Reaction to Parks and Rec investigation

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – It continues to be the talk of City Hall today -- a scathing report that blasts the Parks and Recreation Department for misusing taxpayer money. As we first told you last night at 11, the director of the department has resigned.

The unfinished desk, sitting in storage, is at the heart of the controversy. It was supposed to replace a counter at the Pine Camp Community Center. Because of overtime it cost $12,000 to make and medical bills paid when a worker suffered a groin injury put the price tag at $36,000.

"You just can't, absolutely can't make this up," said Councilman Chris Hilbert.

The community center is in Councilman Hilbert's district. He says he can think of dozens of things that money could have been used for.

"It's just outrageous. We need lighting at Pine Camp. We need performing arts programs, and fine arts programs," he said.

According to an investigation by the city auditor, a Parks and Recreation employee was caught sleeping on the job and there were abuses of overtime and city vehicles.

Under policy city vehicles are not allowed outside city limits when not on official business. Over 20 workdays, one Parks and Recreation vehicle was taken to Henrico and Chesterfield counties 18 times. Sixteen of those trips were made during work hours.

"There absolutely seems to be a management problem. And it is the responsibility of the administration to address that," said City Council President Kathy Graziano.

J.R. Pope has resigned as director of the parks department. We're told the auditor's report was a factor, but there were other undisclosed reasons.

"I'm saddened by this by his leaving. I wish the mayor hadn't accepted his resignation," said Maureen Egan.

Egan is the president of Friends of the James River Park. She defended Pope's legacy.

"He's done restoration at Fountain Lake in Byrd Park, Bryan Park looks so much better, Battery Park. There are dozens of new playgrounds in the city," she said.

Chris Hull of the James River Outdoor Coalition also worked closely with Pope.

"We're just very disappointed at the loss, what we think is strong leader for the city," he said.

We're told this investigation is the just the tip of the iceberg. A full audit of Parks and Recreation Department will be revealed in the next month.

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