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NSC aide testifies it was his duty to report Trump’s ‘improper’ call

In Nation & World | NSC aide testifies it was his duty to report Trump’s ‘improper’ call | Page A10


Business
About a dozen of Hilds' Manchester properties headed to auction

About a dozen properties in the Manchester neighborhood of South Richmond owned by entities controlled by Laura Dyer Hild and her husband, the former Live Well Financial CEO Michael C. Hild, are to be sold at auction next month.

The properties include a former bank branch turned banquet hall at the northeast corner of Hull and West 12th streets that the Hilds had planned to turn into a boutique hotel. Another building is at the southeast corner of that same intersection where the couple had planned to put Manastoh brewery-restaurant and apartments.

The offerings in and around the Hull Street corridor — some offerings consisting of multiple parcels — will be sold at auction beginning at 11 a.m. on Dec. 17 at The Westin Richmond hotel in Henrico County.

Real estate auction firm Tranzon Fox is handling the sale of the properties for Church Hill Ventures LLC, Kingfisher LLC, and Gardenia LLC, which own the properties. Laura Dyer Hild is listed as the registered agent for those limited liability companies.

Federal law enforcement officials in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York approved the sale of these properties, said Bill Londrey, a partner with Tranzon Fox.

The federal prosecutors “agreed that the owners could sell them themselves to maximize value,” Londrey said. “They have been authorized to move forward.”

In late August, federal law enforcement officials had obtained a restraining order prohibiting the Hilds from selling various real estate properties after Michael Hild, the founder and CEO of the now-defunct Chesterfield County-based Live Well Financial, was arrested and charged with five federal criminal counts in a $140 million bond fraud scheme.

Live Well Financial closed abruptly on May 3 and laid off its 103 employees, most of whom worked at the company’s corporate offices in the Boulders office complex.

Hild, 44, pleaded not guilty in federal court in New York City in September to the five counts.

His wife has not been charged with any crimes.

The properties up for auction next month are not part of the properties and businesses that federal prosecutors in New York said in September that they want to be able to seize if Michael Hild is convicted because they claim those properties and businesses were funded by his “crime proceeds.” Those businesses include Hot Diggity Donuts, Butter Bean Market & Cafe and Dogtown Brewing Co.

The Hilds had amassed in recent years nearly three dozen properties through various limited liability companies in Richmond’s Manchester, Blackwell and Swansboro neighborhoods with plans to redevelop those properties.

***

Next month’s auction could have a major impact on the Manchester area and the Hull Street corridor, Londrey said.

The properties are clustered on or near the 1100-1900 block of Hull Street and include commercial buildings, a historic former church, vacant lots and a partially renovated row house. Many are suitable for apartments or apartments with commercial on the street level, he said.

“You will see some of them have been renovated or stabilized,” he said.

Londrey didn’t want to speculate on how much the auction might bring in. “The market will determine values. The market is pretty good. We are going out there to as many people to market it as much as possible,” he said.

Henrico-based commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer is working with Tranzon Fox to help market and sell the properties.

In some cases, he said the Hilds made a “significant investment” in architectural plans, renderings and engineering for some of the properties.

Those plans will convey with the real estate when sold at auction, Londrey said. “So there is value there,” he said.

One such property with plans is a former bank building at 1128 Hull St. where the Hilds had planned Manastoh brewpub with a five-story building to be constructed behind 1128 Hull St. for apartments.

The couple had invested about $300,000 in architectural, engineering, and interior drawings, Tranzon Fox’s website said.

Across the street at the northeast corner of Hull and West 12th streets is where the Bankuet Place banquet hall operates in the former Mechanics and Merchants Bank branch, built in 1913. That building, at 1129 Hull St. has columns on the exterior and marble floors and 20-foot-high ceilings inside.

The Bankuet Place had generated revenue this year through October of $18,805, according to Tranzon Fox’s website on that property. The property was assessed for $718,000.

