had been removed.

The agreement between the Administration and myself was that, while there would be a one-for-one tree replacement for any tree that had to come down, as many trees as possible would remain”

From Mayor Jones:

I was taken aback to learn that more trees were removed from the site than originally anticipated. This is counter to our commitment to protect the older hardwood trees at the west end of the property. We are reviewing the matter to determine what mistakes were made so that we can prevent further problems from occurring.

From Chris Hilbert

I am disgusted and outraged in learning about the total destruction of all the trees at the planned Washington Redskins Football training site in our city. … This incident is shocking and calls into question the entire management of this project and I want to get to the bottom of it.

And this from Chris Dorsey:

You can’t eat or breath football (although some would dispute that), but we do breath the oxygen from the trees the Redskins destroyed.

This will be fodder for future Council meetings.

On to tonight’s business, such as it is. After opening ceremonies, there’s one award to present, and it is a big one, even the Mayor is here to bask in the glory of one of Richmond’s most beloved public servants, Ralph White. Ralph was here a couple months ago for a personal goodbye, now his 35 years of service are to be officially recognized by the Council. It is a short, pleasant and necessary ceremony witnessed and applauded by the small crowd gathered here tonight.

Two speakers are here. Valerie West of Chickunz is here to introduce herself to the new Councilmembers and offer her expertise when the new hen ordinance comes up for a vote next meeting, and Richard Walker is here to speak on behalf of the plight of ex-offenders who face discrimination in housing and employment. The result he says is they end up homeless, separated from their families, and a burden on society. He would like to lift the ban on felons from public housing and remove questions about criminal records from City employment applications.

Next the Council whittles an already small agenda. Three of eight items are dropped from the Consent Agenda and the entire regular Agenda is continued. The only real item of note is the new nightclub ordinance, which gives the City greater flexibility in zoning and granting permits. The ordinance exempts all existing clubs. It was approved last week by the Planning Commission and garners very little discussion. It, along with the rest of the items, passes unanimously.

It was a good night for the new Council people to get their feet wet. You can tell they are still getting used to the roles. As President Samuels calls on each of them to give their reports, he congratulates them and wishes them well. They in turn give their reports, which consists mostly of how glad they are to be here. Everyone seems a little bit nervous in their new roles. Councilman Hilbert looks ready step into the role of chief pot stirrer, perhaps supported by Ellen Robertson with whom he planned to serve as Vice President. Reva Trammell will be casting about for new friends and may join them, but there is no solid block opposing the new leadership. President Samuels will be able to count on at least six votes which should mean smoother, shorter meetings for the foreseeable future.

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Paul Hammond

Paul has been writing about life and politics in Richmond for 11 years. You can often find him walking his dog up and down Franklin Street and yes, he does bite, the dog that is.

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