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Child advocacy groups continue opposition against social services' regulations ...

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Discipline Parameters Stir More DebateCity Pads Presence at PollsStrip Bar Opens Near Main Street StationTax Abatement Gets Five

Discipline Parameters Stir More Debate

The controversy surrounding a regulation that could allow foster parents to use forms of corporal punishment to discipline foster kids could end next week.

An outcome could be determined on Oct. 18, if the state's Board of Social Services decides to vote on and rescind the regulations at its last meeting of the year, in Abdingdon. But so far, sources say the issue has appeared on the board's agenda and then dropped off. If it doesn't act on the measures, the regulations that allow broader interpretation of what is deemed "abusive" in disciplinary action by foster parents will go into effect Nov. 1. Social Services licensing officials could not be reached by press time Friday.

It has groups like Prevent Child Abuse Virginia outraged struggling to come up with ways to keep the regulations at bay. At the Sept. 5 hearing in Richmond, 53 of 60 child advocates spoke in favor of further review and continued suspension of the regulations that would allow corporal punishment of foster children. It seems the modifications passed under the radar of professionals and even members of the board that voted in June to approve them. "We don't know where they came from," says Amanda Di Girolamo, community affairs coordinator with PCAV.

The regulations pertain only to foster parents in private child-placement agencies. After a wave of public protest, concerned citizens and child-care professionals formed the Coalition for the Protection of Children in Foster Care to fight the change. The group was successful in getting the regulations suspended until the board could review more public comments and make recommendations. That period ended in late September. It was generally believed the regulations would remain suspended until the board considers them again next year.

And recently, Rufus Adkins, a Richmond pastor and member of the Board of Social Services who opposes the regulations, requested clarification and legal advice from the attorney general's office, says Randy Davis, deputy communications director for that office. Adkins could not be reached for comment.

It appears the regulations will go into effect Nov. 1 unless enough opposition and information convinces the board or the commissioner to rule otherwise. Child advocacy groups like PCAV are feeling the blow, says Di Girolamo, but not as much as the private child-placement agencies. "This isn't the place for another parental-rights debate. They're confusing foster children with other children and these kids are different. They're forgetting the kids they're serving," warns Di Girolamo, "and that's scary."

Brandon Walters

City Pads Presence at Polls

Come election day things could get ugly for the City Registrar's Office.

So it's frantically gearing up - soliciting volunteers, posting reminders - for what could be the biggest turnout ever.

Registrar officials are expecting a 75 percent voter turnout Nov. 7. That's huge compared to City Council elections earlier this year that brought only 16 percent of the city's registered voters to the polls.

Kirk Showalter, the city's general registrar, says the closeness of the races between George Bush and Al Gore, and between Virginia's Senate candidates, George Allen and Chuck Robb, has people excited enough to get out and vote.

Such a large increase in voter turnout creates havoc for election officers who help staff the polls. And then there are the new voter ID requirements and thousands of Richmonders who haven't updated their voter registration status.

For the first time this year voters must present one of the following forms of identification: a commonwealth of Virginia voter registration card; a Social Security card; a valid Virginia driver's license or state-issued identification card; or a valid employee identification card with a photograph of the employee. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 10. Showalter says 14,000 registered voters haven't updated their registration status.

Staffing the 72 voting precincts in Richmond will require more than 500 volunteers. All must attend an orientation meeting Oct. 21 from 1 to 5 p.m. So far, recruitment efforts haven't resulted in the numbers needed. "That's our biggest headache right now," says Showalter.

Until then, the registrar's office continues to look for volunteers. Anyone interested in becoming an election officer should call 646-5950.

"What we're in the throes of are all these different [tasks]," explains Showalter. "We're swamped."

B.W.

Strip Bar Opens Near Main Street Station

In quiet contrast to the topless-bar brawls of yesteryear, city officials have grudgingly allowed a strip club to open in Shockoe Bottom.

Thanks to the city's own zoning rules, they don't have much choice.

The strip club, Velvet, occupies the former Sea Breeze bar at Main and Fifteenth streets - less than a block from Main Street Station.

Owner Sam Moore says the club has been open and operating since late August and has received frequent visits from city inspectors - on official business, of course.

"They're busting my balls," Moore says. "It's definitely harassment. They keep reviewing what they already passed me on … then find new things to cite."

Moore says he's had to spend about $30,000 to comply with city demands to replace or improve various equipment in the club, such as adding extra supports to a stage on which topless dancers perform.

Richmond Building Commissioner Claude G. Cooper says Velvet has not been the target of undue pressure. "The thing right now that's the holdup is the man doesn't have properly operating grease traps … to keep [kitchen grease] out of the sewer," Cooper says. "It's the same thing that a lot of people go through."

City big wigs will get a chance to check out the club when they celebrate the Main Street Station restoration groundbreaking Oct. 17. While Velvet may not be what they want visitors to see first in Richmond, there's not much they can do about it now, says city spokeswoman Michelle Quander-Collins.

Moore "has actually found a spot that conforms," she says. "I don't think he's violating any of the zoning code."

Cooper says Velvet's location is one of the few in the city acceptable for a strip club, but adds Moore has not received all of the required permits and certificates to open Velvet.

Cooper seemed surprised to learn the club already has opened. "He's probably doing something he shouldn't be. When he's in compliance, he'll be allowed to open." (Moore could not be reached for comment after Style spoke with Cooper on Thursday. A note taped to the club's locked door Friday afternoon stated Velvet would be open at 6 p.m.)

Other officials also expressed concerns about the club. "I'm hoping that we don't get a proliferation of them," says City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin, whose Sixth District includes the club. "I'm just relieved that it is in an area … of other activities consistent with that."

Some business leaders also are less than thrilled about Velvet. "We've been working hard to have a site [around Main Street Station and the Canal Walk] that all kinds of folks - tourists, families - want to go to," says Bill Baxter, president of the Retail Merchants Association of Greater Richmond.

"Doesn't exactly fit in with Morton's steakhouse, does it?"

Rob Morano

Tax Abatement Gets Five

Developers have no fear. The city doesn't plan to mess with a good thing.

Last week City Council's Organizational Development Committee announced it would continue and even expand the city's 1986 real-estate abatement incentive for downtown developers willing to invest $100,000 or more in commercial and residential projects.

The Commission's study began in June 1999 and analyzed the effectiveness the program has had in attracting development and contributing to the city's mission to rebuild and restore downtown Richmond - of course by 2003, when the Convention Center expansion is slated for completion.

The real-estate tax relief program was scheduled to conclude Jan. 1, 2001. But projects have tripled and the commission has decided to grant it a five-year extension.

The plan will be expanded to include what is called a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, a business or corporation owned primarily by individuals who are socially or economically disadvantaged. The aim is to provide small, minority and disadvantaged businesses a chance to grow with bigger developers. Essentially it means those who qualify won't have to pay the real-estate tax on improvements made to the property for up to 15 years.

The commission's chairman, Councilman Sa'ad El Amin credits the tax abatement program with three achievements. "It's dramatically increased improvements of properties that were abandoned; it's stabilized the outflux of the population out of the city; and it's increased the population from the suburbs."

Acting director of the city's Department of Economic Development, John Woodward says it's all "testament of how fruitful the program is from what we've seen so far."

Woodward assures it's the kind of speculation that has little, if any downside.

"Even though it's abating real-estate taxes per se, there are all these other ancillary tax benefits that are a huge, huge upswing for the city."

B.W.

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