Just days before an assistant commonwealth’s attorney agreed to drop criminal charges against David Hathcock, City Council President Kathy Graziano’s longtime liaison and political sidekick, Graziano submitted a budget amendment seeking an additional $100,000 for the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.
Last week Graziano proposed the additional money to boost employee salaries in the city prosecutor’s office. On Tuesday, a prosecutor from that office agreed to drop misdemeanor battery and sexual assault charges against Hathcock, who allegedly groped and made sexual advances toward Jennifer Walle, a liaison for 1st District City Councilman Bruce Tyler. Hathcock, in turn, agreed to undergo workplace sensitivity training and complete 100 hours of community service.
City Council is scheduled to vote on proposed budget amendments, which would go into effect on July 1 if approved, at Monday’s meeting.
Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring says that he asked Graziano to submit the amendment for $100,000 earlier this month after previous efforts to wrangle support from other council members, as well as Mayor Dwight Jones, failed.
Herring says Graziano’s proposed budget amendment had no bearing on the agreement with Hathcock. After assigning Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Hollomon to investigate the charges, Herring says he’s had no involvement in the case.
Walle filed criminal charges against Hathcock in February. She claims Hathcock groped and sexually harassed her in her City Hall office in April 2010. In a separate civil battery lawsuit, Walle is suing Hathcock, Graziano and the city for failing take action after she reported the incident.
“Hathcock as a subject has never come up in conversation with Graziano or anyone else,” Herring says. “It appears coincidental, and there’s nothing I can do about that. But my people need the money.”
Hayden Fisher, attorney for Walle, says that the timing of Graziano’s amendment “certainly gives the appearance of impropriety.”
“You would think that she would not be a sponsor of the legislation given what’s going on,” Fisher says of Graziano.
Graziano did not return calls seeking comment.
The proposed budget amendment is part of a long-running effort on Herring’s part to increase staff salaries. Richmond faces stiff competition for talent from commonwealth’s attorneys’ offices in Henrico and Chesterfield, he says.
A 2010 report commissioned by Graziano and City Council Vice President Ellen Robertson found that city prosecutors make on average 17 percent less than government attorneys in nearby municipalities.
The state authorizes only $43,000 for entry-level prosecutors, Herring says. To make working in Richmond more attractive to prospects, Herring offers a minimum of $50,000 to starting attorneys. But even that figure is 13 percent below the minimum salary earned by entry-level government prosecutors in the region.
Still, records show that dating back to 2001 the city has contributed hundreds of thousands in yearly stipends to help keep salaries at the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office competitive.
A still-pending ordinance introduced by Mayor Jones on May 2 would contribute $640,088 in salary supplements to Herring’s office for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The recent $100,000 amendment proposed by Graziano is in addition to the $640,000.
But even with the extra funding, current salary levels will still be lower than the regional average, says Herring. According to the report, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office needs an additional $350,000 to close the gap.
When that extra funding did not materialize in mayor’s recently proposed budget, Herring says he first approached Council Vice President Ellen Robertson, and then Graziano, who agreed to submit the amendment for $100,000.