Thursday, February 21, 2008

Preparing Doug’s Pink Slip

In 2004, when we the citizens of this fair city hired Doug Wilder to be our mayor we made a mistake. Of course we read his resume thoroughly, we interviewed him many times, and we checked his references. We honestly believed that he was the person to steer our city in the right direction. After more than three years on the job, however, it has become clear that Doug Wilder simply is not the mayor we thought he would be.

When we hired Doug, we thought we were filling the mayoral vacancy with a man who would lead our fair city by working in cooperation with the other parts of our government. Unfortunately, the past three years have demonstrated that Doug just can’t get along with others. Doug’s insistence that things in the city must be done his way has involved him in endless disputes with the City Council and its members, the School Board and its members, the Superintendent of Schools, the City Assessor and the City Auditor. Some of these disputes were merely inconveniences; others have resulted in this city being the subject of national ridicule and scorn.

Doug has had the same difficulty getting along with people and organizations outside the city government. He has antagonized leaders in surrounding jurisdictions by his attitude. He has forced his will on the Richmond Performing Arts Foundation. His insistence that things be done his way led to the Atlanta Braves moving their AAA baseball team out of Richmond.

Partly because of his attitude, Doug has not provided the city with the leadership we thought he would. By engaging in extended turf battles with the City Council and School Board, some of which have resulted in law suits, he has caused the leadership in the city to be pulling in different directions. Instead of seeking agreement with members of the City Council and School Board, and with officials who are not in his chain of command at City Hall, he has insisted that they must submit to his will. Naturally they have resented his patronizing attitude and have resisted doing as he demanded. The result has often been stalemate rather than progress for the city.

Aside from his lack of leadership and uncooperative attitude, Doug has failed to carry out his pledge to eliminate corruption and mismanagement in city government. Audits by the City Auditor reveal that large amounts of public money are still being wasted and stolen. Further last week’s report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch shows that Richmond spends more per resident on administrative overhead each year then do all but a few other jurisdictions in Virginia. Not surprisingly, our residents bear the tenth highest burden in taxes and fees in the entire Commonwealth, considerably higher than that paid by residents in all the surrounding jurisdictions. (See my post “Why do we pay more in Richmond?”-- )

When confronted with this information, City CFO Harry Black, who speaks for Doug on matters of money stated, “A lot of this stuff we inherited.” This would be an adequate defense if this were 2005 or 2006. However, after more than three years on the job, it is no longer acceptable to blame things on your predecessors.

Doug himself hints that it may take more than the time remaining in his current contract to finish his financial cleanup. As he stated at his Tuesday press conference,

“I want to tighten up on people and on processes. That takes time. A lot of it has to do with directors. A lot of it has to do with people in charge.”

The mayor didn’t explain why he has not done any of this tightening in the three years since he started his job. He also did not explain why he has been unable to find the right “people in charge” to fix the city’s finances between 2005 and 2008. He seemed to hint, however, that he may need to have his contract extended to get the job done.

Although Doug is lacking in the areas of leadership and ability to work with others, and he has failed to clean up city finances as he promised, we must recognize his accomplishments. The crime rate has gone down since Doug started the job. Doug’s role in reducing the crime rate was to choose an exemplary police chief (Rodney Monroe), give him public support, make sure the police department was adequately funded, and then step aside and let Chief Monroe do his job. It is unfortunate that Doug did not learn from this experience and apply this approach in other city operations.

For the reasons explained above, the City of Richmond cannot afford to retain Doug Wilder as its mayor. Four more years of Doug’s lack of leadership and inability to work with others could be disastrous for the city and its residents. There are far too many critical issues facing the city in the upcoming year. Based on his performance until now, it is clear Doug is not up to handling them. We need to replace Doug with a person who can get the job done.


Don Harrison said...

Bert: I agree with much of what you are saying, but this idea that Wilder was somehow the cause of the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation's problems has already been debunked and is pure fiction.

Wilder's problem is that, after all of his righteous yelling and fuming, he went and gave away the farm to those folks after they had already wasted $22 million -- $9 million of that being meals tax dollars. Gee, think we could use some of that money now?

And he did this all so he could make a "deal" with the same bigwigs.

I think the more relevant criticism now is that VAPAF -- with Wilder's blessing -- failed to produce the economic studies it claimed when it rammed its project through council this past summer (claiming they had to get the money right away because of "sub-contractor issues" that were non-existent). That is because those studies never existed.

There is plenty to complain about when it comes to Doug Wilder. But to paint VAPAF as some innocent victims is simply wrong. Historical revisionism at its worst.

Don Harrison said...

Apologies, Bert. I gave you the wrong URL to the STYLE WEEKLY article on the "deal" that Wilder and Harry Black made with VAPAF and the "Gang of 26." Here it is:

Maven said...

I stand corrected. Thanks to fellow blogger Don Harrison for pointing out that I picked a poor example of Doug's "management" style in talking about the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation. (Unfortunately, neither of the Style Weekly sites Don referred to are the right one.)
However, Doug is still fired!

Don Harrison said...

Bert: I think you were right to criticize, but wrong to suggest that Wilder had somehow caused VAPAF to fail. If anything, he should be ROUNDLY criticized for doing the right thing at first and then writing a forty-year blank check to VAPAF (at great expense to taxpayers and with middle finger raised at the local arts community who have been shut out of VAPAF's "process" from the very beginning).

I have seen this piece of propaganda ("Doug Wilder caused the arts center to fail") circulating in the RTD letters section, and it seems to be popular with other bloggers that aren't fit to carry the Maven's hand luggage. But you normally take great care in presenting the facts, which is the only reason I commented.

I did provide the correct STYLE link the second time. Here is the passage I speak of:


One City Council insider who declined to be identified says there’s little coincidence that many letter-signers are closely connected to the Richmond CenterStage project.

Among them is Thomas Farrell II, chairman, president and CEO of Dominion Resources, who also chairs RPAC Inc., the nonprofit overseeing the CenterStage project. Farrell is cited by various other signers as having approached them about adding their names to the letter. Farrell, who is traveling abroad, was unavailable for comment.

“Is there quid pro quo there?” asks the anonymous City Council official, suggesting Wilder is getting support he’d like from the business leaders in exchange for greasing the wheels of the CenterStage project.

On Monday, council members received the letter, and “on Friday,” the insider says, “Wilder asked for council to hold special hearings to approve the CenterStage agreement.”

Wilder’s former chief policy adviser, Paul Goldman, also asked the question: “Is this quid pro quo? The arts center in exchange for the School Board?”

Thanks, Bert, and keep up the good work.