by Ned Oliver
State lawmakers — in the throes of an ethics-reform debate — reported accepting 35 percent fewer gifts in 2014 from the previous year. But they aren’t the only ones put on edge by the high-profile scandal surrounding former Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Reported gifts to Richmond officials dropped by half in 2014 compared with 2013, and more than one City Council member suggests that the McDonnell conviction has made them increasingly wary of accepting meals, travel and tickets to events.
That’s not to say city lawmakers ever reported getting a tremendous number of gifts. Council members and Mayor Dwight Jones reported $553 worth of gifts in 2014, down from $1,157 the year before.
“People have to offer you gifts before you can turn them down,” Councilman Charles Samuels says.
In 2013, Samuels reported accepting a $305 flight to Denver as part of an intercity visit organized by the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce. In 2014, he reported no gifts, saying he’d have to think “long and hard” before accepting a plane ticket again. Samuels also says he’s stopped letting people buy him lunch during business meetings.
Jones reported receiving no gifts in 2014 and one gift in 2013: a $500 gift certificate to the American Tap Room, a Henrico County restaurant.
Councilman Parker Agelasto accounted for the largest number of gifts in 2013 and 2014. Last year he accepted tickets to Henley Street Theatre and the Virginia Opera and attended a scholarship luncheon put on by Altria. The total value was $255.
In 2013, he accepted $852 worth of gifts — gala tickets, theater tickets and receptions put on by local nonprofits such as Richmond CenterStage, the Fan Free Clinic, the Better Housing Coalition, Hope in the Cities and Keep Virginia Beautiful.
“I support the arts community and it’s helpful for me to keep up the dialogue and see the value they’re providing in the community,” Agelasto says. “While I realize there’s a personal benefit to me seeing a performance, it helps me stay engaged when I otherwise might not be able to.”
Agelasto says he’s comfortable accepting gifts because he reports them. The issue in the McDonnell case, he notes, was that McDonnell accepted gifts but tried to hide them. “If the law changes, obviously I can change with the law,” Agelasto says.
Gifts reported by council members and the mayor in 2014:
Parker Agelasto: Henley Street Theater, $60; Virginia Opera, $140; Altria, $55.
Jon Baliles: Altria, $51.96; Richmond International Raceway, $95.74
Kathy Graziano: None
Chris Hilbert: David Bailey Associates, $150.
Dwight Jones: None
Michelle Mosby: None
Cynthia Newbille: None
Ellen Robertson: None
Charles Samuels: None
Reva Trammell: None