Just ten days after the election, a limo carrying mayor-elect Dwight C. Jones pulls in front of the downtown Omni Hotel, where guests await. It's not an election party, but a gala celebrating Jones' 35th anniversary as pastor of First Baptist Church of South Richmond.
Jones hops out of the limo and into the carousel of church and state: As mayor, will he continue as pastor of the church?
“We're in transition,” Jones says. “We're figuring out how that's going to look.”
Jones is joined at the event by hundreds of celebrants including church members and high-powered nonparishioners such as Rep. Bobby Scott, super-lobbyist Eva Teig Hardy and campaign adviser Claire Guthrie GastaAñaga.
There's nothing necessarily wrong with Jones continuing to hold both jobs — mayor and pastor, says Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, an ethics watchdog group in Washington, D.C. But it potentially opens the church doors to people whose contributions are not meant to benefit the congregation.
“If suddenly there is the Philip Morris hall at First Baptist,” he says, “that'd be a cause for concern.”
Unlike political campaigns, churches don't have to disclose their donors.
Professor John V. Moeser, a senior fellow at the University of Richmond's Bonner Center for Civic Engagement and an architect of the city's charter, says Richmond needs the mayor's full attention, particularly given the city's crushing budget problems.
“That's one reason, quite honestly, that the charter was changed to call for additional powers for the mayor and the kind of salary authorized was to assure that the mayor was full-time,” he says. The mayor earns $125,000 a year.
Moeser raised similar concerns when Mayor L. Douglas Wilder took office in 2005 and decided to keep his teaching gig at Virginia Commonwealth University — he continues to teach one class a year with an annual paycheck of $50,000. Wilder brushed aside concerns about a conflict of interest; that was three years before the degree scandal involving former Police Chief Rodney Monroe.
Wilder called out his predecessor, former Mayor Rudy McCollum, for working as assistant to the president for government affairs and public policy at Virginia Union University. The job of mayor was then part-time.
Jones has acknowledged that he cannot continue in his current position as pastor of the church while serving as mayor, but has yet to outline exactly what role he'll play at the church come January.