12 Investigates: Reasons & Timing behind Richmond government changes

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - NBC12 is digging up new information on accusations the mayor's office is hindering the flow of information to the public by reorganizing government without city council's permission.

We're investigating why the changes, which move public information officers under the mayor's press secretary, are wanted and how long they can go on.

Sources say this was in fact the mayor's idea, but the way it was executed is what caused the problems.

We've learned the mayor's intention in wanting this last spring was for uniformity of information citywide.

As it stands right now, spokespeople for Richmond Police, public works, public utilities and parks and recreation report to the mayor's press secretary, not their department heads. That started a month ago after an email from Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall to agency leaders.

But the directive went further, giving the office approval over work product, leave requests, schedules, hiring and firing.  City Hall insiders tell NBC12 there's a good chance the only parts of the consolidation that will go forward will deal with communications, not the day-to-day administrative responsibilities.

Press Secretary Tammy Hawley would only say Wednesday they have reorganized the reporting authority and whether or not it will be permanent has not been decided.

The city charter only gives the CAO power to make temporary changes, but doesn't define the word temporary.

We asked City Council President Charles Samuels how long he thinks this can go on. "I think this needs to come quickly to a resolution in the next two weeks," he responded.

We also wanted to know what would happen if the administration does not propose a paper with the change soon. "Well, they can't keep it like this forever without council approval," Samuels added. "Realistically, they have to move it back to the way it was. We can't have something run on forever."

Several council members say they're going to need some convincing because to them, it doesn't appear this change will help inform the public. Some believe it will actually make city government less transparent.

The next formal council meeting is in two weeks. That will be the CAO's next opportunity to present a paper asking permission for the change.

Related Story: Do any other cities or counties in Virginia place police public information officers (PIOs) under the control of one entity? - 12 INVESTIGATES: PIOs under one entity

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