Richmond City Hall

Richmond City Hall

The Richmond City Council recently authorized severance payments totaling $77,000 to three aides appointed by former council members who did not run for re-election.

The payments were made as similar severances authorized by former Mayor Dwight C. Jones drew scrutiny, including from some council members.

The new mayor, Levar Stoney, has said Jones’ decision to pay $166,000 to four departing appointees hurt his ability to hire his new administration.

Members of the new council say they have not faced similar budgetary constraints because of the payments made to their appointees, but several members have called for a review of the city’s severance policy.

They said their concerns are not limited to Jones’ actions, and that any future council action on severances should treat all appointees the same.

“We wouldn’t just single out those employees,” Councilwoman Kim Gray said of the mayoral and council appointees who received severance.

Gray has asked city staff to review severance policies for appointees in other municipalities. “We’re doing a comparison to see how they treat others,” she said.

The severance payments are allowed under city code, though they are discretionary. They are calculated at a rate of one month’s pay for each year the employee worked for the city, up to a maximum of half the employee’s total annual salary.

Gray and others have said that while the payments have raised eyebrows, they can serve a purpose, helping to entice “the best and brightest” from the private sector to a work environment that can be less stable and predictable.

The previous council authorized two of the severances at their last meeting of 2016: a $15,904 payment to former Councilwoman Kathy Graziano’s liaison, Timothy Grimes, and a $29,580 payment to former Councilwoman Michelle Mosby’s liaison, Uzziah Harris.

In fiscal year 2015, Grimes’ base salary was $59,400, and Harris’ was $58,000.

City Council Chief of Staff Lou Ali said the third payment, $31,881 paid to former Councilman Jon Baliles’ liaison, Eli Wong, was agreed to by members of the new council, though through informal conversations rather than an official act of council.

In fiscal 2015, Wong’s base salary was $53,582.

The payments were first reported by the Richmond Free Press.

Each of the nine council members hire their own full-time staff members who report to them. They typically handle constituent issues.

Ali said the council has historically made severance payments to aides who lose their jobs when the council members who appointed them are not re-elected.

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