Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2021  
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  Calling for Resignation of the Richmond City Manager and City Attorney
June 23, 2021

This is the story:

In 2017, I discovered that the building originally known as the “Richmond  Intermodal Transit Center,” built at cost of several million dollars largely from grants, had become obsolete before it was completed. It was originally envisioned as a combination ticket office and information center for intermodal transit riders. Meanwhile, transit tickets had all become electronic and were procured on line, and there were no funds and no interest in a public agency maintaining what would be an information dispensing function at that location. The City of Richmond was deriving no income from the building but was having to bear the full cost of maintaining it.

The building had become closed to the public and was unused except for three R-Transit employees working in the office portion. BART police sporadically used the conference room as an office, but there was no formal arrangement to do so with the City of Richmond, which owned the building as well as the entire surrounding plaza – and also bore the full costs of maintaining them. There had been recent acts of violence at the BART station, and it was widely considered that the station was unsafe.

I learned that there were 8,000 BART boardings daily at that location plus Capitol Corridor boardings, and I began to think about how the building could be used to promote Richmond to those 8,000 BART riders and Capital Corridor riders as well as provide a presence (“eyes on the street”) to deter crime and violence.

The Richmond Main Street Initiative (RMSI) office was only a block away, and their lease had run out. I formed the idea of bringing together RMSI and VisitRichmond CA as co-tenants of the building and providing them space essentially rent free in exchange for promoting Richmond. I talked the idea over with City Manager Bill Lindsay, who was both supportive and encouraging He verified that the R-Transit employees had no need to be located there and would be better off in City Hall where they could be supervised and where there was plenty of space available. They were eventually moved back to City Hall.

Both Richmond Main Street Initiative, Inc., and VisitRichmond CA (formerly Richmond Visitors and Convention Bureau), were nonprofit corporations organized as Business Improvements Districts created by the City of Richmond and funded by assessments on businesses to improve conditions in defined business areas or economic sectors.  The mission of RMSI is, “The Richmond Main Street Initiative, Inc. is a community-based nonprofit corporation dedicated to revitalizing historic Downtown Richmond as a pedestrian-friendly urban village, offering products, services, arts, and entertainment that reflect the community’s rich and diverse heritage.” VisitRichmond CA dissolved in 2020 because its chief funders, a trio of hotels, refused to participate in renewing its charter.

I presented the Richmond Visitor Center plan to the City Council and to the public as part of the State of the City presentation in February of 2018. It became a project of the Mayor’s Office with assistance from Janet Johnson, Shasa Curl, the City Manager’s Office and the City Attorney’s Office. My involvement was consistent with the duties and powers of the mayor as defined in the Charter:

Article III-A, Section 2(a): Political Position. The Mayor shall be the chief elected officer and ceremonial head of the City, responsible for providing civic leadership and taking issues to the people, and marshalling public interest in and support for municipal activity. The Mayor shall be concerned with the general development of the community and the general level of City services and activity programs and may develop and inform City residents of policies and programs which he or she believes are necessary for the welfare of the City.

Figure 1- State of the City slide from February 27, 2018. “In just a few months, the building at the Richmond BART Station originally intended to be a transit center will be repurposed as the Richmond Visitor Center. The Richmond Main Street Initiative and Visit Richmond CA will move their offices into the space, which may also include a Richmond-themed store. This is the busiest pedestrian location in Richmond with 8,000 persons a day passing through.”

Over a period of several months, I facilitated the eventual relocation of RMSI, but VisitRichmond CA balked. They insisted on some more extensive tenant improvements that I thought were unnecessary. So I pivoted to another concept, that of a Richmond themed merchandise store that would sell Richmond themed apparel and gear as well as artwork by Richmond artists, books by Richmond authors, Rosie the Riveter memorabilia, and so forth. Both tenants would also dispense information to Richmond visitors, fulfilling one of the original objectives of the building.

Changes to the building required to accommodate the new tenants were minimal, basically paint up, fix up. Work was done by Public Works employees,

The lease with RMSI was executed On August 1, 2018, and they subsequently relocated into the space. The lease was amended October 1, 2018, to revise the term of the lease. See Richmond Main Street Lease 8-1-2018 and Richmond Main Street Lease Amendment 10-1-18.

After VisitRichmond CA bailed out, we started looking for the Richmond Themed Merchandising tenant. We sought authorization from the City Council, which was granted on July 23, 2019. A committee of City staff selected Rich City Apparel, and a lease was executed with them on October 25, 2019.

See the following:

Each of the leases and the RFP included a floor plan that I had prepared, at no cost to anyone, to show how the tenant spaces would be demised. This was at the request of the city attorney, who prepared the leases.

Figure 2 - Demising Plan for Richmond Visitors Center
Apparently, based on information from multiple sources, sometime in late 2019, a City employee, Lori Reese Brown, complained to someone that I, or Interactive Resources, had been paid by the City to prepare the floor plan. This would be illegal if it were true, but it was not, and one even bothered to ask me.

