Desperate financial times call for desperate actions, which is what Mayor L. Douglas Wilder appears to have done recently when he attempted to wrest control of city finances.
In doing so, Wilder may have overstepped the bounds of mayoral powers outlined in the city charter.
In an Oct. 15 news release, Wilder's office details the mayor's concern over the economy and the actions he has taken in order to shore up the city's financial situation. In that release, Wilder spokesman Linwood Norman says Wilder personally directed city administration officials other than the chief administrative officer.
According to the charter, the mayor is allowed to “deal with the administrative services solely through the chief administrative officer, and neither the mayor, council nor any member thereof shall give orders either publicly or privately to any subordinate of the chief administrative officer.”
In the release, Wilder acknowledges doing just that — giving orders to subordinates of the chief administrator.
“Since March, the Mayor had cautioned that the nation's worsening economy would result in significant revenue losses,” the release states. “As the situation became more ominous, he instructed [Richmond Chief Financial Officer Harry] Black to develop contingency measures to address revenue shortfalls.”
The release is unclear about the timing of Wilder's instructions to Black, but says “at that time, Black issued a directive requiring a one percent spending reduction among City departments, with the exception of Police, Fire and Social Services.”
Norman declined to return telephone calls seeking clarification of the timing.
Whether Wilder issued his directive to Black recently or at some time earlier this summer have bearing only as it relates to which chief administrative officer he circumvented. A period of only nine days passed between the two most recent occupants of the position.
Sheila Hill-Christian, who left the job July 30, cited a “compromised” ability to act according to her “beliefs, values, ethics, character, knowledge, and skills.” A source close to Hill-Christian says she expressed frustration over Wilder's unwillingness to allow her to perform her duties. A ranking city officia told Style that Hill-Christian “expressed concern about the legality of the things she was asked to do, and her liability.”
On Aug. 8, Wilder appointed former public utilities director Chris Beschler as acting chief administrator to replace Hill-Christian.