Will somebody please help this city?
Will somebody please help this city?

The bad news just keeps getting worse for the City of Richmond: An audit released yesterday of 98,000 transactions valued at $2 billion found significant delays to vendors, insufficient and inconsistent documentation and unrecorded wire transfers, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. That report was presented alongside a second report, an assessment of Richmond’s fiscal sustainability that found that the city collects and spends 1 1/2 times the revenue per capita of benchmark localities.

“I look at it and say, ‘My gosh, we have a lot of inefficiencies here,’” said Ramon Brinkman, a member of the audit committee. “What could you save by reducing some of the expenses and give a little money back to the taxpayer?”

Richmond is an awesome city. It has wonderful people, great neighborhoods, historical architecture, vibrant businesses, a rich history, a multitude of museums, theaters, art galleries and cultural institutions, and one of the most beautiful rivers in the country. But it has a wasteful and inefficient city government that taxes too much and delivers too little in the way of municipal services.

Part of the city’s financial woes can be attributed to a flawed implementation of an $18  million RAPIDS financial system in 2013, which, according to the city’s deputy chief administrative officer, still suffers from “severe system limitations.” Another problem is the extensive staff turnover, insufficient training and heavy reliance upon inexperienced temps in the accounts receivable office. Those maladies, it would seem, are a reflection of poor management. Of course, there has been high turnover in senior staff positions as well, prompted no doubt by the frustrations encountered with the dismal organizational culture. Thus, the serpent swallows its tail in a never-ending loop of dysfunction.

Richmond has so much potential, but it will never live up to that potential until the city administration gets its act together. What will it take to make that happen? A mayor who makes organizational reform the unremitting focus of his or her attention over all other priorities.


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  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    I would have one simple question. Can any public employee employed by the city of Richmond be fired for failure to do a good and competent job?

  2. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    I was suspicious of an elected “strong” Mayor when that was all the rage earlier in the century. I’m afraid that Richmond is experiencing the downside of such a configuration now. Did Jones even have an opponent in 2012? It’s difficult to instill accountability when no one even runs against the Mayor.

    Here’s an interesting question: Is there any other city in America that sees such a wide disconnect between its private and public sectors? In the private sphere, Richmond seems to be doing well. I usually visit Richmond 2 to 4 times per year. There’s been a noticeable change in the past 10 years towards the upside when it comes to the private sector. But its public sector seems to be in a death spiral towards bankruptcy based on things that you post.

    1. Richmond’s public sector is a mess, but I think it would be a bit much to describe it as in a “death spiral.” The city does have a AA bond rating based on underlying economic fundamentals. I’d reframe the issue this way: The city could be doing so much more — more to encourage more migration into the city, more investment, and more to improve the lives of its poor.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I wonder if Richmond is “pre-Detroit” but maybe not in the way that folks might think.

    Next door to Detroit are fairly rich suburbs much like Richmond has Henrico and Chesterfield.

    is Richmond slowly being hollowed out?

    when we say 1 1/2 times the benchmark – what are the benchmarks ?

    do we compare Richmond to places like Detroit or Baltimore or Cleveland, St. Louis, etc?

    so am I on a wrong track asking this?

    1. No, Richmond is not pre-Detroit. One big reason is that the criminal justice system functions pretty well, and crime is way down from the crack-epidemic violence of a couple of decades ago. Fortunately, the city has a good police chief, sheriff and commonwealth attorney. (The sheriff and C.A. are constitutional officers, who are elected — not appointed. That may have something to do with it.) Another big reason is that the middle class is moving back into the city. The population is growing, not shrinking.

  4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Is this further evidence of an apparent disturbing trend recently, namely:

    That we are at least in the short term going backwards at an alarming rate into bad habits toward increased polarization, mistrust and alienation, a failure to work cooperatively together, and doing so despite all the good works and best efforts and intentions of many so many people throughout all parts of society?

    Where are our great leaders?

  5. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident


    I think the leadership deficit is a product of the increased polarization. There was a time in politics when party was set aside after the election. Leaders would sit down and think long term strategy. They’d enact policies to execute on the plan.

    Nowadays, everything is polarized. There’s almost no ability to compromise or think strategically if you are an elected official. Thus, a lot of great leaders don’t want anything to do with politics. Why waste your time?

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    agree. Great leaders – lead to where people collectively want to go.

    Right now – we do not have agreement on where we want to go – and “leaders” are more typically those that represent one of the views.

  7. From the RTD article:
    “The system had all these issues in large magnitude, and the amount of money flowing through the system was so enormous with many, many temporary employees working there without any guidance,” Dalal (auditor) said, “If fraud is occurring, we’re not going to know.”

    Wow. So the city isn’t even doing the most basic accounting of its finances, and as such has created an environment ripe for fraud.

  8. Larry G
    >;when we say 1 1/2 times the benchmark – what are the benchmarks ?
    Please tell me why this point matters.

    >>do we compare Richmond to places like Detroit or Baltimore or Cleveland, >>St. Louis, etc?

    So what’s your point?

    >>so am I on a wrong track asking this?
    I don’t know. What track are you on? Not apparent to me from the post.

    >>Right now – we do not have agreement on where we want to go – and “leaders” are more typically those that represent one of the views.

    Are you seriously suggesting that we have to have an agreement that the bills should be paid promptly and that the financial reporting should be in order (forget for a second what we spend the money on) ?

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    why does it matter? because some cities have inner cores and richer suburbs. that matters when you want to use a benchmark.

    here’s what I am suggesting – is that cities that get hollowed out – lose teir tax base and from that they fall behind on revenues to fund services and that means a higher percentage of folks who rely on entitlements and other city services… that can no longer be funded.

    In a perfect world – leaders would step forward – tell the truth and make the cuts needed. In this world – it don’t happen – not only not in cities fallen into financial distress but many if not most cities.

    however, having said that – there are AAA rated cities. Richmond is not one of them.

    google ” Cities with the Best and Worst Credit – NerdWallet”

    and see the 10 worst … lots of Texas and Louisiana….


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