- Scott Elmquist
- City Council's first chief of staff, Daisy Weaver, says Richmond's mayor-at-large form of government is still working itself out.
After Daisy Weaver guided former Mayor Doug Wilder through his first budget in 2005, he fired her. But the former director of the city budget office wasn't unemployed long. That same day former City Council President Manoli Loupassi reached out to her, and she accepted the job as City Council's first chief of staff.
She served six years, and retired officially Oct. 1. Style Weekly recently spoke with Weaver to assess the city's changing political discourse.
Style: What's the real story of how you were let go from your position as director of the city budget office by then Mayor Doug Wilder?
Weaver: I worked with him from January 2005 to June of 2005. We got through it pretty good. Then things fell apart. And I'm not sure exactly why they fell apart. Mayor Wilder did change a number of administrators at the time.
At the end, I guess it was in June. William Harrell was the city's chief administrative officer at that time. I was called into William's office. William ... I think that the way they did it ... they probably said something like "we no longer need your services." It was in the morning, and you could kind of feel that the atmosphere was not quite right, though no one had said anything to me.
So, I went down to see him that morning. And he said, "This is the end." And I asked, well, "Why won't I be in this position?" He said, and I'll never forget this, "Well, I'm not at liberty to say." So, there was really no reason given to me why I was leaving that administration. I went upstairs. ... This is the same day, and there was a message waiting for me from Council President Manoli Loupassi.
Did Loupassi know what Harrell was planning to do?
I think he had some indication. A week or two before, he had approached me about working for council. I told him that I had a lot of things to finish in the budget office. And I kind of dismissed it and put it to the side. So, I can't say for sure.
Loupassi indicated that he had some indication that I was going to be let go. I can't confirm that. But I do know that when I got back upstairs, this is less than an hour later, there was a message waiting for me from [council] president Loupassi saying that he had council votes and asking me if I would be willing to take the position as chief of staff of council.
Did you ever have a conversation with Harrell or Wilder about the Council's decision to hire you?
No, I never heard anything.
Did you have any indication that this was part of some effort on Wilder's part to bring in some of his own staff?
From early on in Jaunary, we had lost ... various department heads were gone. I was probably one of the last ones to go. I did get through the budget process, and then I was fired at the end of the budget process.
Did you ever get the chance to speak directly with Wilder?
In the years since, have you had a chance to speak to him?
Not talk with him. I've seen him. He's always cordial. If I saw him today, I believe he would talk to me. But we never spoke about why I was let go from his administration.
We recently published an editorial by Paul Goldman that is highly critical of Mayor Dwight Jones and his administration. One of the central questions that he asks is whether Richmond wants or needs the system of government that it has now, which is a strong mayor. During your career, you've gotten an insider's view of both types of government. Which do you think works best?
First of all, I differ somewhat when we talk about a strong mayor. I think if you look at the referendum that folks voted on, it did not allude to a strong mayor. It's a mayor-at-large, which means that all of the people get to vote on that mayor, unlike in previous elections.
The powers of that mayor I think are still unclear, and a little undefined. People were asked, "Well, do you want to vote for a mayor?" And the answer was yes. But I don't know if there was enough discussion as to what that meant. I think there will continue to be tweaks and changes to the city's charter that further define what role the mayor plays and what role council plays.
I do know that when the form of government was changed, some of the changes to the charter were done pretty quickly, and the word "city manager" was either replaced with "mayor" or "chief administrative officer." I don't know that in all cases a lot of thought was given to which, where those words should have been changed.
But is the current form of government more effective than the previous one where the city was run by a city manager?
There were so many ways that it could have gone, and I'm sure that eventually it will get to the right place, but I'm not sure that we're there now. I don't know that this is the most efficient form of government.
It's more expensive in that you end up with another layer of staff. But it could be effective. And I don't know that you may want to give up efficiency for effectiveness. When I think of "efficiency," I'm thinking about cost. And when I think about "effectiveness," I'm thinking about getting the right answers, and sometimes it might cost you more to be effective.
What was the atmosphere at City Hall like during Doug Wilder's term?
I think there was a period of time where morale was kind of low. People were not as friendly as they had been. People were unsure of what to do. Sometimes it seemed. I will say that Calvin Jamison, the city manager before the change, did create an environment of teamwork. The sense of teamwork left during that time.
