by James A. Bacon
Most of the Confederate statues and memorials in the City of Richmond are gone. Only the statue of Robert E. Lee, the subject of ongoing litigation, remains. The statues and cannons are not coming back. The broken egg cannot be reassembled. But there are legitimate issues relating to Mayor Levar Stoney’s use or abuse of power. It’s one thing to remove the statues in accordance with state law and local ordinance. It’s another to take them down in violation of the same laws and ordinances under pressure from protesters and mobs.
One big question is by what authority Stoney spent $1.8 million to pay the contractor that removed the memorials. City Council never appropriated the funds. An employee of a state agency familiar with state procurement policy, who asks to remain anonymous, thought Stoney’s procurement of statue-removal services seemed “irregular,” so she filed a Freedom of Information Request for more information. She shared the resulting documents with Bacon’s Rebellion.
Among her more interesting findings was the fact that Stoney contracted on July 1, 2020, with a Henrico County entity, NAH, LLC, to do the work. The paperwork for creating the partnership had been filed with the State Corporation Commission June 22 — only days previously. The timing suggests that NAH was not an ongoing business enterprise but was formed for the express purpose of removing the statues.
That raises several questions. Who are the principals behind NAH? How was the plan conceived? Do the principals have any connection to Stoney beyond the signing and execution of the contract itself?
Yesterday, I left a voice mail message with Stoney’s press secretary Jim Nolan asking the identity of the principals behind NAH. He has not responded. Likewise, I left a voice mail message with NAH LLC’s registered agent, a Northern Virginia attorney, Diana Lyn C. McGraw. She has not responded either. If either one gets back to me, I will add an update to this story.
When organizers file Articles of Organization for a Virginia limited liability company (LLC) with the Virginia State Corporation Commission, only bare bones information is required: the name of the LLC, the name and address of the registered agent, the initial address and the principal office address of the LLC, The form provides a place for the organizers to sign. “One or more organizers must sign the articles,” state the directions for the form. “If signing on behalf of an organizer that is a business entity, include the business entity’s name, your printed name, and your role within the business entity.”
The information is made available through the SCC’s searchable Clerk Information System. Search results for NAH LLC yields no names of principals — only the notation “Management Structure: Member-Managed.”
At this point, I am operating on the assumption that the parties involved want to keep the names of the principals confidential. The question, then, is why? What do they not want the public to know?
Let’s start with the chronology.
Protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman spread to Richmond in June and quickly conflated with a long-standing movement to remove Confederate statues and memorials. Protesters first sprayed statues around the city with graffiti. Action then escalated when groups pulled down a statue of Jefferson Davis, a statue of Christopher Columbus, and a memorial to the First Virginia Infantry regiment formed before the Revolutionary War. The efforts culminated with an unsuccessful attempt to use a rope to pull down a statue of J.E.B. Stuart on Monument Avenue. Declaring an unlawful assembly, Richmond police fired pepper spray and flash bangs to disperse the crowd.
On June 22, Stoney told City Council he was seeking a legal avenue to remove the statues. However, interim City Attorney Haskell Brown warned that such an action would run the risk of violating state law, which could result in felony charges.
“I’m willing to take that risk,” Stoney said. “If I had Superman strength and could go and arrive at Monument Avenue and remove them myself and get slapped with a class 6 felony, I would have done that yesterday.” But any city employee who removed a statue could be subject to prosecution, and he said he didn’t want to put anyone else at risk.
That same day McGraw, an attorney in the Tysons office of the Fox Rothschild law firm, filed the organization papers for NAH, LLC. Her law firm biography describes her as a “versatile attorney with a background in construction. … Diana provides consulting services to government contractors who need support with work acquisition, project management, … and small business utilization and contract compliance.” She also has experience “managing small business DBE/MBE/SWAM subcontracting plans” and “drafting joint venture and teaming agreements.”
A company by the same name had been organized in 2017. The registered agent was John D. Konstantinou, a Williamsburg attorney. The company addressed was listed as Toano, Va., a community just west of Williamsburg, but no information about the principals was made public. The SCC files indicate that the LLC went inactive on March 2, 2020, automatically canceled due to non payment of the registration fee. However, the LLC was eligible for reinstatement.
It cannot be determined from the SCC documents if the principal (or principals) behind the original NAH, LLC, was (were) the same as the entity formed June 22.
On June 29, Governor Ralph Northam signed an executive order extending a previously declared “state of emergency due to civil unrest in the City of Richmond.” In the order, he directed “state and local governments to render appropriate assistance to prepare for and respond to this situation.”
According to documents obtained from the City of Richmond through FOIA, Stoney signed an agreement July 1 with NAH, LLC, in which NAH would “make available the manpower and equipment necessary to relocate certain sculptures owned by the city as directed by the City’s Emergency Manager.” The agreement listed eleven statues and memorials to be removed.
Stated the agreement:
NAH LLC has assembled a world-class team of riggers, operators, fabricators, and artists who specialize in the preservation, handling and placement of one-of-a-kind art pieces to assist in the completion of this project. …
Cost of Services:
NAH LLC will mobilize the necessary men and equipment to the City of Richmond for the price of $900,000. This amount becomes owed when NAH LLC receives direction to proceed from the City’s Emergency Manager, his agent, or any other authorized City official. NAH LLC anticipates this mobilization to begin on or about June 26, 2020 and be complete on or about June 27, 2020.
NAH LLC will keep the necessary manpower and equipment on standby in, or very near, the City of Richmond, ready to work at the direction of the City. …. The City agrees to pay $180,000 per day for this time, regardless of whether crews are on standby or working on the relocations.
The agreement for the City of Richmond was signed by Stoney. The copy provided under the FOIA request did not include the signature of the NAH LLC official.
The same day, according to press reports, Stoney went public with the information that removal would cost $1.8 million. He did not say where in the city budget the money would come from. There was some speculation that the sum could be covered by private donations. A local citizen, Shannon Harton, announced a Fund to Move the Monuments campaign to cover the city’s expenses. However, as of July 29 that effort had succeeded in raising only $15,634 towards its $1 million goal.
At the City Council meeting that day, Councilpersons Stephanie Lynch and Michael Jones introduced Resolution 2020-R041 authorizing Stoney, in his capacity as Director of Emergency Management, to order “the temporary removal and storage of certain statues in the City of Richmond, whose presence creates a public safety concern.” The resolution was referred to the Finance and Economic Development Standing Committee.
Work commenced the next day with the removal of the Commodore Maury statue and globe, and continued on the other memorials for the next few days without major incident.
A contractor’s invoice included with the FOIA documents shows that NAH LCC billed the city for $1.8 million on July 10. The company’s address was listed as a Henrico County post office box.
After the money had been spent and statues removed, the Finance committee recommended approval of the emergency resolution, but City Council voted July 27 to reject it.
Bacon’s bottom line: Having presented the evidence, I now enter the realm of conjecture. Why the secrecy about the identity of NAH LLC? Here is a hypothesis: Stoney would find the identity to be politically embarrassing. It appears that he short-circuited the city’s usual procurement policies. He did not write a scope of project. He did not put the job out to bid. He cut a deal with an unknown party, and then authorized that party to act despite failing to gain City Council approval.
Stoney needs to come clean with a full explanation of how the agreement with NAH LLC came to be, and who the NAH principals are. Perhaps the process was entirely legal. Perhaps there was no cronyism was involved. But $180,000 per day is a lot of money to charge for some heavy equipment and a work crew. Until Stoney opens up, the citizens of Richmond have every reason to be suspicious.