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Will Harry Black Take a Dive?

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A dark cloud hovers over Richmond in the wake of Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's iron-fisted attempt to remove the Richmond City Schools from City Hall. Or, perhaps more accurately, it's a Black cloud.

On Thursday City Council's Government Operations Standing Committee plans to bring in acting Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black for a few questions. At the top of the agenda is the question, Who, exactly, gave the order to lock down City Hall, with police officers standing guard, while city-contracted movers trespassed on city schools property, handling confidential student records and employee data?

However the court rules in the now ratcheted-up Wilder vs. Schools saga, the decision to move out schools administration and the School Board, and then move them back in, will cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. Three moving companies worked through the weekend, with more than 150 movers, essentially for nothing -- except to launch a crisis at City Hall.

What appears to be getting the most attention is how Richmond Police were used to enforce the move, keeping out news media and School Board members, who held an emergency meeting in their offices Friday night to address the eviction.

But who brought in the police?

Most signs point to Harry Black. Police Chief Rodney Monroe told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Black requested the presence of police officers. A day later, on Sept. 23, Black says he was only taking orders, but wouldn't comment on who gave those orders. (Hint: It was Wilder.)

After the chaotic weekend, City Council members were whispering Monday about eliminating Black's position. And Wilder was dancing around the question. But he did offer a clue Sept. 24 when cornered at Shockoe Hill Cemetery for the unveiling ceremony of a state historical marker.

When asked if he had instructed Black to remove schools and send in the police, or if Black had acted on his own, he referred the question back to Black. "You should ask him that," Wilder said.

When pressed further — well, wouldn't Wilder recall if he was the one who gave Black instructions to forcibly evict Richmond Schools? — he responded, "I think I should wait until we get to court."

Reached by phone Monday, Black was equally tight-lipped. Did he sense he was being set up to take a fall? "No comment," he said. "I gotta go."



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