Richmond City Council pushes for crackdown on corruption

Richmond City Council pushes for crackdown on corruption

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Richmond City Council is cracking down corruption inside Richmond City Hall. A measure to create an Ethics Reform Task Force is slated for a vote next month. The goal is to tackle cronyism and unfair practices. This effort comes after former Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones left office after a state police and FBI investigation. No charges were brought.

Jones was accused of having a member of his staff use city-time to help build his church.

"Nothing about the way that this matter was handled, I think reflects well on the administration," said Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Herring, last November, when he announced the results of the investigation.

Jones had actually called for the investigation after a city audit revealed his administration's alleged misuse of city resources.

Herring said the whole thing "smacked of cronyism" and that the city needs to review its corruption laws. "Ineffective or that policy as enforced, is toothless," said Herring at the time of Richmond's policies.

City Council member Kristen Larson introduced legislation to create an Ethics Reform Task Force, last month. The measure already got unanimous approval by a council sub-committee.

"There are certain situations that may not cross the line of the law, but don't pass the smell test," said City Council member Kim Gray, who is on the subcommittee.

Certain situations that have caused controversy include former Mayor Jones' higher-up executives leaving office with $166,000 in severance pay. Last month, former city auditor Umesh Dalal stepped down with a near $400,000 buyout package. An ordinance introduced by Gray and passed last month will now base severance pay on a fixed-formula taking into account number of years served.

"It will eliminate the golden parachutes that we saw with the exit of political appointees and other personnel within city hall," said Gray.

Gray says the task force will also tackle conflicts of interest, like employees working on city deals involving their family members, or workers taking on inappropriate roles outside their job.

"There have been instances where folks have been contracted by outside entities to do lobby work for the city, while they're still employed with the city," continued Gray.

Mayor Stoney's press secretary Jim Nolan says the mayor is in full support of an ethics reform task force.

"The mayor wholeheartedly supports the idea of an independent ethics commission to help ensure accountability and transparency in local governance," said Nolan.

If approved, the Ethics Reform Task Force would have until March of 2018 to submit recommendations.

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