Does Mayor L. Douglas Wilder still owe money to the city?
The mayor has already paid back $25,900 to make up for the $700 a month payment he was receiving to offset wear and tear on his own car, even though he was regularly chauffeured by a police detail.
That amount would cover payments back to April 2005, when Wilder says Police Chief Rodney Monroe insisted he come under the protection of a security unit. But the mayor had a provisional protection squad as soon as he took office in January 2005, as indicated by inquiries to the Richmond Police Department. He received $2,100 in auto allowance payments during that period.
What's not clear is how much driving the unit did. Assistant Chief Ray Tarasovic says via e-mail: "In January 2005, then Acting Chief of Police, Teresa Gooch, directed the creation of a protection detail. However, that detail was limited in size, coverage and service and was supplanted by the current Executive Protection Unit" that Chief Rodney Monroe implemented in April.
In an interview, Gooch could not recall if those officers were formally required to transport Wilder in their cruisers but says she's sure they did whatever was necessary to protect him. Staffers from the time say the mayor drove himself to work rarely if ever.
When asked if the earlier unit chauffeured the mayor, a police official tells Style, "sometimes, although not to the extent that it is now." Representatives from the mayor's office decline to comment.
The question of a criminal prosecution for the payments, however, seems to be off the table. Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring previously told Style he was waiting on the city auditor's office to provide further information on the city's benefits administration processes in order to know whether Wilder might have been more aware that he was receiving both benefits.
But Herring conceded at a Crusade for Voters meeting last week that he was unaware that the mayor's car allowance was granted by City Council ordinance in 2004. "I'll look at the ordinance," Herring said after the meeting.
Although a second peek may be worthwhile, both City Council President Bill Pantele, who sponsored the ordinance, and Herring agreed that even if Wilder violated the ordinance, prosecution for the offense seems unnecessarily trivial.
Council introduced an ordinance May 19 abolishing the car allowances for city employees, including the mayor.
During his crusade talk, Herring touched on the question of Ben Johnson, all but ruling out the likelihood that his office would prosecute the city's former emergency management director who was forced to resign for the same double-dipping offense.
Responding to a question from the audience about the money Johnson still has not paid back, Herring suggested the city might take action in a civil suit. "You can still sue him," he said.