McQuinn may be unseated from Slave Trail Commission

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 10/12/2017, 10:42 p.m.
For 12 years, Richmond Delegate Delores L. McQuinn has led the city’s Slave Trail Commission to bring attention to the ...

For 12 years, Richmond Delegate Delores L. McQuinn has led the city’s Slave Trail Commission to bring attention to the history and legacy of slavery in Richmond.

But the 70th House District representative could suddenly find herself off the commission as the city, in concert with the commission, poises to develop a museum-style development in Shockoe Bottom to highlight Richmond’s role as a major center for the buying and selling of human beings.

During Delegate McQuinn’s tenure, the commission, with city backing, has posted educational markers along the Slave Trail that winds from South Side into Downtown, and allows people to travel the path that slaves walked to and from auctions in Shockoe Bottom before abolition.

The commission also assisted with the installation of a statue at 15th and Main streets that promotes reconciliation with the city’s era of slavery.

And a few years ago, the commission worked with former Gov. Bob McDonnell and Virginia Commonwealth University to gain funding to remove parking lot asphalt and create a grassy space on the site of a former burial ground for slaves and free African-Americans at Broad and 15th streets.

The question of Delegate McQuinn’s tenure arises amid planning for the museum-style development near the Main Street Station on the former site of the notorious Lumpkin’s Jail slave pen — a place so horrific that it was dubbed the Devil’s half-acre. After the Civil War, the site ironically became classroom space for a predecessor of Virginia Union University.

Monday night, the nine-member City Council unanimously passed a new policy limiting the tenure of appointees to city boards, commissions and advisory bodies to no more than eight years at a time, and requiring such persons to wait at least one year before receiving a new appointment to the same policy-making body.

How much impact the change will have on Delegate McQuinn and other less prominent individuals with long service is uncertain, given council’s lack of enforcement of previous policies aimed at limiting tenure on appointed bodies.

Councilman Parker Agelasto, 5th District, who along with Councilman Andreas Addison, 1st District, pushed the policy change, said the aim is to create turnover so different people with “new energy and fresh ideas” can have an opportunity to serve.

Mr. Agelasto cited the example of the Richmond Retirement System, which installed term limits on the recommendation of a consultant and replaced several long-serving members.

He said the result was a change in investment strategy that has paid off. After achieving a negative return in fiscal 2016, the retirement system is reporting a more impressive 12.5 percent return on investments in fiscal 2017, he said. The boost has been a big help to the city pension program system that has been chronically underfunded, he added.

Delegate McQuinn began serving on the Slave Trail Commission while a member of City Council, and received a council appointment in 2009, enabling her to continue as chair of the commission.

That appointment expired three years later in 2012, but she has continued to chair the commission as the council never reappointed her or named a replacement, despite calls from critics of Delegate McQuinn’s leadership of the commission who want to see her replaced.

That is also the case with the other citizen appointees on the commission, according to Alexander Rawles, boards and commissions administrator in the City Clerk’s Office.

He said there are 17 seats on the Slave Trail Commission, including one for a member of council, now Cynthia I. Newbille, 7th District.

Of the 16 other seats, only eight are listed as filled, he said. None of the eight serving members, including Delegate McQuinn, would be eligible for reappointment under the policy change as all have already served at least eight years, he said.

Mr. Rawles said he has previously sent quarterly notices of the vacancies to council’s Land Use, Housing and Transportation Committee, which oversees the Slave Trail Commission. He said he will provide notice of the vacancies to the committee at its upcoming meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 17.

But the committee, which Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District, currently chairs, has not filled the empty seats or replaced Delegate McQuinn and the other long-serving members.

Council last made appointments to the Slave Trail Commission in 2009, according to the City Clerk’s Office’s online record of ordinances and resolutions.