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Nat Bates To Raise Issue Of Marshall Walker Paid Leave
October 18, 2001
In an upcoming campaign initiative, Nat Bates will accuse the City council majority of misuse of public funds for the continuing support of Marshall Walker as president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 790, one of the largest locals of one of the country's largest and most powerful unions. Bates has raised this issue previously, including complaining to the District Attorney, but no illegality has been found.

Since April 17, 1996, the City of Richmond has paid full salary and benefits to Marshall Walker, officially an Urban Planner for the Richmond Redevelopment Agency, while he serves as full-time president of SEIU 790. Since 1996, the City of Richmond has paid Mr. Walker $425,678 in salary and benefits, plus he has accrued $11,431 in unused vacation time and an undetermined amount of unused sick leave that could be converted toward retirement credits.

Proponents of continued City support for Mr. Walker cite a number of advantages and justifications that make this a good investment for the City. Mr. Walker claims that the union's political connections with state and Federal government and his position as head of the union have resulted in substantial good will and grants that have accrued to the City's benefit, the value of which, far exceed his compensation. Among these are the $20 million in Federal grants for the Ford Building rehabilitation, which Walker says, were the result of his political contacts and lobbying. Also cited are examples of other public agencies who sponsor similar subsidies in the interest of promoting good will and stable relationships with public employee unions to keep compensation packages reasonable while avoiding strikes or other labor unrest. These claims, of course, are impossible to either verify or disprove.

Detractors, such as Mr. Bates, simply characterize the Walker arrangement as a payoff for support by the union for certain city council candidates. What is interesting, however, is that Mr. Bates has his own favorite unions, the RPOA and Local 188, who not only support him, but supplement his campaign with tens of thousands of dollars in hit pieces aimed at his opponents. Earlier this year, Bates made an effort to push through a version of the "3 per cent at 50" public safety employees pension plan that would have cost the city an additional $5 million to $9 million annually, an amount that makes Walker's salary look like chicken feed.

Reportedly, Bates' effort was a payback to the RPOA and Local 188 for Bates' promise to deliver an uncompromised 3% at 50 earlier this year. Bates' efforts on behalf of RPOA and Local 188 failed by one vote but had an interesting side effect. Bates apparently counted Councilmember Belcher as his fifth vote but forgot to tell Belcher that his vote had been "sold" for Bates' benefit. When Belcher failed to deliver, Bates, Darrell Reese, and the Firefighters Local 188 were livid. To punish Belcher, they recruited Lynn Wade, wife of John Wade, a captain in the fire department, to run against Belcher. Wade was promptly endorsed and supported by Local 188 and its alter ego, also controlled by Darell Reese, the BMW.

The fallout from this episode, where Belcher, a respected African American clergyman and City Council member, has been denigrated by an organization that supposedly represents African Americans (BMW stands for "Black Men and Women") has roiled Richmond's African American community and caused many voters to reexamine traditional loyalties.

Incidentally, Local 790 has endorsed Anderson for mayor, and the RPOA and Firefighters 188 have endorsed Bates. Shortly after her endorsement by Local 790, Anderson committed publicly to support the proposal by Local 790 to continue operating the Wastewater Treatment Plan, even before competing proposal had been evaluated. Anderson also placed on the City Council agenda a resolution guaranteeing that City street sweeping would remain totally under Local 790 control.

What does it all mean?