An email sent out yesterday by Education Compact committee nominee Cindy Menz-Erb is causing a lot of consternation.
In the widely circulated message, Menz-Erb asks supporters of the mayor's proposal to increase the meals tax to telephone or email City Council members and to "only patronize restaurants who support the meals tax. There will be signs for restaurants to display soon but in the meantime, just ask if they support it."
According to a city official, Mayor Levar Stoney was angry about the email. This morning, Stoney indirectly referred to the email with a Facebook post that read: "let me make one thing clear - I do NOT support penalizing anyone, or any business, for their beliefs. In fact -- I feel the exact opposite."
Also City Council member Parker Agelasto announced on social media that he will not support Menz-Erb as a nominee for the committee, which has been tasked with helping Richmond Public Schools exceed statewide benchmarks. He characterized the email as a "significant misstep."
Style could not reach Menz-Erb for comment. But she told The Richmond Times-Dispatch that she was withdrawing her name from consideration.
Menz-Erb moved here in 2016 from New York, and was appointed to the 3rd District School Board seat in March of this year to replace Jeff Bourne, who was elected to the House of Delegates. She lost to Kenya Gibson for the seat in a special election in November.
Second District City Council member Kim Gray says that the email was poor judgment.
"The email went out widely, lots of people I know got it – she makes it impossible for me to support her when she’s suggesting we boycott local restaurants," Gray says. "They’ve been pioneers who’ve given rebirth to our downtown. In my neighborhood -- starting with Tarrant's, Comfort, Lift -- they’ve revitalized downtown. ... You cannot expect them to take another hit with this meals tax. And to bully them is really in poor form. I don’t think this person has exercised sound judgment. I may not have votes to remove her name as appointed, but I cannot in good conscience vote for her."
- Second District City Council member Kim Gray was offended by the email and says she will not support its author as a nominee for the Education Compact.
Restaurant owners such as Jake Crocker were livid on social media about the threatening email. "My anger has reached heights I didn’t know was possible. Wrong on so many levels," he posted on social media.
"I helped organize this Richmond Restaurant Alliance because people are pissed. This is a direct threat," Crocker tells Style. "I'm very upset that these tactics have been directed toward small, locally owned businesses that employ thousands and already generate $26 million dollars in additional taxes. So we are supporting the schools."
You may wonder about any connection between the mayor and Cindy Menz-Erb: They shared one with consultant Mike Doerr, who worked on Stoney's campaign and helped with Menz-Erb's campaign for the 3rd District School Board seat.
In addition to the explosive email, numerous pro-meals-tax phone calls hit Reva Trammell's office yesterday, according to staff liaison Rick Bishop.
"It was very confusing: I got three phone calls in about five minutes. The individuals I talked to couldn't explain a whole lot. They had received a phone call to call a number, then had been transferred to this phone here, same number as [Trammells office]."
Bishop says he asked the callers who had told them to call, and one person responded that it came from "a call in Glen Allen."
At the time, Bishop says he had already been alerted to Menz-Erb's email and was disturbed to see that the email "ranked everybody and their positions."
"I knew then that this was bigger than that email. Somebody is paying a bunch of money to get people to call a number," he says. "I was upset about it. It's a pressure tactic reminiscent of what's going on on a national scale."
Bishop says he came to work this morning expecting to find his voice mail full with more meals-tax calls. But it was empty.
Today at a news conference featuring a handful of restaurants that support the meals tax, Stoney said "debate is healthy. But we've got to remember what this is all about. This is about the children, the next generation." He added that there was no need for divisiveness and that he strongly disagrees with "words like boycott."
He also announced that the website RVAkidscantwait.com had gone live, a site which encourages people to email City Council members to express support of the tax. Funded by Stoney's One Richmond PAC, it also is utilizing the PR services of Capital Results, which was involved the last time the meals tax was raised to pay for CenterStage. At the time, the tax increase was described as "temporary" by city officials.
Listed under the supporters on the advocacy website is Jason Kamras, who was sworn into office today as Richmond's school superintendent.
Kamras spent part of the time at his swearing in telling media that he was not involved in a Washington scandal related to one in three Washington public school students graduating without meeting requirements.