Based on information he provided to me, it was Senior Assistant Attorney Bruce Soublet who originally took it upon himself to launch an investigation pursuant to Lori Rese-Brown’s complaint. later, City manager Laura Snideman confirmed that she decided to investigate after conferring with the City Council in closed session, ultimately spending $45,000 as of June 2021 on a law firm and a private investigator without approval from the City Council, a violation of the Charter, which limits the city manager’s spending authority to $10,000.

There is also no legal basis in California for a city manager to use public funds to launch an investigation of a mayor or council member.

No one asked me about the Reese-Brown allegations, they just kept the whole thing secret, started investigating and spending money.

The city manager did ask me to cooperate with the investigator, but when I questioned the authority to even retain an investigator or conduct an investigation, there was no response.

Later, when her original story did not hold up, Lori Reese Brown apparently changed it to claim that RMSI, not the City, had paid me, or Interactive Resources, to prepare the floor plan. Also not true. But no one even asked me.

Finally, Lori Reese Brown again apparently changed her story to a collection of vague accusations, also related my involvement in the Richmond Visitors Center. Again, no one asked me about what really happened, but the city manager continued to illegally use public funds to investigate.

Everything about the Richmond Visitor Center project was transparent, legal, and in the City’s best interest, but the city manager and the city attorney continue to this day to double down on their poorly conceived judgment, cover up their own illegal actions and spend money on an unnecessary and illegal investigation.

The Charter Section II- 7 s and III-.2(f) is explicit about the city manager’s authority to enter into contract and spend money, but all provisions were and continue to be ignored.

Article II, Sec. 7. (Amended at election May 11, 1965; November 6, 1984; and November 2, 2004) No ordinance shall be passed, no officer appointed or removed, no contract shall be awarded and no obligation incurred by the City in excess of one thousand dollars without the affirmative vote of at least five members of the Council provided that, the Council may by ordinance authorize the City Manager to enter into contracts and incur obligations on behalf of the City not in excess of ten thousand dollars. (Added at the election November 2, 2004) Effective with the November 2008 election, no ordinance shall be passed, no officer appointed or removed, no contract shall be awarded and no obligation incurred by the City in excess of one thousand dollars without the affirmative vote of at least four members of the Council provided that, the Council may by ordinance authorize the City Manager to enter into contracts and incur obligations on behalf of the City not in excess of ten thousand dollars.

Article III-A, Section 2(f) Administrative Responsibility. The Mayor shall sign all contracts on behalf of the City which are acted upon and approved by the City Council unless otherwise delegated by the City Council to a City official or employee, and shall exercise such other powers and duties as provided in this charter and ordinances and resolutions of the City

Neither the Charter nor the Municipal Code has any provision for the city attorney to enter into contracts at all. By ordinance (RMC 2.52.326 and 2.52.344) , the City Council modified the Charter’s $1,000 limit and authorized the city manager to enter into contracts for up to $10,000. The Charter also requires the mayor to sign all contracts. The city manager, in collusion with the city attorney, conspired to violate all three. The secret investigation directed by the city manager and condoned by the city attorney is ongoing, and the violations and illegal expenditures of public funds continues.

I have lost all trust and all faith in both the city manager and the city attorney, and that is why I have placed on the June 29 Agenda an item wherein I will move to terminate them both. If that is not effective, I will consider other recourses.

Richmond-themed store sought for visitor center at BART station

March 16, 2019

Richmond-themed store sought visitor center at BART station
The City of Richmond is seeking vendors interested in setting up a Richmond-themed retail store at the new Downtown Richmond Visitor Center at the BART station.

The store will augment a visitor center, located at 1600 Nevin Plaza, which aims to serve as a gateway to a growing, revitalizing downtown. As reported here, the downtown is growing with over 1,000 new housing units in development and the emerging Richmond Business Hub, according to the mayor’s office.

The Downtown Property and Business Improvement District, administered by the Richmond Main Street Initiative (RMSI), has recently relocated their offices to the visitor center.

The retail store that will join RMSI is a “one-of-a-kind opportunity to showcase a wide range of Richmond-specific merchandise at the site with the heaviest foot traffic in the city,” the mayor’s office’s announcement states. “The City of Richmond will lease the space with no base rent and is eager to partner with vendors to establish a successful retail business.”

Photo credit: RMSI

The City has issued a Request for Qualifications & Proposals  and invited interested retail vendors to a site tour on April 1, according to the Richmond Mayor’s Office. Vendors should respond to the RFQ/P by April 22.

“Unparalleled access to potential customers is provided by seamless connections to the Richmond Multi-Modal Transit Station, the new Richmond Business Hub, the historic main street corridor, and a large residential community that is growing with over 1,000 new housing units in development,” the statement said.