Richards Regrets Secrecy over Jefferson

City Councilor Meredith Richards has issued a statement criticizing the city’s handling of the Jefferson School, specifically the closed meetings that have been held. It is standard for the city to have closed-door meetings regarding the sale of property, but Richards believes that the result of this is that “some in the community do not believe that we are acting in good faith.” Though Councilor Kevin Lynch agrees with Richards regarding the public image, Councilor David Toscano says of Richards’ statement that he’s “fairly disappointed,” and Councilor Blake Caravati calls it “really unbelievable.” Jake Mooney has the story in today’s Progress.

32 thoughts on “Richards Regrets Secrecy over Jefferson”

  1. Does anyone know why it is “standard for the city to have closed-door meetings regarding the sale of property”?

    And does anyone know what other situations/topics prompt closed meetings?

  2. I can’t wait for the nominations to be over and we can see the posturing of our politicians diminish. With their totured & twisted logic, city council looks more like a intro yoga class then a deliberative body. Maybe we’ll even hear more from Waldo!

  3. Sure, because councilors need to protect the financial interests of the city. Only in a closed meeting could one member suggest that a property couldn’t possibly fetch, say, $10,000,000, because it’s really only worth $5,000,000. If that was public, you can be sure that the city wouldn’t get more than $5,000,000.

    Confidential employment-related matters should be discussed in closed session, too. It makes sense that a review of the quality of the work of the city manager should take place in an atmosphere where criticism can be freely given.

    Care needs to be taken, though, that closed door sessions not include discussion of subjects that don’t belong there. It’s up to members of the council and their legal counsel to police themselves in that regard.

  4. Although SOME discussion of sale of property is allowed in closed session, it must be because discussion in open session would jeopardize council’s negotiating position. Once the discussion of Jefferson School shifted from a potential sale to other options for its use, all discussions should have been held in open session. Also, all decisions must be made in open session. See this opinion by Freedom of Information Advisory Council. http://www.opengovva.org/opinions/ao3101.htm

    For more information on closed sessions and FOIA, http://www.opengovVA.org is a good resource.

  5. Virginia’s Sunshine Law requires all City Council discussions to be public, with rare and specific exceptions. The exceptions include discussing whether to fire somebody, or settle a lawsuit, or what price to ask for property. But lately City Council has used the executive session exception to swallow the rule. Secrecy avoids the inconvenience of public discussion on public policy. Secrecy is how the City Council sold to a well-connected developer the coal tower and the surrounding acreage–downtown real estate now appraised in the millions–for $10,000. Ugly things grow on the dark secret underside of rocks.

  6. So, let me suggest a scenario for a future course of action with regard to executive sessions by City Council. It’s incumbent on each participating member of the session to insist that discussions behind closed doors not be allowed to stray outside the parameters of the basis for permissible secrecy. If discussions leave those bounds, a member who notes such impropriety should immediately make a recorded motion to end the executive session. Either the motion will pass and sunshine will prevail or it will fail.

    If the Council, having been encouraged (on record) to re-enter public session, continues to discuss improper topics in private, any individual Councilor, would then be within his/her rights (and, acting in the public interest to which they are elected to represent) to tell their story to the public, via whatever medium they find appropriate.

    I guess I’m suggesting that Meredith Richards was probably acting in the public interest in offering her criticism, but it would have a lot more credibility if she had voiced her objections to her colleagues first.

    Other thoughts?

  7. Amen.

    And certainly that’s not too much to expect, given that – so far as I understand from following the discussion here and the links – this is the only LEGAL course. To do otherwise is improper and illegal (not to mention immoral, undemocratic . . . and ultimately counterproductive ). I suppose participant(s) who feel a certain closed session is improper and make their motion to end the secrecy could, if outvoted, get up and leave the session.

    I confess I’m not sure of the legality of the other recourse your mention: speaking publicly about matters discussed in closed session.

  8. Sounds bad – is that coal tower property matter true? If so, maybe the state Attorney General needs to look into it.

  9. Gotta wonder if the timing and public nature of her objection wasn’t meant to shine the light harshly on a certain mayor seeking re-nomination.

  10. As I remember that property was sold in the mid-1990s. To be fair, I think the site is polluted, which wouldn’t make it worth much, since the owner would be obliged to spend a significant amount of money to clean it up.

    That said, though, the sale transaction should have mandated that the new owner complete all environmental clean-up within a certain period of time. I don’t believe any work has been done in that regard.

  11. Must be runnin’ for something. It’s good to know he respects 1000% those who agree with him. Does that mean he disrespects 1000% those who disagree?