The Hilds had planned to turn it into the Mapop Hotel by adding newly constructed five-story building behind it with the three upper floors hanging over the back part of the branch for the hotel guest rooms. Plans had called for about 30 rooms, a restaurant, a small-batch brewing and winemaking operation and a rooftop bar.

The other offerings are:

• a 17,656-square-foot building at 1518 Hull St. with additional lots in the rear at 6, 8, 10, and 12 E. 16th St. that had been planned for 14 apartments and commercial space in existing building plus 55 units of new construction on the rear lots.

• a 7,500-square-foot building at 1427 Hull St.;

• a 4,100-square-foot commercial building at 1910 Hull St.;

• a row house building from the 1920 at 1814 Hull St. and an adjacent lot at 1812 Hull St.;

• a 4,000-square-foot building, which had been the former Lighthouse Diner, at 1228 Hull St.;

• three vacant lots at 1703, 1715 and 1717 Maury St.;

• a 1,224-square-foot house undergoing rehab and construction at 223 E. 15th St.; and

• a former 3,201-square-foot church, originally built in 1868 as Meade Memorial Episcopal Church at 1201 Decatur St.

For more information, go to www.tranzon.com/FX1945.


Plus
Families in western Henrico unhappy with first draft of school redistricting proposals

Hundreds of parents from neighborhoods in western Henrico County are criticizing school redistricting plans they say would split up their communities.

But efforts to calm growing discontent over redistricting proposals — which could affect up to about 5,300 students — have done little to lower the temperature as parents and students take to community and school board meetings to say the drafts are at odds with the school division’s stated goals.

School officials and a consultant they’ve hired for the project have advised parents to be patient, saying they’ll be working through the school year to develop options the public can scrutinize before a final Henrico School Board vote in May.

Henrico County Public Schools wants to alleviate overcrowding in classrooms, break up concentrations of poverty and anticipate future growth while keeping neighborhood schools as intact as possible.

“Redistricting is never easy,” Superintendent Amy Cashwell told an audience of several hundred people at a meeting last week. “I have heard and felt your concerns. I can think of nothing else worth fighting for more than what is best for our children.”

Meanwhile, the process remains fraught.

Hundred of people wore T-shirts and brought banners and posters referencing their neighborhoods and schools to a community redistricting meeting at Mills Godwin High School last week.

As officials tried to brief the community on where things stand, some parents booed and shouted. Afterward, as attendees filtered through the school’s main hall to see the different maps, school officials and a few dozen community volunteers serving on the redistricting committee tried to answer questions and ease concerns about their work.

Krista Boyd, the mother of a student who attends Quioccasin Middle School and is currently zoned for Godwin High School, helped organize a protest march ahead of last Wednesday’s meeting. About 10% of the divisions’ students could be impacted under the draft plans.

Boyd said the main reason she felt compelled to protest is because her son would have to travel farther to attend J.R. Tucker High School.

“It’s about community and proximity,” she said. “We can literally hear the [Godwin] band playing on Friday nights. If the [football] team scores a touchdown, we can hear the crowd cheering.”

The change would also mean that her son would not go to high school with friends he has known since kindergarten, she said. “He’s grown up thinking he’ll go to Godwin, so he really wants to stay there.”

Jeff Britt, the parent of four kids in Henrico schools, has also been involved in organizing his own community in the Pemberton Road corridor to protest a proposal to zone part of their community for Tucker instead of Freeman High School.

Britt stressed that the options would undo changes that were made in the last comprehensive redistricting a decade ago. “Enough is enough,” he said. “We’re tired of always being up for grabs. We have a very strong community along the Pemberton corridor. .... We’re going to fight this.”

Boyd, Britt and many other parents have said they are concerned that their children would have to travel farther to attend school.

Katrina Kernodle Walsh, a mother of two children at Short Pump Elementary School, said sending children to schools farther away would mean longer daily trips for school buses and teen drivers. She said it could also make it more difficult for families to reunite in case of emergency.

