A grand jury that last month authorized Virginia State Police to investigate Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones has expanded its probe of connections between local government and Jones’ church beyond City Hall.
The investigation initiated by Jones’ own invitation in January as a limited-scope review involving the city’s director of public works now extends to the Richmond Ambulance Authority, according to a subpoena for agency records that the Richmond Times-Dispatch obtained through an open-records request.
Jones is named in the order for “any and all records related to Pamela Branch,” the authority’s former chief legal and human resources officer who also serves as clerk of First Baptist Church of South Richmond, where Jones is senior pastor.
Branch left the agency abruptly in February after an internal review of her work triggered by revelations about the city’s public works director overseeing the construction of a new First Baptist campus in Chesterfield County during work hours.
Calendar information obtained through an open-records request shows Jones met with agency officials in the weeks before Branch joined the authority.
“The RAA is cooperating with investigators,” authority CEO Chip Decker wrote in response to questions about the subpoena. He declined to answer questions about the meeting with Jones, citing the ongoing investigation.
The agency’s records, due to be delivered to the third floor of the John Marshall Courts Building by April 6, were to include “emails, spreadsheets, and all other reports either generated or received by her that relate to First Baptist Church or city of Richmond Mayor Dwight Clinton Jones,” in addition to legal documents prepared in reference to Branch conducting church business on authority time.
Richmond Circuit Judge Beverly W. Snukals is listed on the subpoena as presiding over the multijurisdictional grand jury proceedings.
“I do not know anything about the grand jury subpoena, so we will not comment on that issue or why I am representing Ms. Branch,” employment lawyer Barbara Queen of the Richmond firm Lawrence & Associates wrote in an email Friday.
An authority review following a Jan. 5 city auditor’s report on Public Works Director Emmanuel O. Adediran found Branch had used her agency email account during work hours to organize church meetings, coordinate the preparation of legal documents and conduct other elements of church business, according to emails provided through an open-records request.
Branch threatened to file a religious discrimination complaint against the agency after she learned the authority was investigating her activities earlier this year, according to records obtained by The Times-Dispatch.
She also invoked the mayor’s name in a text message to Decker saying she would pursue a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “should the (Richmond Ambulance Authority) board move forward to disclose anything about (her) to the press.”
“I want to let you know I have spoken to Dwight regarding the events of the past week,” she texted Decker. “He’s not pleased.”
Agency leaders met with Jones on Sept. 11, 2014, according to documents the authority provided in response to open-records requests.
Through a spokeswoman, Jones categorically declined to release any information about the mayor’s past meetings. He has consistently chosen to invoke a voluntary exemption to state open-records law for “working papers,” described in state code as materials prepared for “personal or deliberative use.”
Branch joined the RAA less than a month after the meeting, on Oct. 6, 2014. She made $123,600 annually at the time of her departure.
Authority board Chairman Terone Green would not say whether Branch’s name came up that day.
“It’s a personnel matter, and I really can’t discuss it,” he said.
Green said he and Decker were there to ask the mayor not to transfer an emergency communications function to another building. The position Branch later filled also was discussed, Green said, because it represented a shift in the authority’s operations.
The role combined the human resources function with legal services that previously had been outsourced, in an attempt to cut costs.
“It was a new position that we created, and I wanted to make sure the mayor understood the impact of us creating that new position,” Green said. “Since the city provides us with 25 percent of our operating budget, I believe it is responsible for us to keep the mayor up to speed on major developments.”
The authority, which employs slightly fewer than 300 people and has an annual budget of about $19 million, receives about $4.4 million annually from the city.
Green could not recall discussing any other agency employment issues with Jones, although he said no other significant decisions had recently been made.
Queen, Branch’s lawyer, said her client applied for the job through an open, competitive process and “was, and remains, very qualified for that position.”
“The organization checked her references and thereafter she was notified she was selected by the members of the board,” Queen wrote. “The mayor did not select her for the position.”
A city spokesman declined comment. Questions about the timing of the meeting went unanswered by Jones’ lawyer, McGuireWoods law firm Chairman Richard Cullen.
Cullen said Friday that Jones had yet to be interviewed by police.
“The state police have the mayor’s offer to be interviewed and we are waiting to hear when they would like to schedule it,” he wrote in an email. “Typically in situations like this, I would expect his interview would take place at the later stages of their investigation.”
State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller declined to comment on the status of the investigation.
Jones was copied on church-related emails that Branch sent from her RAA account, as well as emails from Adediran’s city account updating church leaders on the progress of the construction, distributing related documents, and coordinating with Chesterfield’s planning and inspection departments.
Jones pledged to maintain a wall between his public life and private responsibilities when he took office in 2009; about 10 percent of the top jobs in Jones’ administration are filled by First Baptist parishioners, of which there are about 3,000, according to his press secretary, Tammy C. Hawley.
Hawley said city policy allows employees to engage in limited personal communication during work hours.
That is not the case for RAA workers, who are prohibited by policy from using agency electronics for anything other than composing, sending or receiving business-related communications.
Branch’s emails show she helped sort out a problem with a lease to a day care facility to which the church rented space, and worked on an easement related to the construction of the church’s Chesterfield facility, all during work hours.
Adediran has retained attorney James B. Thorsen of Thorsen Hart & Allen. Hawley has said both Adediran and Branch volunteer at the church and are not compensated for their efforts.
The state police, the office of Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring and the city auditor’s office are collaborating on a single investigation. Sources have said the FBI also is participating.