Family matters

Inspector general’s report details how 5 relatives of former CAO Selena Cuffee-Glenn were hired, but finds no evidence she was involved directly in their hiring

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 9/27/2019, 6 a.m.
Lenora Reid is officially in charge of Richmond city government — for now. City Council voted 9-0 on Monday to ...
Ms. Reid

Lenora Reid is officially in charge of Richmond city government — for now.

City Council voted 9-0 on Monday to confirm Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s request that Ms. Reid, the city’s chief financial officer, serve as interim chief administrative officer in the wake of her predecessor being fired because of nepotism.

Mayor Stoney fired CAO Selena Cuffee-Glenn on Sept. 18 following the release of an internal inspector general’s report that found five of Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s relatives, including her daughter, were on the payroll of departments reporting to her, a potential violation of city policy.

Ms. Cuffee-Glenn

Ms. Cuffee-Glenn

The mayor secured the unanimous vote backing Ms. Reid as a replacement despite earlier grousing from City Council about Ms. Reid’s direct role in approving the hiring of Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s daughter for a provisional job in the Department of Public Utilities at a 25 percent higher wage than most others in the same administrative support position make across city government.

Ahead of the meeting, Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, 8th District, described the appointment of Ms. Reid as the equivalent of “hiring the fox to guard the hen house.”

Others expressed concern that Ms. Reid commutes from Williamsburg daily and never feels the impact of decisions concerning Richmond residents.

Still, the council felt constrained to avoid further upheaval in city government.

That appears to be the case with the mayor. Along with promoting Ms. Reid, the mayor has shown no interest in removing two department heads, Director of Public Works Bobby Vincent and Director of Public Utilities Calvin Farr, who also were implicated in the inspector general’s report in the hiring of Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s relatives.

All five of Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s relatives still work for the City of Richmond.

Ms. Cuffee-Glenn denied doing anything unethical, and called the report “mere conjecture without foundation or basis.”

Ms. Reid is a close associate of Ms. Cuffee-Glenn. When Ms. Cuffee-Glenn served as Suffolk’s city manager before coming to Richmond in 2015, Ms. Reid was her top finance official.

After Mayor Dwight C. Jones named Ms. Cuffee-Glenn as CAO in Richmond, she quickly brought in Ms. Reid to take over the city’s finance operations, which were in apparent disarray at the time. Ms. Reid, considered a no-nonsense official who has admirers and detractors among the rank and file, created a new leadership team, filled vacancies and is credited with getting financial operations back on track, although it took her and her staff three years to complete the audit on time.

The departure of Ms. Cuffee-Glenn comes at a busy time. Ms. Reid and her staff were in the process of completing the critical annual audit for the 2019 fiscal year that ended June 30 and were beginning to focus on preparation of the next budget that will be presented to City Council in March.

According to the inspector general’s report, the city payroll includes Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s daughter, a niece, two second cousins and the spouse of one of the cousins.

Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s husband, a deputy with the Richmond Sheriff’s Office, also receives a city check, but that office is independent and the office’s employees do not fall under the CAO’s authority.

Based on the City Code, the current nepotism rule does not cover second cousins.

According to the report, Ms. Reid, who also has denied violating any legal requirements, overruled the staff in the Human Resources Office and approved an hourly pay of $26.44 for Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s daughter for the support position in which the average pay is $20.86.

Mr. Farr insisted on the higher pay, the report stated, after telling Ms. Reid, who was then in charge of the Human Resources Department, that the applicant was Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s daughter. Mr. Farr later stated that Mr. Vincent had specified the pay level when Mr. Vincent sent him the daughter’s résumé, the report notes.

The inspector general did not find any evidence that Ms. Cuffee-Glenn was involved in the hiring, only that supervisors with hiring authority “felt obligated” to approve the higher salary because they knew she was the daughter of Ms. Cuffee-Glenn and not because of any special competency.

The report also found suspect hiring in the case of Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s niece whom Mr. Farr hired as a provisional program manager at an annual salary of $70,000.

During an interview with the inspector general, the niece said that Mr. Farr approached her in November 2018 while she worked at a clothing retail store to praise the customer service she provided to Mr. Farr’s wife. She said he asked her to apply for a position, which she did. However, according to the niece’s job application and résumé, she had not worked at the store since 2016.

According to the report, Ms. Reid also was aware that a second cousin was to be hired in the Finance Department and spoke with him about his experience and willingness to work hard. However, the report did not indicate evidence of any communication between Ms. Reid and Ms. Cuffee-Glenn concerning that hire.

The report noted that two of Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s relatives have been hired to permanent positions, while Ms. Reid approved on July 10 an extension of the provisional appointments for three others.

Based on his investigation, Inspector General James Osuna found that departments are not following the city’s personnel rules regarding the employment of provisional employees and recommended that “this process be reviewed” to ensure consistent application.

According to the rules Mr. Osuna cited, a department is entitled to hire a provisional employee temporarily only when there is no eligible list of potential applicants and/or to fill an essential position when the person holding that position is on extended leave.