Things Fall Apart

Can it get any worse for Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones? He's been outmaneuvered on his pet stadium project, sparring with the school board over budget priorities, and was even dinged in his role as state party chair.

Now the city's head administrative official, Byron Marshall, has been pushed out. Marshall, whose job was Chief Administrative Officer, was supposed to be the power behind the throne for the Mayor. (Style Weekly once called him the Mayor's consigliere.)

 Marshall had been criticized for mishandling the Mayor's stadium proposal, particularly by the City Council, for not releasing enough information. If the Mayor was counting on Marshall to come up with a complete plan for him, that did not work out well.

Why is Marshall gone? Style Weekly's Ned Oliver suggests the Mayor might be shifting blame to Marshall over the stadium debacle. Marshall also was investigated, although legally cleared, of monkeying with a colleague's pension plan. (No one is saying anything clear about Marshall's relationship to former city finance official Sharon Ludkins. But when Marshall was forced by the mayor to fire Ludkins, he tried to improperly add a sick leave payout to her compensation.)

Marshall's departure is the Mayor's tenure in microcosm. The city's administration is in disarray, with a complete lack of information and transparency. (So complete a lack, in fact, that City Council members were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement before being briefed on Marshall's departure.)

The mess even has some, like RTD columnist Michael Paul Williams, calling for reforms:

Under Jones, a perfectly good police chief (Bryan Norwood) was shown the door, and a popular community development director (Rachel O. Flynn) was effectively demoted before her departure. Such power plays are the prerogative of a strong mayor.

But when that power is used to place a cone of silence over elected officials, and to keep the public in the dark, it’s time to question the system we’ve embraced.

But let's not be too hasty. Before changing our governmental structure, I'd like to wait until we have a mayor who actually seems to know what they're doing. The problem here isn't the strong mayor system, but our not-so-strong Mayor Jones.