Mayor appoints Lincoln Saunders as acting CAO

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/10/2020, 6 p.m.
J.E. Lincoln Saunders is now in charge of City Hall operations.

J.E. Lincoln Saunders is now in charge of City Hall operations.

After four years as Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s chief of staff, Mr. Saunders moved into the No. 2 power position of acting chief administrative

officer, or CAO, on Monday after City Council voted 8-1 to confirm his appointment.

Promoted by the mayor, Mr. Saunders takes over from Lenora Reid, who has been hospitalized with what is publicly being described as a medical emergency.

The Free Press has been told Ms. Reid suffered a stroke and has a long recovery ahead.

Formerly the city’s chief financial officer, Ms. Reid has been acting CAO since Selena Cuffee-Glenn was fired 15 months ago for allegedly esuring several relatives were hired by the City of Richmond.

On Monday, Mayor Stoney praised Ms. Reid for her work and told the City Council before the vote that he intends to appoint her CAO once she recovers.

But for the moment, he proposed Mr. Saunders be put in the job on an acting basis to ensure the work of the city “did not miss a beat.”

He said he considers Mr. Saunders, who has been a prominent member of Mayor Stoney’s team since the mayor was first elected in 2016, the right person to temporarily fill the post. “He is familiar with the daily operations and is trusted by my administrative team, both vital for success in that position,” the mayor told the council. Interim City Attorney Haskell C. Brown III advised the council that an acting CAO is needed, as that person is the only one authorized to sign most contracts and other vital paperwork, such as city bonds that are to be sold later this week.

Outgoing 2nd District Councilwoman Kim B. Gray cast the lone dissenting vote after raising the only objections.

Ms. Gray cited Mr. Saunders’ lack of experience in managing a large organization with more than 4,000 employees and more than $2 billion in annual revenue from all sources at a time when city staff is in the process of preparing the next budget.

She also noted that as “a close friend and political ally of the mayor,” Mr. Saunders being appointed breaches the traditional barrier between the professional, apolitical staff that handles the day-to-day operations and the city’s elected officials.

Mr. Saunders is a graduate of the College of William & Mary and holds a master’s in public administration from Indiana University.

While in college, he worked on political campaigns and later served six years as finance director for the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Before becoming Mayor Stoney’s chief of staff, Mr. Saunders served in former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration as chief of staff for First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe where he worked on issues related to agriculture, food security and childhood hunger.

He has been a member of the William & Mary Board of Visitors since 2017 and also serves on the board of Fit4Kids.