The specter of cronyism continues to haunt Richmond City Hall and raises serious concerns about its culture. Selena Cuffee-Glenn, Richmond’s top administrator, was fired Wednesday by Mayor Levar Stoney after the release of a disturbing report outlining how five of her relatives landed jobs during her tenure with city departments she oversaw.
The report, by Richmond’s Inspector General James Osuna, confirmed an RTD investigation that found at least one relative — Cuffee-Glenn’s daughter, Alexis K. Glenn — received higher pay than nearly everyone in a similar job with the city, even after the Human Resources Department initially refused to sign off on it. Glenn, 22, was hired at $26.44 per hour. The individual she replaced made $18 an hour.
Also unsettling is that two high-ranking officials — Public Works Director Bobby Vincent Jr. and Public Utilities Director Calvin Farr Jr. — knew that the daughter was looking for a job and helped facilitate her hiring, according to the report. RTD reporter Mark Robinson noted in a May 16 news story that the position had been vacant for five months and had not been publicly advertised.
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 May in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the RTD.
The report, sent to City Council Wednesday, concluded, “The investigator did not find any evidence on [Cuffee-Glenn’s] direct involvement, but based on emails and interviews, high-level subordinates to [Cuffee-Glenn], including [Vincent and Farr] were involved in the hiring and compensation levels of [Glenn]. [Vincent and Farr] were also aware of [Glenn’s] relationship to [Cuffee-Glenn], which impacted the higher salary approval based on guidance from DPU to HR.”
After her dismissal, Cuffee-Glenn texted the RTD’s Robinson that the report was based on “mere conjecture without foundation or basis” and said the hires outlined didn’t violate any city hiring practices. The four other relatives include a niece, two second cousins and one of the cousin’s spouse.
As the city’s chief administrative officer, Cuffee-Glenn wielded an enormous amount of power. She came to Richmond in 2015 from Suffolk, where she served as city manager and gained praise for bringing that city’s bond rating up to AAA status. She was hired by former mayor Dwight Jones and retained by Stoney after his election in 2016.
In his release announcing Cuffee-Glenn’s firing, Stoney decried how what’s detailed in the report “erodes the public trust” and “violates the spirit of good governance.” Cuffee-Glenn told investigators that she notified the mayor’s office after the hiring of her daughter in March. The awkwardly worded statement issued by Stoney’s office Wednesday night suggested the mayor found out about the hire in May, causing confusion. His spokesman later clarified that Stoney knew about the hiring in March but didn’t meet with the inspector general until May.
This is an issue of public trust and faith in government. The public trust in Richmond’s city government took a hit during the Jones administration amid an investigation into blurred lines between city business and the church where the mayor served as senior pastor and concerns over a culture of cronyism at City Hall. About 10% of the top jobs in Jones’ administration were held by members of his congregation, which at the time numbered about 3,000. Former Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. hired at least 10 family members during his tenure. As an elected constitutional officer, Richmond’s sheriff is not required to adhere to the city’s nepotism policy.
In a Jan. 1, 2017, op-ed column to the city that was published in The Times-Dispatch, Stoney pledged that his “short-term goal is to identify and implement immediate organizational improvements; my long-term goal is to build an organizational culture based on responsiveness and accountability. ... Our citizens deserve and need no less.”
Stoney is correct. Richmond does deserve better. Among Cuffee-Glenn’s responsibilities, she oversaw the city’s negotiations of the proposed $1.5 billion plan to redevelop the area around the Richmond Coliseum with NH District Corp. For a citizenry already skeptical of the city’s ability to execute major projects, Cuffee-Glenn’s firing doesn’t instill confidence as City Council begins the arduous task of dissecting the massive economic development project she helped broker. We hope the administration avoids the mistakes of the past and moves forward into openness and good government.
— Pamela Stallsmith and Robin Beres