Did arena developers pay people to hold signs at a Richmond City Council meeting?

Did arena developers pay people to hold signs at a Richmond City Council meeting?
The Richmond Coliseum was built in 1971.

Activists are accusing the development team behind a major arena proposal of paying people who held signs supporting the controversial $1.5 billion plan at Richmond City Council meeting this week.

And so far, no one’s denying the payments occurred.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, an opponent of the redevelopment proposal, said she was surprised to see members of her extended family at the City Council meeting Tuesday night but then disappointed to learn why they were there.

“They told me in confidence that they were getting paid $25 and that they just showed up to hold a sign and that’s what they were asked to do,” Wise said. “And this is not the first time.”

Wise tweeted out what she’d learned during the meeting, tagging the developer’s consultant she’d heard made the payment, former City Council President Michelle Mosby.

Mosby promptly responded to Wise’s tweet, framing the payments as a reimbursement for gas.

“Hun if anyone got anything it’s because they said they supported the project on their own based on information they had learned.. stop acting as though gas doesn’t cost…and as if the people don’t have their own mind,” Mosby wrote.

Mosby didn’t respond to repeated messages or phone calls seeking additional comment. Efforts to contact members of the audience who allegedly received compensation were also unsuccessful.

A spokesman for NH District Corp., which is the lead developer, confirmed that Mosby was hired to work on “community engagement, workforce development and training.” But asked directly about the allegation people were paid $25 to attend, he said he had no comment.

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.