Mayor-elect Stoney plans to be ‘hands-on, visible, transparent’

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/19/2016, 10:34 a.m.
As he looks forward to becoming Richmond’s next mayor, Levar Stoney is planning to be more visible after he takes …

As he looks forward to becoming Richmond’s next mayor, Levar Stoney is planning to be more visible after he takes office.

As he puts it, he wants to be a “hands-on, visible and transparent mayor who can be a champion for accountability, measure outputs and inputs and, at the end of the day, say that the buck stops with me.”

His plan to see and be seen in City Hall and across the city — and to be fully engaged in operations — would be in marked contrast with Mayor Dwight C. Jones, who generally has preferred to be involved with the “big picture” strategy and to leave the city’s day-to-day affairs to the managers he put in place and the employees who report to them.

As Mr. Stoney begins his transition from candidate to city chief executive, the 35-year-old York County native has begun laying out his plans for when he takes office Jan 1. He also named a transition team to help him prepare for the big day.

His two transition co-chairs are City Hall outsiders: Tiffany Jana, a former actress who is now president and CEO of TMI Consulting, which works with governments and businesses on ways to overcome bias and promote diversity and inclusion; and Bill Leighty, a lobbyist and former chief of staff to two former Democratic governors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.

However, Mr. Stoney’s transition director worked for Mayor Jones on poverty issues. He is Dr. Thad Williamson, an associate professor at the University of Richmond who was the first and now former director of the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building. Mayor Jones and the City Council established the office to find ways to reduce poverty.

“I am eager to move forward with key action steps that I highlighted throughout my campaign,” said Mr. Stoney, who won the most votes in five City Council districts on Election Day to claim outright victory over his two closest rivals, former Downtown booster John F. “Jack” Berry and attorney Joseph D. “Joe” Morrissey.

Ticking off items at the heart of his campaign, Mr. Stoney stated his top priority would involve “launching a comprehensive performance review and audit of all departments of city government” to find ways to improve and upgrade services. Such a review is likely to require hiring an outside firm.

He also is promising to implement the recommendations from the audit during his first, four-year term.

On other fronts, Mr. Stoney is offering few specifics as of yet. He said he would be developing an education pact with Richmond Public Schools and City Council “to improve our schools in a collaborative spirit.” How that would work, however, is still a question.

Mr. Stoney said he also plans to make the needs of children a priority “in my first proposed budget,” which he will need to deliver to the council by early March, but again he offered little in the way of specifics.

Meanwhile, he plans “to assemble a team of talented and committed professionals to join me.”

It remains uncertain what that will mean for Mayor Jones’ current management team, including his No. 2, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, Richmond’s chief administrative officer or CAO; Lenora Reid, chief financial officer; John Burtula, chief operating officer; and Lee Downey, chief economic development officer.

It also is uncertain what will happen for city employees in the management ranks, though, unquestionably Mr. Stoney’s words have created nervousness among department heads and other staff whose future with the city will depend on the approval of the chief executive and the CAO.

While Mr. Stoney has more transition members to appoint, he said the transition process would be guided by the policies he laid out in his campaign and would involve lots of homework.

“As part of this transition process, I will be requesting detailed updates and status reports on all departments and major policy areas from Mayor Jones,” he said.

Mr. Stoney has no experience in local government. His management experience includes serving as director of the state Democratic Party and as secretary of the commonwealth under Gov. Terry McAuliffe, where he was in charge of helping the governor fill seats on state boards and commissions and helping felons get their rights restored.

Nonetheless, Mr. Stoney remains confident in his ability to take charge.

“The city is ready for a new and dynamic leader who is ready to take the city to a new level,” he said.

His aspiration is to fill that bill.