Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones named two executives with experience in Virginia state government to top positions in the City Wednesday.
One was a seemingly quick and to some shocking announcement. There's already a new person in charge of finance and administration for the city.
Sharon Judkins' last official day with the city was Friday. Not even a week later, Mayor Dwight Jones named Norman Butts as the new deputy chief administrative officer for finance and administration. But, sources say the mayor had chosen Butts more than a month ago.
It is a complicated situation at city hall with many factors to balance. Under a cloud of controversy, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Sharon Judkins lost the job Norman Butts is now stepping into. The circumstances, which would've allowed her to take about $400,000 in tax dollars, are now under investigation.
Wednesday was our first opportunity to question the mayor on the issue, but in a room full of reporters, he cut that off before it ever started.
"Let me just mention that I can't address any matters that the commonwealth's attorney is reviewing," he stated.
With what on the surface could look like a quick turnaround, we asked the mayor if the hiring of Norman Butts was legal and fair. City code only requires the job ad be posted, but no time frame for how long it must be up before a hire is made is written.
"Yes, it's a fair hiring process and it's often the way things happen," Jones explained.
The new man in charge is no stranger to the inner workings of government. He said he is not concerned about coming in shortly after the tumultuous outing of the last chief.
"Not a bit, not a bit," he replied. "I've been involved in state and local government financial management for a number of years and things ebb and flow."
The lawyer, accountant, CFO and former elected official will play a crucial role in a city where money is consistently an issue and the mayor and city council just ended a showdown over the budget.
"I kind of analogize it as being down in the boiler room shoveling on the coal to make sure the ship of the city can function," Butts added.
The mayor was also asked if he still has confidence in Byron Marshall, the man at the center of the Judkins controversy. Jones says he will still work with the CAO. Marshall exited the press conference before the question and answer session began.
At the same press conference, Mayor Dwight Jones announced Debra Gardner as the permanent replacement for the head of human services. That means she'll be over of the embattled department of social services, as well.
It has been more than a year since we've had a permanent deputy chief administrative officer for human services. The last leader left a scandal-plagued agency in her wake and the mayor didn't mince words about that Wednesday.
He acknowledged the agency by most accounts left children in dangerous situations.
"Let's be honest, we have had some challenges in human services," he said.
Now, there's a step that could lead away from the troubled past.
"I believe that Debra Gardner, who is standing to my left, is the change agent we need to move these agencies forward," he explained.
Even with more than thirty years in public service, Gardner has her work cut out for her. We wanted to know what makes her different than the others brought in to fix this agency.
"I started out my career many, many years ago as a social worker," Gardner said. "So I am familiar with the system. I am familiar with how the system works."
Gardner will be working closely with David Hicks, the man named to help figure out what went wrong in social services.
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