Having read Carol A.O. Wolf’s Back Page opinion, I was reminded how little the Richmond taxpayers knew of the Redskins financial deal at the time it was cut. I like many others was skeptical of what we were going to get out of the deal and why we should give up millions of dollars for a three-week training session for eight years of Redskins. Part of the answer lies in the 2011 creation of the Richmond Economic Development Authority, or EDA.
Stone Brewing and its soon-to-be-open, 30,000-square-foot restaurant are also under the authority’s leadership. Both the Redskins and Stone Brewery deals were brokered on the City of Richmond’s behalf by the EDA. But why?
The city already has an economic development arm and could just as well have completed these projects under the purview of Richmond city government and the transparency that comes with open government. Wait, I think I remember why!
At last year’s presentation of the Stone Brewery deal to City Council, where I was present, Richard S. Johnson -- a director of Mayor Dwight Jones’ EDA -- told City Council that “because they were in direct, ongoing negotiation with Stone Brewery they were not at liberty to discuss the details with Richmond City Council at that time.”
But Johnson and the then-chairman of the authority, Julious P. Smith Jr., proceeded to explain to council how important the deal was and to approve the request to spend millions of taxpayer dollars for the Stone project. Yet the details for the improvements, the preparation and incentives provided to Stone were not available for review -- to the legislative body that was being asked to approve the funds.
City Council had been lobbied hard by Jones on the Stone project, just as it had been on the Redskins deal. And because the authority does not have the same charter requirements of transparency, council and the public were not going to get the specific details of either deal before requesting funding approval.
Why would the mayor’s administration allow this to happen? Because that was, in part, why the authority was created and why the details were not fully recognized by council before the funding was approved. The EDA offered the city a way to keep the council and the public partially in the dark.
This is not fiscal transparency or how open government of the people should operate. The authority should be eliminated.
Michael T. Byrne
President, Shockoe Slip