“It’s not risk-based decision-making,” she said of how the options were developed. “Overcrowding is a problem, but safety and security is kind of paramount to that.”

School officials say the proposed changes for the start of the 2021-22 academic year remain subject to revision as the School Board will not make a final decision until May.

“We really value an open and transparent process in this,” said Matt Cropper, a consultant the school division hired to help with redistricting. “It does elicit emotion early in the process, but we feel it’s better to be open and transparent so that you can see how things are being developed and evolve as opposed to having things done behind closed doors.”

A similar meeting at Douglas Wilder Middle School earlier this month drew fewer people, but organized neighborhood groups and communities attended and raised concerns.

About a half-dozen parents from Ridge Elementary School at that meeting said the two redistricting options could make the concentration of poverty at their school worse.

With about 92% of the 530 students at Ridge Elementary school eligible for free lunch under federal poverty measurements, the parents said options to zone a few single-family housing developments elsewhere could pile on.

“Our concern is the school would not be able to sustain itself,” said Amy Boyle, a former member of the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

Ann Lienemann, whose two kids at Ridge would be moved to Jackson Davis Elementary School, said she understands the redistricting committee is trying to address the school’s 99% capacity rate but the change could weaken the school’s PTA and the support it can leverage for students and teachers.

“While they are potentially solving one of their goals, they’re actually making one matter completely worse,” she said. “If I go to Davis, that’s fine. But the school we’d be leaving behind would not be OK. And that breaks my heart.”

The parents from Ridge said they were surprised to learn at the meeting that the committee did not have census tract data to consider when deciding how to adjust the school’s boundaries.

Cropper, whose Ohio-based consulting firm Henrico is contracting for $230,000 this year, said it’s not unusual for some information to be missing in the early stages of planning for school redistricting.

He said the options that have been developed were based on last year’s enrollment, free and reduced lunch data and the existing school feeder patterns, as well as committee members’ familiarity with their communities.

“At the next series of committee meetings when we regroup in December, we will have updated 2019-2020 enrollment and economic disadvantage data to be able to work with,” he said.

“Sometimes it takes time for data to become available. And there’s a lot of information they’ve had to study, so it’s not uncommon to introduce new data as the process continues,” Cropper said.

In addition to updated data and information to work with, the redistricting committee will need to consider the school division’s recently announced plans to build a new elementary school in the Fairfield District. The school division has also recommended that a new expansion be built onto a middle school, but has not recommended what school that should be.

A five-year capital spending plan the Henrico School Board adopted last week also includes plans for another new elementary school in the far western end of the county, but officials say those plans are contingent on what the final redistricting plan looks like.

The elementary school redistricting committee will meet again Dec. 4 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the New Bridge Learning Center. The secondary school committee will then meet Dec. 9 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Hungary Creek Middle School.


Plus
'Our job is to protect the pocketbook' - outgoing Virginia House budget chairman cautions delegates

NORFOLK — House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, opened his final budget retreat Tuesday with a warning to members of a committee that will convene in January with nine new faces, a steep learning curve and a towering responsibility.

Jones, known to be a prodigious worker and stickler for detail, said the committee has lost 150 years of combined legislative experience in the last two years, as Democrats have taken control of a chamber that was two-thirds Republican before elections in 2017 that flipped 15 seats and two weeks ago that claimed at least five more GOP seats, including his.

“You are the keepers of the commonwealth’s Triple-A bond rating and its sound fiscal policy,” he said, as he prepares to end a 22-year career in the House of Delegates, including six as chairman of its powerful budget-writing committee.

Jones also advised members, regardless of party, to “beware” of pressure from the governor, in this case Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who campaigned hard for Jones’ defeat, just as he sometimes resisted then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, a fellow Republican who wanted to privatize Virginia’s highly profitable liquor monopoly.

“They want to get things done,” he said. “It’s important they understand our job is to protect the pocketbook.”

