In other cities corrupt acts by elected officials and their staff is called graft, larceny, embezzlement, fraud, or cronyism. And these folks go to jail for this type of behavior. In Richmond however, the City bureaucracy has grown so emboldened they don’t even blush anymore when committing the most egregious acts. It is considered standard operating procedure.
Take this week’s latest real estate announcement in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: Richmond EDA approves sale of business incubator downtown; boutique hotel planned. Sounds like a great deal right? An underused building will be turned into a new boutique hotel. What’s not to like? Let’s pop some champagne atop the City’s next hotel rooftop deck while posing for an incredible selfie!
But here is the problem. Why didn’t the City put that property up for auction and sell it to the highest bidder? Why were only a handful of friendlies invited to the table to consider the purchase? And most importantly, why did the City agree to sell the property for $2.5MM when the city assessed that same high rise property just this past year at $3.8MM? It gets even worse when you consider the fact that the city assessor typically assesses properties for 25% less than what they are worth. That means the City administration and its staff was complicit in the theft of somewhere between $1.3-2.25 Million from city taxpayers. And the worst part about this whole racket is that this is only one transaction. This con has been repeated over and over during the Jones administration. If you add them all up, I suspect the total amount stolen from the city would well surpass a hundred million dollars, and possibly much more.
The con follows a predictable pattern. Here is how it works:
- Identify: City administration officials identify a valuable piece of city owned real estate that is underutilized.
- Exclude: The City quietly invites its friendlies to the table and asks them if they would like the property, while excluding everyone else from bidding, or even knowing the deal is being cut.
- The Fix: The City signs a deal to sell the property at below market price to that friendly, the friendly shops for an appraiser who is willing to “hit the number” at the below market contract price, and the city taxpayer receives less money for its property than it would have received if it was simply auctioned off in an open, and fair process.
- Quid Pro Quo: The friendly does favors for city and its elected officials (and family) by making donations, doing favors, giving gifts, hosting campaign rallies, etc.
Last I could tell, the City is fighting over inadequate school funding. And apparently we don’t have enough money to cut the grass, fix potholes, or pave the streets. And Manchester was just overlooked for a second year in a row with zero funding granted for the Hull Street revitalization.
All of these problems could be fixed immediately and then some, if the City simply put its underutilized property up for public auction. In fact, the city would be awash in money. The City should set an auction reserve price for each property at true market value, and let everyone who had an interest bid on a level playing field.
But why do that, when you can steal from city taxpayers for your own benefit and seemingly get away with it while suffering no consequences? Dear FBI, we know you are already busy investigating the ever growing laundry list of Richmond politico misdeeds, but your services are needed once again in RVA-STAT!