  12. you think any of the other candidates are as good (in terms of qualifications, experience, knowledge and real interest) as who’s on there now? not quite. what’s the deal with everyone dumping on the mayor?

  13. I guess if everybody agreed with your position, there wouldn’t be so doggone many folks seeking the two seats that are available.

    I don’t think it’s accurate to state rather unequivocally that none of the other candidates have as much “real interest.” It takes a huge amount of confidence, desire, and gumption to run for public office. I doubt any of the candidates are running because they have a burning desire to be the object of invective and innuendo.

    Of course, as everybody knows by now Waldo’s too young, Ewert is too mean, Simmons is too unknown, Fenton has too many residences, and Searles is certainly too something. I wonder what Blake was “too” of before he was elected?

  14. you think any of the other candidates are as good (in terms of qualifications, experience, knowledge and real interest) as who’s on there now?

    Well, I can think of one…

    :)

  15. This isn’t about secrecy, it’s about disclosure.

    The information still there and availible, they just don’t want elected officials to disclose it.

  16. What does this sentence in the story mean: “Other members want assurances the normal process has run its course, before the School Board receives lists of names to consider”?

    Also, I am recalling (I hope correctly) that students facing Honor Committee trials at UVa have the option of making their trials public. Why shouldn’t employees whose performance has generated concerns grave enough for final judgements to be rendered by elected representatives have a similar option?

    The same might be said for short-listed candidates for hire to high office (school super’s, chiefs of police, etc.).

    In short, how does secrecy help?

  17. And where do you get your “experience” from? Your many years in city government? Your wealth of life experiences at the ripe old age of twenty-something?

    And the lies begin… welcome to politics, Waldo.

    Please update your campaign site with your solutions to the three (only three?) issues listed on the home (or should I say, only) page. Let’s see some proof that you actually have a plan to achieve real results on the big issues, instead of just being yet another media whore.

  18. And where do you get your “experience” from? Your many years in city government? Your wealth of life experiences at the ripe old age of twenty-something?

    You’ve answered your own question. Thanks!

    Please update your campaign site with your solutions to the three (only three?) issues listed on the home (or should I say, only) page.

    Well, I’ve got a webpage, unlike any other candidate. Would you say that means that all the other candidates have no issues? If not, should I simply remove my website to achieve parity?

    Here’s a tip: come to the candidate forums. The next one, the third and final in a series, is Saturday at noon. That’s where these things get discussed. You can sit on the sidelines and play critic all you want, but if you want to actually learn something about the candidates and the race, come on out and take part.

  19. the problems is that elected officials are not close to the real performances issues. It like electing judges- it seems like a good idea but in practice rarely works that way. People are more swayed by slogans then facts and the cost of truth seems too high. I think appointing judges tends to give better outcome then electing them.

    If job interviews were held in public, which is my take on your suggestion, I am unsure on it’s positive effect. Flash would probably drive out substance.

  20. the problems is that elected officials are not close to the real performances issues. It’s like electing judges- it seems like a good idea but in practice rarely works that way. People are more swayed by slogans then facts and the cost to truth seems too high. I think appointing judges tends to give better outcome then electing them.

    If job interviews were held in public, which is my take on your suggestion, I am unsure on it’s positive effect. Flash would probably drive out substance.

  21. Is your point that secrecy is good because regular folks can’t be trusted to make good decisions about important issues?!

    As for me, I’ll always side with open information, transparency, and democracy.

    Are the swarming masses smart? No. But sensible in their collective judgement? Always.

  22. Ah, I see… I, the voter, must make the effort to understand the candidate. I don’t think that’s the smartest way to draw in voters, especially since you’re quoted in the paper as trying to draw in those of us who are apathetic towards local elections. That’s because only candidates like you, who say “I’m for world peace” and have no real action plan, like to turn local elections into popularity contests. Maybe you got picked last in gym class one two many times, but please stop wasting our time if you have nothing substantive to offer the citizens of this city in terms of actually making a real change. I would say you were just as bad as any other politician, except for the fact that you have no experience upon which I can judge you; all I have left to make my decision is your third-grade election “website” (if one page makes a website) and a handful of soundbites of you saying “I agree with what they say.”

    Either grow a pair and prove your worth with an actual plan, or get out of the way and let people vote for someone who will not treat city elections as a line on his resume.

  23. Why don’t you run or get involved? It is the easiest thing in the world to get personal and taunt others. Rant and do something, because to just rant is to pollute the air with noise and noxious fumes. I look forward to seeing you in the arena.

    PO

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