Calls for collaboration abound at Richmond City Council’s first meeting of 2017, with newly elected members taking the oath of office.
In attendance, Mayor Levar Stoney receives applause, hugs and handshakes. Henry Marsh, Richmond’s first black mayor who served from 1977-’82, gets a standing ovation from the audience.
Council unanimously elects Cynthia Newbille as vice president. “This will be about collective action and creativity,” she says, citing “Richmond 2020” as her vision.
Members elect Chris Hilbert as president 8-0, with a lone abstention coming from 5th District Councilman Parker Agelasto.
In a statement handed out after the vote, Agelasto cites Hilbert’s decision not to appoint him to any leadership positions on council -- decisions made in meetings with members before the vote for president was official.
Agelasto accuses Hilbert of stripping him of previous leadership positions, attributing the decision to his efforts to bring transparency to council and more accountability over how city money is spent.
“I realize this new way of doing things was not greeted with open arms by some on council who were wedded to past council actions that too often led to spending abuses and fixations on shiny projects at the expense of funding for schools, public safety and basic city services,” Agelasto’s statement reads.
Agelasto previously served as vice chairman of the Finance and Economic Development Committee, and an alternate member of the Education and Human Services, Governmental Operations, and Public Safety committees.
This term he’ll be a regular member of the Finance and Economic Development and Government Operations committees.
Hilbert called Agelasto’s statement “unfortunate.”
“I don’t know who he’s talking about relative to shiny objects,” Hilbert says, “and the implication that he’s the only one asking the questions couldn’t be further from the truth as far as I’m concerned.”
Hilbert also dismisses the importance of the leadership positions, saying committee chairmen conduct meetings but don’t have a bigger say on the issues.
As for appointments, he says he consults with members about their interests. “At the end of the day, you have to make a decision, and those were the decisions I made,” he says. “I don’t share his reasoning as to why it happened.”
In his acceptance speech, Hilbert touches on public safety, schools and poverty as priorities. “Let’s choose to use our liberty to create justice,” he says.
“I believe in a place called Richmond,” he says, asking the audience to repeat the refrain. “We choose to truly face the uglier parts of our history and the racism that started this disparity in wealth and recognize and admit that these issues are apparent to this very day.”