New City Council president challenges colleagues to address poverty, racism

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 1/6/2017, 8:36 p.m.
Chris A. Hilbert challenged his Richmond City Council colleagues to do more to tackle poverty and racism in Richmond after ...
Richmond City Council’s new president, Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District, confers with council’s new vice president, Cynthia I. Newbille, 7th Photo by Sandra Sellars

Chris A. Hilbert challenged his Richmond City Council colleagues to do more to tackle poverty and racism in Richmond after he was elected the new council president on Tuesday.

Council member Cynthia I. Newbille, 7th District, was elected the new vice president.

Mr. Hilbert, who represents the city’s 3rd District, spoke after the council members — including four new people — were sworn in, voted for officers and approved committee assignments, which included a surprising snub to one veteran, 5th District Councilman Parker C. Agelasto.

In accepting the council’s top leadership post, Mr. Hilbert sought to lay out priorities that he believes the council should be concerned with during the next four years.

He urged council members to “honestly address the problem of the disparity of wealth and opportunity for the 1 in 4 residents of Richmond that live in poverty.”

Mr. Hilbert, who has represented the 3rd District for 12 years, also called on his colleagues to enable the city “to truly face the uglier parts of our history and the racism that started this disparity and recognize and admit these issues are apparent to this very day.”

Just as importantly, he said that council must do more to deal with the spike in crime, to improve service delivery and to address, along with new Mayor Levar Stoney and the School Board, the shortcomings of the city’s public schools.

“The choice is ours,” he said. “The question before us is whether we will use our liberty to create justice.

“I say, ‘Yes, we will,’ ” he continued. “And I challenge every man and every woman in our city to take up this worthy cause. For when we do this, we can state with one voice that we all believe in a place called Richmond.”

In parceling out committee assignments, he handed Ms. Newbille the chairmanship of the key money committee, Finance and Economic Development, and replaced Mr. Agelasto as vice chair with new 9th District Councilman Michael J. Jones.

In a statement, Mr. Agelasto suggested the decision to strip him of the leadership post and leave him as the only veteran without a chairmanship represented punishment for his efforts in the previous four years “to bring greater transparency to council operations and greater accountability over how taxpayer monies are spent.”

Mr. Agelasto indicated that his efforts were “not greeted with open arms by some on the council who are wedded to past actions that too often led to spending abuses and fixation on shiny projects at the expense of funding for schools, public safety and basic city services.”

He said Mr. Hilbert’s decision “is, therefore, not surprising; it is disappointing, nonetheless.”

Mr. Hilbert said later that Mr. Agelasto was far from the only member of council who sought to ride herd on city spending. He said committee assignments were made after discussions with current and new council members, and that he did his best to accommodate requests, including expanding the Finance Committee to five members, including Mr. Agelasto and new members Kimberly B. Gray, 2nd District, and Kristen N. Larson, 4th District.

A review of the list shows Mr. Hilbert gave new members a big share of the plum committee posts.

Instead of Mr. Agelasto, Mr. Hilbert installed Mr. Jones as chair of the Education and Human Services Committee and put another newcomer, Andreas D. Addison, 1st District, in charge of Governmental Operations, the council’s oversight committee for internal operations. Mr. Agelasto also will be a member of Mr. Addison’s committee.

Along with Finance, Ms. Gray also will be vice chair of Governmental Operations and also serve on the Education Committee and the Audit Committee. Ms. Larson also will be vice chair of the Education Committee and a member of the Land Use, Housing and Transportation Committee.

Mr. Addison also will serve on the Public Safety Committee.

Mr. Hilbert retained two veterans as committee chairs. Reva M. Trammell, 8th District, will continue to lead the Public Safety Committee, while Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District, will continue to chair Land Use, Housing and Transportation.

However, Ms. Robertson, who challenged Mr. Hilbert for the presidency, was swept off Finance to make room for Ms. Gray, Mr. Jones and Ms. Larson. This will be the first time in at least eight years that Ms. Robertson will not serve on Finance, a committee she once chaired.

Ms. Robertson, who was once on the outside like Mr. Agelasto, noted that she will keep her positions as chair of the Affordable Housing Trust Oversight Board and of the Maggie L. Walker anti-poverty initiative. She said she will continue to represent City Council on the Planning Commission and an advisory commission on alternatives to incarceration.

Mr. Agelasto said later that he will still represent council on several regional bodies, including Richmond Region Tourism, the area’s visitation promotion group of which he is vice chair. He is to become chairman later this year when the officers rotate.