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Did Schools help plan attempted move?



Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's seemingly unprovoked attempt to forcibly move Richmond Public Schools out of City Hall Sept. 21 did not occur in a political vacuum.

Schools administration officials, who have maintained their ignorance about why the move was carried out so suddenly -- under the cover of night and with the aid of Richmond Police — were far more involved in the planning of that move than previously disclosed, according to internal documents obtained by Style Weekly.

City documents and interoffice communications obtained through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that schools officials not only knew about the planned move, but also were initially involved in negotiating the lease for the 3600 W. Broad St. building where Wilder tried to move them. They also helped develop the timeline to move schools offices out of City Hall by Sept. 30.

But in Richmond Circuit Court Sept. 26, Schools Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman told Richmond Circuit Court Judge Margaret P. Spencer that the attempted forced eviction Sept. 21 — which Spencer stopped just after midnight with a court-ordered injunction — was unanticipated. Jewell-Sherman told the court she first learned of the eviction attempt at about 4 p.m. the same day, and after a phone call to Mayor Wilder's press secretary, Linwood Norman, learned that all city employees were ordered out of the building by 5:30 p.m. to make way for the movers.

Various city and schools employees have since told Style that the red-lettered "No Trespassing" signs that movers found on School Board belongings Sept. 21 had been posted sometime around noon that day.

City documents indicate city officials believed in late June that Assistant Schools Superintendent Tom Sheeran and Jewell-Sherman were weeks away from signing their own lease to move Richmond Schools to 3600 W. Broad St. and that all parties agreed the location would be the temporary site for schools administrative offices, with a lease agreement for no more than two years. Those documents emphasize schools officials' awareness that they'd need to vacate City Hall by Sept. 30 and that they'd need as many as three weekends to complete the move.

A June 26 e-mail addressed to Wilder and sent by Jeannie Welliver, who was identified in her Sept. 26 court appearance as Wilder's liaison to schools in the ongoing search for a new administrative location, indicated high confidence that negotiations were proceeding well and that Sheeran and Jewell-Sherman were willing to sign a short-term lease for 3600 W. Broad St., though both communicated a preference for a longer-term arrangement of "five to seven years."

In the letter, Welliver, who is employed by the city's economic development office, tells Wilder she's just spoken to Sheeran and that "per Tom," lease arrangements were nearly complete: "If it is determined how the lease will be paid, they will have a lease in place in about 20 days ready to ink."

The message speaks of a move schedule under development by schools officials that will be "presented soon" and says, "Tom has a moving company lined up and has quotes for all the specialty items that must be moved including their filing systems and the copy center."

Schools officials faxed to city officials their contracts with moving companies and other businesses that would be needed to conduct the move, previously scheduled for June 24. Among those contracts were agreements with Mason Moving and Storage and Hilldrup Commercial, two of the three companies used in the Sept. 21 move.

In an earlier e-mail, sent June 14 by Welliver to Wilder, she tells the mayor that "Dr. Jewell-Sherman endorses this plan" to move to 3600 W. Broad St.

Jewell-Sherman has since denied this.

"We were never — and Mr. Sheeran can confirm this — close to a lease," she says, calling Welliver's account stilted. "Every time we talked, there are some things that were not present in [Welliver's] notes. I always pressed for [a different location] at Theatre Row" on East Broad Street.

Sheeran submitted his resignation from Richmond Public Schools last month, effective in March. School Board members recently criticized him for his role in the June move of the school system's information technology department from City Hall to the Richmond Technical Center. That move cost as much as $700,000, even though the School Board didn't approve full funding.

According to city documents — specifically Welliver's timeline of events leading to Sept. 21 — Welliver indicates that Sheeran told her June 25 that although an alternate proposal for new administrative offices was being presented to the School Board at its next meeting, "Schools Administration was in the process of assembling the [3600] lease per Tom."

Kathy W. Ivins, a commercial real estate agent and vice president of Thalhimer/Cushman & Wakefield, says she was deep into negotiations with Sheeran and school administrators to lease the 3600 W. Broad St. building to Richmond Schools. Ivins, who represents the property owner, says she had several meetings with schools officials during the spring and summer. Multiple schools officials had toured the building, Ivins says. "You never know until the deal is done," she says, "but they seemed in earnest."

The School Board did not acknowledge the existence of the negotiated lease in a reply to a Freedom of Information Act request from Style in October, nor did officials provide documents related to negotiations with Ivins or city officials. Jewell-Sherman later confirmed that schools received a proposed lease, but discounted its importance.

Additional Style requests for documents from Richmond Schools have not been fully answered. In December, schools officials provided copies of School Board subcommittee meeting minutes indicating the board was being apprised of all move-related negotiations.

In the board's June 27 minutes, School Board Chairman George Braxton said he liked the 3600 W. Broad St. property because it could be easily adapted to the School Board's needs.

By the time the proposed lease was issued by Ivins to schools officials in mid-July, according to a city administration chronology, a move of the city's School Board to 3600 W. Broad St. seemed nearly certain.

Ivins says she "knew that they were looking at some other things," but the negotiations seemed headed toward a final agreement with the School Board.

Wilder's frustration and his big-stick tactics in attempting to evict schools are still considered inappropriate by many, but it's since become clear he had reason to believe schools were complying with his directive to move to 3600 W. Broad St.

There was never a real intent to move forward with a lease for 3600 W. Broad St., Superintendent Sherman tells Style, because of Wilder's insistence that it would be a temporary location with a lease of not more than two years. School Board members say they directed Jewell-Sherman and her staff to seek only a permanent location for the administration's move, and most say they maintain confidence she followed through on that directive.

"My push to [Welliver] was, we have no money in our budget for a temporary move," Jewell-Sherman says. "Never was there any clarity or any say that [the city] would pay for the rent."

Further, Jewell-Sherman says she told Welliver and other city officials she could do nothing without final School Board approval.

Jewell-Sherman, Braxton and School Board Vice Chairwoman Lisa Dawson refer to City Council's approved budget, which provided no specific funds to pay for a move or rent on a facility.

Dawson says that "to some extent there was some [playing] chicken" between the School Board and Wilder. She says the board told Sherman and administration officials that 3600 W. Broad St. negotiations were a legitimate delaying tactic to stave off attempts to force the School Board to vacate City Hall. She says the School Board was aware that negotiations were ongoing for 3600 W. Broad St. well into the summer.

It wasn't until July 23 that City Council voted to give Schools a $10-per-year lease to stay at City Hall.

School Board member Keith West says the full board never directed Jewell-Sherman to use the negotiations as a delaying tactic.

"I knew they were talking about things. I didn't know we were pursuing all these options as a delaying game," West says. "It is irresponsible. I didn't know that's what was going on. It is utterly irresponsible for one part of the government to be misleading another part of the government."

It was the School Board's July 2 vote to pursue a move to a schools-owned warehouse facility on Arlington Road that brought the negotiations for 3600 W. Broad St. to a crashing halt the week before — and caused Wilder to bare his fangs in a June 29 letter to Jewell-Sherman in which he called her "duplicitous."

By July 24, according to city records, a lease for 3600 W. Broad St. had been sent by Kathy Ivins to the city for review. The lease, according to Welliver's account, was "in place" Aug. 8. Then-acting Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black signed the lease. S

  • Read Jeanie Welliver's timeline.

  • Welliver confirm's Jewell-Sherman's endorsement of move.

  • George Braxton acknowledges IT move in May 2007.

  • Welliver's update to Harry Black and Wilder.

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