- Richmond City Auditor Umesh Dalal
"Umesh is being targeted for firing in a conspiracy by the city administration, working through the City Attorney Allen Jackson," she wrote in a press release. "They are attempting to stop him from doing his job. This is pure evil."
By the end of the day, she was voting to accept his resignation with the rest of City Council.
"We can't discuss it. We can't discuss any of it," Trammell says by phone on Thursday. "I'd love to talk about it because it's wrong."
It was as crazy a day for her as it was for people watching. She says she learned of his resignation at 5:30 p.m. Monday, when City Council went into a closed session to discuss the results of a report on Dalal's office.
The 100-page report was by a human resources consultant hired to investigate allegations of staff bullying, retaliatory behavior and high staff turnover in Dalal's office, according to those who have read it.
The report is secret, and Freedom of Information Act laws allow, but do not require the city to keep it under wraps. City Council members, to whom Dalal reported, were only able to view it in the Jackson's office.
Dalal's resignation Monday leaves an uncertain legacy for the next auditor. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that council is thinking about dividing Umesh's job into two positions — auditor and inspector general.
"Who’d want the job?" says Trammell. "Who’s going to do this job and not be afraid to do this job?"The city auditor's office provides oversight for the city administration, investigating tips and issuing reports on fraud, waste and inefficiency. Dalal was hired in 2006 and immediately started auditing Mayor Douglas Wilder's administration. He quickly made news reporting mayoral vehicle allowances, school finances and computer passwords.
Dalal and his staff released regular reports and recommendations that are uploaded without fanfare to the city's website — similar to the way Chesterfield County updates its site. Henrico County lists report titles, and they can be requested via mail or email.
Dalal is not known to seek out media coverage, but he does not rebuff it either, and he is the face of an office of much interest to the public. Many city departments have public information officers — public relations staff that are charged with issuing communications. Dalal, however, did not see the need for that employee.
"He was proud of saving taxpayers money. That was his job," says Trammell. "He didn’t [investigate] unless he got a complaint."
In 2011, Style named Dalal number 30 of 50 on its Power List. It highlighted his work on the contract for the new jail and his reputation as a defender against city waste and fraud.
In 2014, Dalal was embroiled in a lawsuit. A report alleged that the former finance director had been credited too many hours of unused sick time, which increased her pension by $400,000. Last year, Dalal's report regarding former Mayor Dwight Jones' use of city employees' time for the renovation of his church led to an investigation by Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Herring.
Also in 2014, Style found that former Councilor Michelle Mosby blocked a press release from the City Council congratulating Dalal that his office had been chosen as one of the 11 best auditor's offices in North America. The article noted that Mosby frequently aligned herself with Jones.
Since elections last year, the balance of power in City Council has shifted away from a pro-mayoral bloc, as the budget debate that left council with more budgetary oversight than it previously held suggests.
Councilors such as Trammel and Parker Agelasto have always been willing to challenge and interrogate city spending and the administration in public. Now they are sometimes joined by new members such as Kim Gray, Kristen Larson and Mike Jones.
Before the three-hour closed session Monday night, Trammell handed reporters another document that responded to charges in the secret report.
It referenced Bob Backus' hiring at the auditor's office in 2015, where he stayed less than a year, according to his LinkedIn profile. It also mentions management decisions about a Ms. Gartin and a Craig Johnson.
Trammell says all nine members of council accepted Dalal's resignation on Monday, but another 6-3 vote had Gray, Larson and Agelasto voting against a termination package. The terms of Dalal's departure are secret, but when a severance check is cut, transparency laws will reveal the number.
"It was a sad day for this city," says Trammell.