Transparency accusations fly as Richmond mayoral candidates spar over stadium plans

Transparency accusations fly as Richmond mayoral candidates spar over stadium plans

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Joe Morrissey says if he's elected mayor he will push to change Richmond's charter to prevent public funds from being spent on any professional sports complex without a public vote on the issue.

Morrissey, a former state delegate and the current frontrunner in Richmond's mayoral race, said he would urge City Council members to ask Virginia's General Assembly to vote on the change.

"Down the road, into perpetuity, I don't ever want this to happen again, where we're spending the kind of money that we are on professional sports complexes, without approval," said Morrissey.

Morrissey announced the proposal at a Thursday press conference on the heels of Monday's announcement of a non-binding resolution between the City, VCU and the Richmond Flying Squirrels for a baseball stadium complex near the Boulevard. The $55 million complex would be largely funded by VCU and the Squirrels. However, it's unclear how much, if any, city dollars would be put toward the project.

Morrissey blasted fellow mayoral candidate Levar Stoney for not revealing until the last couple days his involvement in closed-door talks between the three parties involved in the Memorandum of Understanding.

"Yet another candidate, Mr. Stoney, has admitted to secretly being involved in a backroom deal to finance the baseball stadium," said Morrissey.

Stoney says Governor Terry McAuliffe appointed him to facilitate negotiations while he served as Secretary of the Commonwealth between the entities so that baseball would remain in Richmond. Stoney says he continued attending the meetings even after he resigned from his secretary position, to run for mayor.

"My mission was never to take credit for any of the discussions… I wanted to see (the negotiations) to the end, hopefully, to produce what we produced this past Monday. That was the memorandum of understanding, that will now allow for baseball to remain in the city, and also to relieve the tax burden from city residents," said Stoney when questioned about why he hadn't disclosed his involvement earlier. "Mr. Morrissey is once again taking a page out of the Trump playbook, by grandstanding."

Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones' administration did reveal that negotiations were underway with VCU and the Squirrels. However, the public wasn't updated on the details or progress despite promises of an update within 90 days. When NBC12 asked the city for more information weeks after that self-imposed deadline had passed, the City responded that there was no update to report.

Morrissey also accused mayoral candidate Jack Berry of supporting Mayor Jones' proposal for a Shockoe Bottom stadium while working as Director of Venture Richmond and then flip-flopping on the issue publicly, even criticizing the Jones administration.

"The ballpark belongs to the people of Richmond, and we need to keep citizens abreast of every step in the process.  As Mayor, I will hold bi-weekly public briefings on this project to ensure complete transparency," Jack Berry wrote in a statement. "What we don't need is a candidate who failed to remove himself or even disclose his involvement after announcing his intention to run for Mayor, meanwhile working to influence the outcome behind closed doors. We also don't need a candidate who continues to showboat to make headlines, first calling to renovate the Diamond, then calling to keep city money out of the project, then calling for a referendum."

Stoney also pointed out that Mayor Jones' administration called for half a dozen community meetings to involve the public in how the Boulevard should be developed. However, it's not known what public input was brought into the meetings between the city, VCU and the Squirrels over the stadium at this point because the meetings were private.

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