City Council: Death and taxes

City Council kicked off its new session with life’s two unavoidable subjects: death, in this case the death of civic activist Ruby Giles Turner, and taxes, as in who has to pay them.

City Council kicked off its new session with life’s two unavoidable subjects: death, in this case the death of civic activist Ruby Giles Turner, and taxes, as in who has to pay them. The tax cuts in question are for non-profits ranging from a movie theater to the ex-felon rehabilitation agency Boaz and Ruth. More on the latter, later.

While not exactly festive, there’s a little about the place tonight as City Council returns from nearly six weeks off–I know I’m rested and ready for my second season. What started off as a relief gig, has turned into a regular starting job. I’m in my old rags, but everybody else, with two exceptions, is dressed for the occasion. Even Mayor Jones is here and let me tell you, he doesn’t know the meaning of a bad suit. Chris Hilbert has ditched his usual pinstripes for something more conservative, but his pate is shinier than ever. Reva Trammell is a symphony in black, Vice President Ellen Robertson sports a red jacket and business suit, and Kathy Graziano is wearing her best PTA presidential uniform. Now I’m wishing I’d worn my yellow Tweety Bird tie, but this is City Council not the Oscars, and we have serious work ahead, so let us begin.

Opening ceremonies conclude with a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11 and the first responders who lost their lives while saving others, Marty Jewell humbly accepts President Graziano’s condolences on the “somber occasion of his birth,” and Madame President has again rearranged the order of service. You’ll see how it unfolds below.

Awards and Presentations start off with three official month celebrations:

  • Richmond Workforce Development Month
  • Richmond Infant Mortality Awareness Month
  • Richmond Alcohol and Drug Addiction Month

Appropriate words are said about each of them. Next comes the happy news that Richmond has been declared Outside Magazine’s “Best Town Ever”. Noting that Richmond received more votes than its top five competitors combined, Mayor Jones asks the audience how many people voted twice. More than a few hands go up. The last award goes posthumously to Ruby Giles Turner for a lifetime of public service. Ruby, who passed away recently, was a Council favorite for decades, occupying her favorite seat center-right on the front row. Plans are to “retire” the seat and place a plaque on it in her memory. It will be the first time in City Council history this has been done.

The Consent Agenda retakes its place as the second order of business. 13 of 18 remaining items are tax exemptions. While not obvious, President Graziano explains that all properties belong to qualifying non-profits as laid out by the Council. What looks to be routine engenders a certain amount of discussion with all Council members chiming in, starting and finishing with Marty Jewell. Reflecting some backroom conflict, each member wants to stake out their position in advance–an odd turn of events for the usually routine Consent Agenda. This foreshadows things to come.

Other items on the Consent Agenda include an increase in penalties for repeat violators of animal control laws, a special use permit for Interbake Cookie Factory project, and $14,000 for a gang prevention program. Having had their say, the Consent Agenda passes easily.

Appointments and reappointments are next. These are completely routine to everyone except those being (re)appointed. Download the Formal Agenda (PDF) to review them yourself.

Citizen Comment consisted of five presentations by the urban chicken lobby. This has been discussed here previously, and there was no new ground broken tonight. Take my word for it, they will be back.

And now for the red meat of tonight’s session, the Regular Agenda, consisting entirely of tax exemptions too contentious for the Consent Agenda. The plan is for all items to be taken in toto. Out of 14 tax exemptions, eight are for Boaz and Ruth, four are for New Life for Youth and two for the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood. The only citizen comments concern Boaz and Ruth who have earned the opprobrium of Teddy Parham and Chris Dorsey who decry the “rape of the community” and call for divine and civil retribution on both the agency and City Council.

Director Emeritus, Martha Rollins and friends step forward to address Council’s concerns that they are running group homes, which they emphatically deny. After a lengthy procedural debate during which Marty Jewell all but calls Kathy Graziano a liar, they approve all eight Boaz and Ruth exemptions and one for Planned Parenthood. All New Life for Youth exemptions fail to pass. In total, exemptions passed this evening will cost the City $700,000 this year, covered mostly by money from the rainy day fund. No word was given on where the money will come from in years to come.

Final approval is then given to the memorial plaque for Ruby Giles Turner’s seat. Silver Persinger, who has returned to the fray, bemoans the cheap quality of the plaque and offers an extra $20 for a better one. In another 40 years he will qualify for one himself.

Tonight’s program ran about 3 1/2 hours excluding the excruciatingly boring reports and announcements section that comes at the end of every Council meeting. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. If you haven’t seen any, you can tune into Silver’s Richmond City Council Telegraph and Reporter. He is kind enough to parse out the entire meeting so you can skip to the part you are interested in.

Coming attractions will include always contentious sports venues, electioneering theatrics, and park funding. Decisions made here will continue to affect the future of our City. Most like they will include a few laughs along the way. Stay tuned!

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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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