|Administrative Junta Seizes
Reins of Power in Richmond
January 6, 2004
The movement toward an executive form of government and away from the council-manager form of government continues to gain ground in Richmond. The Charter intended the City Council to be the policy-making body in Richmond municipal government, and the way city councils make policy is through the adoption of resolutions and ordinances.
The first essential step in policy making is getting an issue on the agenda. At state and federal government levels, this process is largely controlled by powerful committee chairs of legislatures and Congress – but still by the legislative branch.
In Richmond, the agenda is controlled by a cabal of three City administrators and the mayor. This group has self-appointed themselves as gatekeepers of the agenda. Traditionally in Richmond government, any city council member may request that an item be placed on the agenda. In fact, recent policies voted on by the entire City Council as resolutions clearly support a council member’s right to place an item on the agenda.
With respect to placing items on the City Council Agenda, Resolution 22-00, Item 3, states:
“Placement of items on Regular and Special Meeting Agenda. The placement of any item on any regular or special meeting agenda shall be limited to the following: (1) the Mayor or any member of the City Council; (2) the City Manager; (3) the City Attorney; and (4) the City Clerk.”
In addition, the Minutes of the October 1, 2002, City Council meeting reflect the following procedure adopted by the City Council:
In the matter to consider proposed procedure for placing items on the City Council Agenda. Councilmember Belcher, Chairperson of the Rules & Procedures Standing Committee reported that the Committee recommendations for placing items on the City Council’s agenda: (1) any City Councilmember may place an item on the agenda, (2) the Committee recommends the City Clerk be the contact for requests by City Councilmembers for placement of items on the City Council agenda, (3) the deadline for submitting agenda items shall be the same for Councilmembers and staff, (4) during a City Council meeting a City Councilmember may verbally direct the City Clerk to place an item on a future agenda, and (5) the Committee recommends adding a section to the agenda titled: Agenda Review. During Agenda Review changes may be made to the Council Agenda, i.e., withdrawing agenda items, continuing items can be made in order to alleviate the public having to wait. Discussion ensued; the Council amended the recommendations to include Councilmembers may request the placement of items to be discussed in an Executive Session, and place the Agenda Review section after the section entitled Statement of Conflict of Interest. Following discussion, on motion of Councilmember Viramontes, seconded by Councilmember Penn approved the procedure for placing items on the City Council agenda by the unanimous vote of the Council.
I think it is clear that City Council members have the right to place items on the agenda and that they may do so simply by request to the City Clerk.
Once an item is placed on the agenda, the mayor has the power, in an open meeting and subject to override by the City Council, to continue an item for up to two weeks. The Charter, Article III-A, Section 2, (e) states:
Continuance Authority. The Mayor shall have the authority to continue any item being considered by the City Council at a Council meeting for up to two weeks. The Council may override an action taken by the Mayor to continue an item by the affirmative vote of five members of the Council.
The most recent exercise of power by this junta occurred when I requested the January 6 agenda to include a discussion of service cuts resulting from the layoffs instituted on January 1, 2004. I was informed that “Mayor Anderson, Assistant City Manager Jay Corey, Assistant City Manager Leveron Bryant, and City Attorney Wayne Nishioka … discussed the matter, “and the City Clerk’s Office was “ … directed to remove the matter from the agenda.”
The four persons listed above had previously requested that I not place the item on the agenda, but I refused. It appears that they took care of the matter themselves. The erosion of democracy in Richmond continues.