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Wilder Proposes Field Trip, Sparks Council Dispute


Sipping drinks on Atlanta's scenic Peachtree Street or catching a show at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. -- what could be more therapeutic for the city government's feuding branches?

Mayor L. Douglas Wilder has asked City Council and members of the state legislative delegation to accompany him on a road trip to observe how other city governments with a "strong mayor" form of government work.

But City Council President Bill Pantele isn't calling his travel agent just yet.

In a letter dated Nov. 20, Wilder proposes to Pantele and other City Council members that they visit other cities to see "how their charter stacks up against Richmond's charter." Wilder suggests departing in early December, a month before the General Assembly's Jan. 9 deadline for legislation to consider changes to the city charter.

Pantele, however, says the charter is in fine shape. "I think that a fair amount of confusion is being engineered," he says. "I think the charter is pretty clear."

Pantele responded with a letter Nov. 21, suggesting that rather than taking an intercity tour, Richmond should empanel a committee of experts to consider any charter modifications. City Council, in fact, authorized such a committee in March, but has yet to appoint any members.

Wilder wrote back the same day, saying Pantele's "suggestion that we wait to hear from a commission that has not only never been convened, but has never been staffed is perplexing."

The council ordinance establishing the charter panel stipulates that the panel be staffed by City Council's director of legislative services. That job has been vacant since April 30, when Acting Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black fired Ellen Bowyer, who held the position. Richmond Circuit Court Judge Margaret Spencer handed down a ruling last week that said Black acted beyond his legal authority in firing Bowyer.

"If you feel a visit to another locality will not be productive for this oncoming session of the legislature," Wilder concludes, "let me know." S

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