The honeymoon ended shortly after it began between Richmond City Council and Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's new chief administrative officer, Sheila Hill-Christian. Now some members of City Council are talking divorce -- or at least the need for some intensive relationship counseling.
The growing tension has been fueled by concerns about unauthorized budget transfers. Hill-Christian's recent revelation is that at least $250,000 in lease payments for the property located at 3600 W. Broad St. intended to house the city schools administration came from windfall revenue generated by the Greater Richmond Convention Center lodging tax.
City schools administrators remained in City Hall after the Wilder administration's failed eviction attempt Sept. 21. Nevertheless, the city met its obligation on the unused lease, paying for the still-vacant space.
"I think when administration insists on continuing to spend taxpayers' dollars [illegally] somebody's got to go," Councilwoman Ellen Robertson says. "We've got to keep changing our administrative staff until we find somebody who's willing to abide by the law.
"We shouldn't be hiring criminals to run this city," Robertson adds. When asked if she means Hill-Christian, Robertson is firm: "Yes, I do."
Style Weekly first reported the payments and their source last week. City Council Chief of Staff Daisy Weaver questioned the payments in a tersely worded e-mail Feb. 27 to members of a City Council committee investigating the attempted eviction of the School Board from City Hall. Then-acting CAO Harry Black had signed the 3600 lease in a move since determined illegal by City Attorney Norman Sales.
"Anyone with a modicum of understanding of public budgeting should understand that any revenue collected above the budgeted amount has to [be] appropriated (approved by council) before it is spent," Weaver wrote in the e-mail. "The collection of additional general fund revenue does not give the administration the okay to spend it without appropriation."
Through a spokesman, Hill-Christian declined to comment on the council's accusations.
Council President Bill Pantele called the situation "very serious," indicating he'd asked for a meeting with Hill-Christian "with a view toward making sure she understands these laws and to ask her to bring the city government into compliance."
Slightly more forgiving than Robertson of Hill-Christian's alleged misuse of lodging-tax revenues are Councilmen Bruce Tyler and Chris Hilbert; Hilbert also is the chairman of the investigative committee examining the eviction attempt.
"I would like for all of us to kind of take a deep breath on this stuff," says Hilbert, calling the now almost-weekly revelations of new unauthorized expenditures by administration officials an obstacle to moving forward with the city's business.
"These are serious matters that probably will not be settled between council and the administration," Hilbert says. "We may have to agree to disagree and have a third branch of government decide who is right and who is wrong."
Hill-Christian is working with council on a revised lease agreement for 3600 W. Broad St. that would allow her to use the space for other city departments in need of new offices.