As you are probably aware, in 2008 or 2009, council employees were told that if we were interested in our positions then we would have to reapply for our positions. That was kind of ... [laughs] it was wild. I don't know how else to describe it. It was unbelievable. I didn't think it was ever going to come to fruition, but we went through the motions.
It was a wild time. You didn't know from one day to the next how things were going to play out. So, you did the best that you could with the time that you had.
How did the atmosphere change after Mayor Jones transitioned into the mayor's office?
It was a much nicer in environment. But I never did feel that sense of teamwork again, and I don't know if that's because I was working on the council side and not the administration, but I still think communication can be difficult at City Hall. It's a much more pleasant environment. But at the same time, it still felt to me that we would get information after the fact. And maybe that's how it was supposed to be, because there are two separate branches of government.
The personalities were so different. You knew exactly where Mayor Wilder stood. He made no bones about it. I kind of liked that, as opposed to having to guess. You kind of got accustomed to Mayor Wilder. He let you know that there were two divisions of government.
Now, it's a much more pleasant environment, and you want to work together. I don't know if the answers are as cut and dry now.
This latest City Council, do you feel like it's effective?
I feel like they're giving a lot of thought to the legislative process. I suppose in a democracy all you can do is give good deliberative thought to the process. They're giving thought to the process. In that [sense], they are effective because they're questioning, and I hope that those questions give clarity to the public. But they're not rubber-stamping everything that's brought to them.
Is this council fractured politically?
I've seen councils that have been very cohesive. But they are ... they're voting from their individual perspectives again. They're getting stronger in their individualism, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. That adds to the debate. But once the vote is cast the vote is cast.
As a resident of Richmond, what's your opinion of the job that [Chief Administrative Officer] Byron Marshall is doing running the business of the city, and the job Mayor Jones is doing articulating a vision for the city?
As a citizen of Richmond, I think they're doing a good job. It's just basic operational things that if you take care of, I think everything else will fall into place.
You've worked in City Hall under two types of government. Do you feel like the system of government that the residents voted for in 2004, the system of government that they said they wanted, has been fully realized under Mayor Jones?
I'm not sure what the citizens want. I grew up in a city manager form of government. And you sort of lean toward the type of system that you grew up under. I believe in professional management of any organization. And I believe the chief administrative officer provides that sort of professional leadership. But with the new form of government, and the election of a mayor every four years, it's going to be driven by the personality.
As chief of staff, you played a role in the Jennifer Walle dispute. How did that affect council and how did it affect your office? (Editor's note: Walle, a former City Council liaison, claimed that another aide sexually harassed her in April 2010. She later filed a civil lawsuit against the liaison, David Hathcock; his former boss Council President Kathy Graziano; and the city. Claims against Graziano and the city were dismissed this summer.)
I don't know that I was pulled into the politics of it. The facts that I presented never changed, and the rest played out as it needed to play out. It's unfortunate that other people don't think we have human-resource procedures, but we did and the situation played out as I thought it would.
I'm sorry it had to go that far. If an individual chooses to sue, it's certainly their right to do that. Ms. Walle chose to go that route. But the procedures didn't change. It was consistent throughout.
Do you feel like that situation galvanized the divisions on council?
I think it raised some issues for them that they need to deal with. They need to determine how they want they're staff supervised and by whom. I never took on a role as immediate supervisor of the liaisons. I did play an administrative role in terms of making sure that we followed the human-resource procedures. But as far as determining the quantity and quality of liaison's work, that's not a role that I played. It's a role that City Council played individually. But they do need to ... I don't think there's a clear voice as far as how they want the supervision of quality and quantity to take place.
I think the situation was very unfortunate. I don't know if "damaged" is the right word for how it's affected council. ... I just think that there's some things they need to strengthen and make sure that they've all bought into the changes, specifically as it relates to how the liaisons are managed.
What's your prescription for how the Jones administration can be more effective?
Working with council really as partners as opposed to an adversarial relationship. Sometimes it feels as if more of an adversarial relationship is building up. And there's a good staff, but if staff worked together to on issues, they would be more effective. I don't think Richmond is big enough to have two big adversarial bodies.