Richmond Mayor's office's actions questioned - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Richmond Mayor's office's actions questioned

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

A recent move by Mayor Dwight Jones' administration reorganizing city departments may be illegal, because it wasn't authorized by Richmond City Council.

The shift takes public information officers for the police, public works, public utilities and parks and recreation departments and puts them under the Office of the Mayor's Press Secretary.

In an email to department heads, Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall wrote the change is "pursuant to the Mayor's desire of improving the quality and consistency of messaging."

Critics say the move hurts the flow of information to the public and might violate parts of the city charter.

"Without including city council from the beginning it does raise eyebrows," explains City Council President Charles Samuels.

One section of the charter says the Chief Administrative Officer has the power to assign employees "to the temporary performance of duties in another department, bureau, office or agency." Any reorganization can only happen by an act of council. The charter says, "The City Council may establish administrative departments, bureaus, divisions, or offices, or may alter, combine or abolish existing administrative departments, bureaus, divisions or offices."

Some Richmonders say this administration has a history of asking forgiveness after the fact, instead of asking for permission. President Samuels maintains his job is to make sure the council and the mayor's office are working together for the betterment of the city.

"As long as the administration is willing to come along on that ride, I'm not going to have any problems but if we continue to see a pattern of things happening after the fact, there probably could be a very real problem," he asserted.

Here's why you should care: As a citizen of the City of Richmond, you want to know about crime in your neighborhoods. Sources tell NBC12 a conflict developed when Richmond Police put out information about a teen shot on the south side. On the very same day, the mayor was at City Hall, holding a press conference to congratulate the Mayor's Youth Academy students hired for Kings Dominion jobs. The story about the police investigation was more widely covered than the one about seasonal jobs. We're told the stories were seen as competing, not informing the public.

"It's not going to do a whole lot to encourage transparency," said Councilman Jon Baliles, who used to work in the press secretary's office. "It's just going to be assembling every public information officer under one umbrella and I think that's going to restrict their ability to get information to the public."

After asking for information from the press secretary's office several times Wednesday, late in the afternoon it defended the move, confirming for the first time it is temporary at this time.

In an email to NBC12, Public Information Manager Mike Wallace wrote, "So that you'll understand the nature of the change, from the communications perspective, we are looking for more productivity and service efficiency. As you may know, the press office has always had some organizational oversight of city PIOs. The press secretary serves as the communications director for the city. The enhanced structure is designed to formalize that oversight more with the objective being to improve the quality and consistency of messaging; to bring some consistency to city documents, brochures and publications created for promotional purposes; to bring better coordination between departments for public events and special events; to strengthen brand and image management across a range of media like the web and social media; to maximize advertising buys and advertising opportunities given that buying as one unit can cut down on costs; and to bring more balance to the responsibility of covering late hour events, weekend events and emergency operations."

Samuels says he hopes the administration will present the ordinance at the next council meeting in less than a week.

Copyright 2013 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.

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