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Wilder Launches Investigation into Schools Spending, IT Move


Mayor L. Douglas Wilder is ratcheting up his pressure on the city auditor, who's already investigating possible administration misdeeds during the aborted Sept. 21 attempted move of the city's School Board offices.

In a letter to Umesh Dalal Dec. 17, Wilder expresses his "extreme disappointment in the audit process as it has related to Richmond Public Schools," and announced his own investigation of the IT move, as well as another of overall schools spending.

Wilder demands an investigation into the Richmond Public Schools move of its information technology department and computer servers out of City Hall in July.

Linwood Norman, the mayor's spokesman, says "it remains to be announced" who would conduct the Wilder investigation of Schools spending. In his letter, Wilder demands that Dalal, as part of the administration's IT investigation, conduct a limited audit of the IT move.

Wilder's demand follows a School Board internal audit and a Style Weekly investigation into the IT move, which revealed overspending on a move that cost more than $700,000, and mismanagement of the project that among other problems led to flooding of the sensitive data center after heavy rains.

In the wake of questions, Schools Assistant Superintendent Tom Sheeran and IT department head Doug Green have both submitted their resignations from Richmond Public Schools. Green later retracted his resignation and retired.

Wilder's letter demands that Dalal complete his schools IT audit by Feb. 15, a deadline Dalal doesn't believe is entirely realistic considering the brain drain from the city caused by Wilder's management practices. Dalal, along with other city departments, has experienced a rash of departures and difficulty in rehiring for vacant positions.

Currently down by three positions in an office of 10, Dalal says he's badly understaffed.

"The employees that are leaving say they find this (city government) environment distrustful -- which I don't disagree with," Dalal says. "I cannot deliver that by Feb. 15 because another one of my staff members is leaving and I need to finish what I have on my plate before I can deliver this product."

Asked if he could delay one or more of those other audits, Dalal sounded less than hopeful: "What do they want me to put back-burner?"

In addition to assisting an ongoing City Council investigation of Wilder's attempted eviction of RPS from City Hall, Dalal's office also is conducting audits on the city administration and school system's accounts payable and procurement departments, due to wrap up in January; an audit on schools staffing, due in March; and an already under way audit of schools' IT department operations, due in April.

That there is already an IT audit underway may offer some hope for Wilder's demand, says Dalal, who already has expressed his own concerns over the IT move and its costs. "I can do this as a part of it, but I'm not going to be able to finish it by February."

Meanwhile, at least one School Board member says she doesn't care who conducts the audits, so long as they're done.

Board member Carol A.O. Wolf first publicly suggested an audit of RPS spending more than a year ago, and, with fellow board member Keith West, led criticism of the school system's IT move.

"It has to be done and whether it's going to be the school system or it's going to be the mayor," Wolf says, "I'm glad it's going to happen."

City Hall speculation is that Wilder's latest investigation is at least in part inspired by an ongoing investigation of his own aborted School Board move, which Dalal's preliminary review before City Council last week indicates may have cost in excess of $400,000.

Not included in those costs is the nearly $350,000 lease signed by then-acting-Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black for 3600 W. Broad St. An opinion by the city attorney, Norman Sales, indicates that the lease was illegally signed, but an agent for the building's owners says that the company believes it has a valid lease and will fight to enforce it.

"We think it's a lease that's legally binding on the city," says Kathy Ivins, a senior vice president with Thalhimer, the building's leasing agent.

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