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City Hall’s most feared man is out

Jeremy Lazarus | 7/21/2017, 11:48 a.m.
For 11 years, he was considered the most feared man at Richmond City Hall as he led a staff of ...

For 11 years, he was considered the most feared man at Richmond City Hall as he led a staff of 14 in ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers’ dollars.

But that time is over for City Auditor Umesh Dalal.

On Monday, the Richmond City Council appointee quietly resigned amid allegations he was a bully to his staff. He left the corridors of government, capping a 32-year career as an auditor in Richmond and other cities.

His departure shocked and disappointed many who viewed him as a fearless crusader who spoke truth to power and brought a halt to misspending.

The certified public accountant with the raspy voice submitted his resignation, turned in his keys and left, avoiding a potentially messy appearance before City Council after his attorney negotiated an exit package with City Attorney Allen L. Jackson.

That package caused heartburn for some members of the council, which spent three hours behind closed doors Monday debating whether to approve it.

When they emerged after 8:30 p.m., Council President Chris Hilbert issued a statement thanking Mr. Dalal for his service and wishing him well in his future endeavors as the members voted 9-0 to accept the resignation.

But council split on the exit package, voting 6-3 “to give him everything he wanted,” as 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell put it.

The three dissenters were Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District; Kim B. Gray, 2nd District; and Kristen N. Larson, 4th District.

While none spoke publicly about it, apparently one concern involved providing an exit package to a person who voluntarily resigned.

In addition, the package appears to include more severance pay than Mr. Dalal would have qualified for under a reform that council is poised to pass at its meeting on Monday, July 24.

In the works for six months, the reform proposal authored by Ms. Gray would have provided Mr. Dalal only four months of pay, instead of the seven months he qualifies for under the current law.

The package also may have allowed him to receive a bigger pension, as well.

For years, the council has been hearing complaints from staff members in Mr. Dalal’s office who quit.

Evidence of problems surfaced in 2011, when a former staff member anonymously talked about resigning with other staffers in protest over the inclusion of “made-up information and at least one unreliable data analysis” in a report.

In 2014, after Mr. Dalal’s office was named one of the best internal auditor operations in North America, concerns surfaced over the high turnover of his staff.

At one point, employees were jumping ship faster than he could replace them. On average, at least one-third of his staff left each year with complaints about their treatment, according to City Hall sources.

After fresh complaints, the council commissioned an independent review, which while not disclosed, raised serious questions about Mr. Dalal’s management and the high cost incurred in recruiting new people to fill vacancies in the office.

Still, Mr. Dalal will be remembered for his office’s high-profile audits that exposed everything from the misuse of gas purchase cards to the botched implementation of new financial software for which the city spent $18 million.