Salvation Arms headquarters move to North Side has clear path from City Council

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 1/17/2020, 6 a.m.
The Salvation Army appears to have won its nine-month battle to move its Central Virginia headquarters and shelter program from …
Mr. Hilbert

The Salvation Army appears to have won its nine-month battle to move its Central Virginia headquarters and shelter program from Downtown to North Side after the main opponent, 3rd District Councilman Chris A. Hilbert, dropped his opposition.

On Monday night, Richmond City Council cleared the way for approval at its Jan. 27 meeting of the Salvation Army’s move from its longtime home at 2 W. Grace St. to 1900 Chamberlayne Ave., an office-warehouse owned by Eternity Church that used it for a sanctuary before relocating two years ago.

With Mr. Hilbert abstaining, the council amended a special use permit for the Salvation Army that eliminates its ability to provide, on behalf of the city, a 30-bed overnight shelter for the homeless during the winter.

Under the revised terms, the Salvation Army, which has operated in Richmond for 135 years, would be able to operate its offices on the site, expand its internal shelter for people facing a housing crisis and offer the Pathways for Hope case management program to assist temporary residents in getting back on their feet.

The new location would triple the Salvation Army’s space from about 15,000 square feet at the Grace Street location to nearly 48,000 square feet and allow it to expand its temporary shelter from 55 beds to 97 beds, including 72 for men, 24 for women and family groups and one for a staff member.

Prospects for approval strengthened after Mr. Hilbert told his colleagues he would no longer participate in deliberations or a vote on the project.

His explanation: A conflict of interest because his wife, Sheila Mandt, briefly worked in a fundraising position for the Salvation Army in the early 2000s, several years before Mr. Hilbert first took office in 2005.

Mr. Hilbert did not seek an opinion from the City Attorney’s Office as to whether his wife’s long dissolved connection with the Salvation Army constituted a conflict.

He told the Free Press on Monday night he decided not to participate out “of an abundance of caution.”

The state conflict of interest law, though, does not address the issue of conflicts involving activities of family members prior to an elected official taking office.

Ms. Gray

Ms. Gray

The action on the Salvation Army headquarters relocation came at a meeting where City Council put off action for 30 days on new regulations that would enable city residents to legally turn their homes and apartments into short-term rentals through such online sites as Airbnb and VRBO. The city currently bars such rentals, which are still happening.

Councilwoman Kristen N. Larson, 4th District, sought the delay until the Feb. 10 meeting after receiving a flurry of texts and emails from constituents ex- pressing concern or raising questions. She said that the delay would provide time to meet with and address the concerns.

Separately, Council President Cynthia I. Newbille, 7th District, also promised a review of city procurement laws to address criticism from two council members upset that the council’s chief of staff, Lawrence R. Anderson, authorized without council approval paying an extra $25,000 to hire an independent consultant to review the proposed $1.5 billion Coliseum replacement plan.

Chicago-based C.H. Johnson Consulting Inc., which was selected to handle the review for the council and issue a preliminary report in a few weeks, was awarded a $215,000 contract, although a divided council had approved only $190,000.

Dr. Newbille

Dr. Newbille

Councilwoman Kim B. Gray, 2nd District, and 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, who opposed the hiring, both raised objections to Mr. Anderson authorizing the extra $25,000 without notifying and securing City Council approval.

Mr. Anderson served on the five-member procurement review panel that reviewed responses to the city’s request for bids and selected C.H. Johnson Consulting. However, he said he and other panelists were sworn to secrecy before the contract was awarded. Both he and Dr. Newbille noted that a vacancy in a council staff position ensured sufficient funds.

Dr. Newbille, who pushed the hiring of the consultant and who supports the massive Coliseum replacement and Downtown development project, indicated that Mr. Anderson had done nothing wrong under the current rules. She said the best that could be offered is to revisit the procurement rules involving the council.

Unlike city department heads who have discretion to approve or reject contracts depending on available funds in their budgets, Mr. Anderson has not been granted permission to spend extra money without prior consultation with his nine elected bosses, Ms. Gray said.