The daughter of Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Selena Cuffee-Glenn was hired in March by the city for a job that was never publicly listed.
Alexis K. Glenn, 22, is paid $26.44 per hour, more than all but three other city employees who have the same title, all 130 of whom have worked for the city for longer.
Cuffee-Glenn is the top administrator in City Hall and oversees all city departments, including the Department of Public Utilities, which hired her daughter as an administrative program support assistant through a process that doesn’t require the city to recruit other candidates when it determines there is an urgent need to fill a position. Glenn’s position had been vacant for five months by the time she started her 90-day assignment. The person she replaced made $18 an hour.
City officials say the hire does not constitute nepotism. Under the city’s policy, a situation is considered nepotism only in instances when someone is in the direct line of supervision for a family member.
A spokesman for Mayor Levar Stoney said his top administrator did not play any role in her daughter’s hire.
The city’s policy, according to City Hall’s interim human resources director, would allow Cuffee-Glenn’s relatives to work in virtually any role in city government, except as one of the four deputies and handful of department heads who report directly to her.
Councilwoman Kristen Larson, who helped create the City Council’s ethics reform task force, said Glenn’s hire raises questions about the effectiveness of the city’s policies.
“Yes, something may be OK per the policy on paper, but what is the public perception? What is the internal perception?” said Larson, who represents the city’s 4th District. “The mayor, who ultimately oversees the administration, he needs to be mindful of the perception.”
The hire would be barred if the city’s nepotism policy mirrored that of the city school system. Richmond Public Schools has a more stringent policy that prohibits any family members of the superintendent, its top administrator, from being hired by the school system.
Before Monday’s City Council meeting, Cuffee-Glenn refused to talk to a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter about the hire and referred questions to Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan.
In an email, Cuffee-Glenn’s daughter also referred to Nolan questions about how she found out about an opening that was not publicly advertised, whether her mother promised her the position or whether she assisted her in securing the job.
Nolan said Glenn learned of the opening after contacting another city department about a job. That department referred her to Public Utilities, which hired her for the position based on her qualifications, he said.
Nolan said Cuffee-Glenn, who was hired by Mayor Dwight Jones in 2015 and retained by Stoney, did not influence her daughter’s hire to the position or discuss the prospect with any administrators who answer to her.
“The mayor’s understanding is that all city employment regulations governing provisional employment were followed,” Nolan said. He also said Stoney learned of the hire after it was made.
Nolan said Glenn’s job is a part-time position, but her hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, according to Glenn’s offer letter from the Department of Public Utilities. The city released the offer letter in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Glenn’s hourly wage — $26.44 — would equate to about $55,000 annually. That’s more than 127 of the 130 other city employees with the same title, according to payroll data from the Department of Human Resources.
Wages for employees with the title range from $15.06 to $30.11 per hour, according to the payroll data. The average is $20.57 per hour. Karen Garland, the city’s interim director of human resources, said she signed off on Glenn’s hourly rate after receiving a recommendation from the Department of Public Utilities.
Garland acknowledged that Glenn’s pay exceeds that of employees with more years of experience working with the city, but said she was not aware Glenn was related to Cuffee-Glenn until a later date, though she could not say exactly when. She said Cuffee-Glenn did not discuss the hire with her.
The city’s nepotism policy states that immediate family members cannot be placed “in a supervisor-subordinate relationship or in the same line of supervision in the same agency, regardless of the working relationship.” The policy can be set aside with a waiver from the director of Human Resources.
Garland said in the case of Glenn’s hire, the familial connection was not an issue because Cuffee-Glenn would not directly supervise her daughter.
“If there are a few levels and they’re not in the same agency, there really isn’t a check, nor is there a requirement to get special permission,” Garland said.
Glenn reports directly to Wayne Lassiter, a deputy director for the Department of Public Utilities, according to her offer letter. Lassiter reports to Director Calvin Farr Jr., who reports to Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Bob Steidel. Steidel reports directly to Cuffee-Glenn.
Steidel said he had not discussed the position with Cuffee-Glenn and she had not influenced the department’s choice to hire her daughter. Farr said he had not discussed the hire with Cuffee-Glenn, either. He referred further questions to Nolan.
Larson said the city needs a stronger policy.
“When things come out about relationships that may have been leveraged for employment, it raises the level of public distrust,” she said. “This issue, whether or not any influence did happen — the appearance of all of it is not a good one.”
City departments are allowed to make what are called provisional hires to fill vacancies on a temporary basis if an employee leaves and “it is essential that the vacancy be filled,” according to city guidelines.
Provisional positions are typically filled by word of mouth, Garland said.
There is no policy requiring public advertising or rounds of interviews, which would otherwise take place in a recruiting process for a permanent hire, she said. That’s by design, so departments can fill important roles quickly.
Steidel said the Department of Public Utilities hired Glenn because the position is critical to the department. Qualifications for the type of position Glenn was hired for are a high school diploma or GED certificate and three years of related clerical or office work experience, according to the city website. Glenn is a recent graduate of Old Dominion University who studied sociology, according to her social media accounts.
“She’s well-qualified to do the job. She has the background, skills and experience, and she’s filling in for a purpose that we need,” Steidel said.
In the clerical position, Glenn is processing applications for a utility bill payment assistance program the department offers, Nolan said.
Other responsibilities she has include scheduling meetings or training events; answering phones and emails; scanning and copying documents; processing financial transactions; maintaining filing systems; and data entry. Departments can assign other tasks to employees as needed.
Public Utilities plans to conduct an open search for a permanent hire to fill Glenn’s position, Steidel said; Glenn will be eligible to apply when it does, he added. Her 90-day term, which as a provisional hire doesn’t include benefits, expires in mid-June.
Councilwoman Kim Gray, a member of the Richmond Audit Committee, said the city’s inspector general, responsible for investigating fraud, waste and abuse in city government, should look into the situation.
“I think it’s concerning from the perspective of appearance of conflict, even if it is aboveboard,” Gray said.
City Auditor and acting Inspector General Lou Lassiter declined to comment on whether his office is investigating Glenn’s hire.