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The Richmond City Council voted Tuesday to allow two city officials to remain in office after Mayor Tom Butt accused them of improperly using public funds for an ethics investigation.
The council voted 5-1 in closed session to retain City Manager Laura Snideman and City Attorney Teresa Stricker after Butt accused them last week in his email newsletter of using public funding to investigate whether Butt or his architectural firm were paid by the city for designing the potential floor plan for a building’s redevelopment.
Butt said in his newsletter that the investigation stemmed from accusations by at least one city employee that Butt or his architecture firm, Interactive Resources Inc., received payment from the city for designing potential floor plans for the redevelopment of the former Richmond Intermodal Transit Center into a visitor center and Richmond-themed merchandise store.
“This would be illegal if it were true, but it was not,” Butt said in his newsletter.
“I just don’t understand how we can ponder firing city employees for doing the ethical thing.”Ben Choi, former Richmond City Councilman
Butt claimed Snideman violated the city charter by spending some $45,000 so far on the investigation, including hiring a private investigator, exceeding the $10,000 spending limit the city manager can legally approve without consulting with the City Council.
Butt also argued that Snideman had no legal right under state law to use public funding in an investigation of a mayor or council member and that the charter requires the mayor to sign contracts between the city and third-party entities like investigators, which Butt said he did not do.
Butt called for Snideman and Stricker to resign, saying that he had “lost all trust and all faith” in the two officials.
Butt was the lone vote in favor of terminating Snideman and Stricker while City Councilman Nathaniel Bates abstained.
Several public commenters lambasted Butt for placing the resolution that would have terminated Snideman and Stricker on the agenda at all, arguing that it was an abuse of power.
“I just don’t understand how we can ponder firing city employees for doing the ethical thing,” said former Councilman Ben Choi, who did not run for re-election last year after being elected in 2016.
The city attorney’s office deferred to the city manager’s office for comment on the council’s vote. A spokesperson for Snideman’s office subsequently did not return a request for comment.