The 17th annual House Appropriations Committee retreat marked a ceremonial changing of the guard, with Jones’ successor as chairman, Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, seated to his left and House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, on his right, next to Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, whom the new Democratic majority has elected as the next speaker.

Torian, the first African American chairman of the budget committee, thanked Jones as a leader and as a friend, who had taken the rare step of naming him, a member of the minority party, as chairman of a subcommittee.

“Thank you personally for how you have allowed me to grow,” he told the chairman, “and the opportunities you have given to me.”

The tributes continued from Cox, who called Jones “absolutely the best” Appropriations chairman he has worked with in his 30-year House career, but added, “It’s not a lot of fun when you don’t agree with him.”

House Finance Chairman Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, and his successor, Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, also praised Jones, who has included members of the revenue committee routinely in budget meetings, another rarity.

“You cover the waterfront in a way I can’t recall in my tenure,” Ware said in a nod to the meeting’s setting next to the Elizabeth River here.

Watts, one of only two House members who served when Democrats last held a majority of House seats, commended Jones for his relentless work ethic in shaping the transportation funding package adopted in 2013, the year before he became Appropriations chairman, and the tax reform package adopted this year in response to the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“You really did your homework,” she said.

Jones lost his seat to Democrat Clint Jenkins. On Tuesday Jones reviewed a legacy as chairman that he said leaves Virginia with a structurally balanced budget — minus one-year gimmicks that disguise gaps between spending and revenues — and $1.6 billion in reserves, including a new cash reserve fund he helped to create in response to concerns voiced by national bond-rating agencies about low state savings.

Under his watch, the state also repaid money owed to the Virginia Retirement System that it had used to balance the budget in the last recession and fully funded required pension contributions for state employees and teachers two years before required by law. Last year, he forged a budget deal that expanded Virginia’s Medicaid program, but with a dedicated source of revenue from hospitals that benefit from expansion to pay the state’s share of the cost.

“We have been conservative in our revenue forecasting and have made sensible budget decisions,” Jones told the Appropriations and Finance committees. “That diligence allowed us to structurally balance the budget by not leaving gaping holes to be filled in the future from unrealistic revenue expectations.”

Staff urges prudence

True to form, the Appropriations committee staff recommended that lawmakers resist the temptation to spend an estimated $339 million in excess revenues for the current fiscal year, but instead appropriate them to the cash reserve fund. The prudence is dictated by continuing fear of recession after a 10-year period of national economic growth and concern about potential cuts in federal defense spending in a state that continues to rely on it, especially in Hampton Roads.

Jones recalled how the booming dot-com economy crashed in 2001-2002 and he joined 16 other renegade Republicans in voting for tax increases proposed by then-Gov. Mark Warner in 2004 to balance the state budget. “I, like the other 16 members, put my responsibility as a legislator above my party because I knew it was the right thing to do to save Virginia’s Triple-A rating and continuation as a well-managed state,” he said.

Northam will propose a new two-year budget on Dec. 17 that could include a revised revenue forecast that reflects economic uncertainty over a potential downturn or recession. Appropriations Director Robert Vaughn said a recent analysis by Moody’s Global Ratings shows that “Virginia may have difficulty weathering a moderate downturn, and would have insufficient reserves to weather a severe recession.”

Currently, all sources of state revenue are exceeding their predicted growth, and the state also will have a new “taxpayer relief fund” created this year to hold additional state tax collections from temporary provisions of the federal tax reform law that will expire at the end of 2025. How that money is spent — or not — will be up to the governor and new General Assembly when they act on the proposed budget this winter.

Nearly $900 million

Appropriations staff estimate that the $22 billion general fund budget will grow by $3.6 billion over the next two years, while mandatory spending for public education, Medicaid, behavioral health and other high priorities will consume about $2.8 billion. That would leave about $892 million in additional revenues for new initiatives, including pay raises for state employees, teachers, college faculty and state-supported local employees.

