In the waning days of the administration of former Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, someone hit delete on at least one potentially important puzzle piece to the truth behind Wilder's costly and illegal attempt to evict the Richmond School Board from City Hall.
The document's destruction, regardless of whether its contents were incriminating, represents a violation of state laws related to governmental records retention.
That document is a single e-mail, sent by then-Chief Administrative Officer Sheila Hill-Christian to trusted Wilder ally and Chief Operating Officer Harry Black on Feb. 27, 2008. Black allegedly pulled the trigger ordering the School Board's eviction from City Hall Sept. 21, 2007.
The e-mail prefaced a file attachment: Hill-Christian's tersely worded official letter to the Richmond City Council committee investigating the eviction, refusing to allow administration personnel to testify before that committee.
Style Weekly obtained a heavily redacted version of the e-mail, along with the full letter to council, through a Freedom of Information Act request in August 2008.
Style requested the document again late last year. But after a number of months investigating the matter, city officials with both the mayor's office and the city's Department of Information Technology have confirmed that the e-mail no longer exists in archived e-mail records for Hill-Christian or Black.
“Any record that is under audit or any type of legal action needs to be kept,” says Jeff Snyder, manager of records analysis at the Library of Virginia, the state's official archive for all such documents. “If they knew — or even suspected — this might become part of a court case, they had an obligation to keep this until the litigation was settled.”
At the time, Wilder's eviction order and the dramatic court-ordered intervention that stopped it were on appeal to the state Supreme Court.
According to city officials, it's unclear who destroyed the e-mail or when, but based on the date of Style's initial record request, its destruction occurred after Hill-Christian resigned, citing ethical concerns with Wilder's brand of leadership.
Hill-Christian returned to city government as part of Mayor Dwight Jones' transition team, and serves as a Jones appointee. Black does contract work for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
Destruction of any record, including e-mails, is a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine, but it also could have broader implications. Other state laws related to destruction of official records could elevate the offense to either a Class 1 misdemeanor or a Class 6 felony, and both would preclude the offender from again serving in any governmental capacity.