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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)

A promotional ad for the mayor's development plan for Shockoe Bottom has appeared in a taxpayer-funded city publication, prompting a review by the city's internal investigators.

A Loving RVA ad was placed in the winter/spring program guide for the city's Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities. Venture Richmond, the nonprofit organization behind the Loving RVA campaign in support of the ballpark-focused plan proposed by Mayor Dwight C. Jones, did not pay for the space, according to city officials.

Jack Berry, executive director of Venture Richmond, said Monday that he had not heard about the ad and that his organization had no role in placing it in the program guide.

The city printed 10,000 of the guides at a cost of $7,903.37, officials said. The 24-page guides are available in all city community centers, libraries and government buildings, as well as Kroger and Martin's grocery stores.

City Auditor/Inspector General Umesh Dalal confirmed that his office is looking into the issue.

The city is prohibited from selling ads in the publication, according to Michael Wallace, a spokesman for the Jones administration. Tammy D. Hawley, press secretary to the mayor, included the Loving RVA page as a way to "inform as many residents as possible about the plan," Wallace said in an email.

"It simply directs the public to a place where they can go for more information about the proposal," Wallace said.

Some council members voiced concerns about the mixing of public resources and political advocacy.

"It's not right," said City Council President Charles R. Samuels, 2nd District, who called Loving RVA a "lobbying effort." He went on to question whether the administration would be comfortable running an ad in opposition to the Shockoe stadium in the same publication.

Wallace said the decision was not planned, and was made only after another page about the city's partnership with Bon Secours and the Washington Redskins training camp was not received in time.

"There are many other options of what to put in there," said Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, adding that the issue "raises questions about how taxpayer dollars are being spent."

The recreational guide, which has never included non-departmental content before, consists largely of information about sports, arts and dance, pools, historic cemeteries, parks and various children's and youth programs, but the ninth page is a full-page ad that states "Yes! We Are Loving RVA."

The ad goes on to say, "We want to bring Shockoe a grocery store, hotel, apartments, a slavery and freedom heritage site, and ballpark -- and open up exciting new opportunities for the Boulevard."

The ad also includes the address of the Loving RVA website, which includes a petition that urges the council to support the mayor's plan.

Jones is currently seeking council support for his plan to redevelop Shockoe around a new stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, which he has said would free up the Boulevard for redevelopment and generate new tax revenue for the city. The plan has come under fire from critics who see it as disrespectful of the Bottom's slave-trading history and as a taxpayer-financed boon to private enterprise.

The council is scheduled to take up the plan for consideration on Feb. 24.

It's not clear if the ad placement may have violated any section of the city code, but officials are still reviewing what happened, Samuels said.

"I hope to not see that kind of activity in the future," Samuels said.

(804) 649-6839

Twitter: @gmoomaw


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February 5, 2014




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