Most of the growth in jobs and wages is occurring in Northern Virginia, which will dominate the new leadership of the House Appropriations and Finance committees, as well as the Senate Finance Committee.

“As we look at job growth, Northern Virginia continues to be the engine that drives our economy,” Jones said, before noting that regions outside the urban crescent accounted for about one-quarter of new jobs in the first quarter of this fiscal year.

“Virginia’s economy is becoming more diverse,” he said, “and it is a positive sign that we are seeing strong job growth outside our more federally dependent regions.”


Local
ANOTHER TRANSIT MILESTONE
GRTC begins looking to its next annual budget after reaching nearly 1 million riders in October

Following a banner year for GRTC Transit System, the company is beginning to plan for its next annual budget using fresh estimates of fare revenues after missing overly optimistic projections in the last fiscal year.

In October, monthly ridership reached a four-year high with nearly 950,000 trips counted, marking another milestone for the transit company following the launch of the Pulse, the system’s signature bus rapid transit line that began operating at the end of June 2018.

The agency expects that success to boost its bottom line. With an adopted $53.8 million budget for this year, the company is anticipating that its budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2020, will grow to $55.9 million.

“It isn’t true that our ridership has been increasing and that our fare revenue has been decreasing,” said Board Chairman Ben Campbell. “We haven’t been looking at the data right.”

All through last year, average ridership on the Pulse outpaced GRTC’s goal of 3,500 rides per day. But officials routinely fretted over monthly financial reports that showed revenue from passengers was not meeting budget expectations, prompting scrutiny of fare evasion and a system of myriad bus passes and single-ride fares.

Those financial reports didn’t tell the whole story, said new CEO Julie Timm.

“It’s different than what we’ve reported before,” said Timm as she presented the budget proposal and explained that the previous financial reports by staff did not account for farebox and bus pass revenues over previous years.

“As we increase ridership, what we see is a transfer of some of that revenue from the farebox to some of our pass programs and our contract with VCU. When you add them all together, we do see upward trends in our fares,” she said. “So by looking at those as a whole instead of individually, you get a real accurate reflection of what people are paying for our service.”

In an interview after Tuesday’s meeting, Campbell said he began to suspect that he and other officials may have been overlooking those factors, and that Timm, who started working for GRTC in September, “put new eyes on it” on the company’s financial reports.

Richmond officials responded to concerns about fare evasion on the Pulse by auditing the transit company’s revenue collection systems. On Tuesday, city officials presented their findings and recommended that fare inspectors become trained and qualified to hand out citations for fare evasion.

Timm said she has directed Top Guard, the firm it contracts for those services, to begin training its staff as part of a corrective action plan due next month. The city’s auditors are also recommending that GRTC print the date and time larger on Pulse bus tickets so that it’s more clear to inspectors whether they are valid.

Unlike GRTC’s other buses, Pulse buses do not have a farebox on board. Instead, riders are supposed to pay or validate their fare on ticket vending machine at Pulse platforms before boarding the bus. Inspectors perform spot checks on board to make sure people have paid, but are not currently authorized by GRTC to give out citations.

The draft budget presented to the board Tuesday shows overall operational revenue in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019, increased $825,000 over the previous budget year. Revenue from regular fares declined about $600,000 in that same period, but the revenue from bus pass sales increased about $1.1 million.

The proposed 2020-21 budget anticipates only nominal fare revenue increases that are equal to the growth anticipated in this year’s budget. Timm said that could change based on ridership trends over the coming months and whether Richmond or the counties of Henrico or Chesterfield decide they are willing to pay more for service improvements or route expansions.


Skybox

For the first time, buy your Thanksgiving Day newspaper — with all the holiday savings inserts, our Gift Guide and more — starting at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve at more than 1,000 retail locations.

Let there be light

Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights opens Friday at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and runs through Jan. 6. About 1 million lights will illuminate the garden.

sports B1 Defensive coach’s legacy will live on