City Charter changes approved

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/7/2023, 6 p.m.
Among the first bills that Dr. Michael J. Jones could patron as a new member of the House of Delegates ...

Among the first bills that Dr. Michael J. Jones could patron as a new member of the House of Delegates is one that would usher in changes to the City Charter, or constitution.

Now the president of City Council, a post he will give up Dec. 31, he was among six members who agreed Monday to support a package of charter changes and send the package to the Virginia legislature for approval.

As the new representative for the 77th House District, he said he would be in place when the new session starts to push for approval.

Among the changes that won majority support is a provision that would allow the council to provide property tax relief to households with low- to moderate-incomes and subsidize rents and home purchases for those that qualify.

Other proposed charter changes would allow the council to set its own pay rather than adhering to state guidelines, more easily modify zoning, change budgeting practices and bolster the authority of the chief administrative officer to run day-to-day affairs at City Hall.

The decision to advance the changes came during Monday’s Organizational Development Committee meeting and cleared the way for formal council approval of the proposals at the final meeting for 2023 on Monday, Dec. 11.

The action also allowed council members to include the charter change proposal as one of the items on the city’s legislative agenda when members of the governing body met Wednesday with the city’s five-member General Assembly delegation.

The council majority overruled three members who sought to hold up the package for further consideration. They were 6th District Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson, 7th District Councilwoman Cynthia I. Newbille and 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell.

Ms. Trammell said her constituents needed more time to learn what the changes would mean while Ms. Robertson said the council should wait until more significant changes could be developed, including provisions bearing on the relationship between the council and the mayor.

Many of the changes that won majority support follow recommendations that a council-created Richmond City Charter Review Commission submitted Aug. 2 after a year of study.

Before the vote, the council also heard from the lone member of the public to offer views on the proposed changes, political strategist Paul Goldman, the leader of the anti-casino campaign.

Mr. Goldman told the council he objected to the elimination of a 2018 provision he championed that required the mayor and council to come up with a plan to renovate or build new schools across the city.

He futilely urged the council to amend the provision and extend its life rather than eliminating it because the “plan was never implemented” despite winning 75% support from the public after Mr. Goldman put it on the city ballot in 2017 and gaining approval from the General Assembly.

Mr. Goldman also unsuccessfully urged the council to back away from the proposal allowing them to set their own salaries, describing the members as undeserving of increased pay based on their track record.

Dr. Jones said Mr. Goldman and others who are dissatisfied have a remedy. They can “run for office and challenge current members,” he said. “That’s the democratic process.”