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Richmond fires several finance department employees

The Richmond finance department
Shaban Athuman
VPM News File
The Richmond finance department is seen on Tuesday, February 27, 2024 inside City Hall.

The city recently contracted with a consultant to examine department policy.

Several people have been fired this spring from Richmond’s finance department, two sources told VPM News.

The move comes following the city bringing on government management specialist Anne Seward to consult with the department on policy and to assist in a review of the meals tax.

Seward is a subcontractor through Davenport & Co. LLC, according to a memo the city shared with VPM News. Seward’s services, which cost $200 per hour, run through the end of the year. Davenport did not make her available for comment.

Richmond spokesperson Petula Burks declined to specifically answer questions about the personnel changes, including what prompted the terminations and how many people have been affected. She did say personnel decisions are “solely handled by the appropriate city employee and/or leader.”

“The city expects all employees to diligently perform their duties to a high standard,” Burks wrote in a statement. “If these expectations are not met, the city reserves the right to take appropriate action regarding the individual's employment status.”

Since January, restaurants have raised concerns over inaccurate meals tax bills they’ve received from the city's finance department.

The department also cannot currently determine if businesses have overpaid their taxes, despite repayment of those funds being required by city code. Officials have said billing and account reconciliation issues will be resolved when the digital RVAPay platform is fully implemented by the end of 2024.

During a May 15 streaming district meeting with City Councilor Katherine Jordan, finance department director Sheila White couldn’t address that latter issue. The following questions were submitted through the meeting’s chat function by VPM News staff and read aloud by Jordan’s liaison.

VPM News: One, when RVAPay is fully implemented, will the city notify taxpayers if their accounts previously had credits? 

White: I'm not sure what that question is. So, I’m going to have to skip on that one. What's the other question?

The second question is do you have an estimate of how many accounts have a credit? And how much money does that total?

Not sure what that question is, but I'll refer Dave back to Petula.

Michael Byrne, director of the Virginia Restaurant Association, said the city’s reached agreements over meals tax disputes with some vocal business owners. But issues with the accuracy and transparency of the billing process remain.

“It's just not correct information,” Byrne said while discussing the latest round of notices.

Mandatory overtime recently has been instituted for finance department personnel, who are currently working to complete a review of the meals tax by July, as well as handling annual personal property tax payments that were recently due.

Chief Administrative Office Lincoln Saunders said he hopes there’s not a need for additional overtime this coming weekend, but appreciates the staff “stepping up” to provide service to residents.

Finance department employees, part of the city’s administrative and technical bargaining unit, selected SEIU Local 512 to represent them in 2023. The current staffing situation will be an immediate test for the union.

“Our position is that the city needs to sit down with frontline employees, with union members in a labor management process to have a conversation about what the challenges [in the finance department] are, and work with their employees to come up with a solution,” Local 512 President LaNoral Thomas said Monday.

Thomas pointed out that the unit’s recently ratified and City Council-approved contract goes into effect July 1, but doesn’t impact SEIU’s engagement with city officials around the terminations.

Burks referred VPM News to Mayor Levar Stoney’s spokespeople for comment. Kevin Zeithaml, the press contact for Stoney’s lieutenant governor campaign, and Gianni Snidle, the press contact for the mayor’s office, did not respond to requests for comment last week and on Monday.

Over the weekend, Stoney attended a campaign event in Brunswick County.

Dave Cantor has been an editor with VPM News since 2022, juggling daily digital and broadcast stories.
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