In a 7-2 vote, Richmond’s City Council approved Mayor Dwight Jones selection of the Ballard/Tompkins group to build the city’s new justice center. The action brought a conclusion to weeks of hard questions, subtle innuendos, frustration and community tension surrounding the $116 million project, the city’s biggest municipal improvement project in recent years.
Initially scheduled for consideration at Monday’s regular council session, the matter was continued to Thursday, July 28 to allow for additional public comment and council discussion. On Thursday night, dozens of citizen’s approached the podium in council chambers to speak for and against the mayor’s recommendation. Those speaking addressed a host of topics including the contractor vetting process, the critical need for a new jail, the validity and enforcement of minority participation goals and the degree of community involvement associated with the contractor selection process.
Some of the tension surrounding the Mayor’s choice has emanated from council members Marty Jewell (Central 5th District) and Bruce W. Tyler (West End 1st District).
Both men have insisted publicly their interests in the mayor’s recommendation is directed solely toward ensuring, in their capacities as elected officials, that all aspects of the procurement process were conducted fairly and were free of favoritism and other inappropriate factors. In service to that agenda, Jewell and Tyler relentlessly pursued specific information related to each element of the process that led to the mayor’s recommendation.
At Monday’s and Thursday’s council deliberations, Jewell and Tyler expressed acute frustration over the perceived lack of transparency displayed by administration officials ranging from the non-disclosure of requested information; uncertainty regarding the eleven member advisory committee’s authority to alter requirements stated in the city’s request for proposals and the failure of city officials to produce requested information and reports in a timely manner.
Many of the speakers who addressed council during the two sessions commented on the deplorable conditions that exist at the current jail facility. These include the absence of adequate heating/cooling systems and the aging infrastructure which jeopardizes the health and safety of both inmates and staff. Their comments were emotionally charged and bore the residue of frustration that clings after years of fighting to bring about needed changes.
One of the most ardent advocates in support of the mayor’s recommendation was Richmond Sheriff, C. T. Woody, who has been persistent in his efforts to get better accommodations for staff and the inmate population at the jail. During both sessions Woody displayed a sense of urgency as he implored council to approve the mayor’s recommendation.
One of the more unsettling issues addressed during the sessions was the treatment of the minority business participation goals contained in Ballard/Tompkins’ proposal. Questions addressing the validity of the 50% minority participation goal, the mechanism that will be used to enforce compliance and whether Ballard/Tompkins’ proposal satisfied the RFP requirements were discussed during both sessions.
Other concerns related to whether city administrators had satisfied the requirements of the Public-Private Educational Facilities Infrastructure Act (PPEA) and whether the process used by the city offered adequate input and involvement by the community.
When the dust settled after the council vote, there was a sense of relief by some and renewed frustration by others. What is clear is one hurdle has been cleared in Richmond’s quest for a new jail. In this respect, all seem to be winners.
How the city will address the underlying theme of community division and mistrust is not as clear.
See related photo gallery at: