City Manager Marcus Jones often enjoys the good graces of his bosses on the City Council. But Tuesday night was different.
“The manager’s taken a couple hits tonight,” Mayor Paul Fraim noted during the informal session, where four council members expressed displeasure with various aspects of city management.
Councilman Andy Protogyrou led the charge. Protogyrou had called for an investigation of a city-contracted plumber sentenced to 15 months in prison following an FBI investigation. The contractor bribed city employees and overbilled the city for years.
In a three-sentence memo delivered to the council on Friday, Jones said a city investigation found no wrongdoing beyond two city employees who took bribes from the city-contracted plumber. The brief memo didn’t sit well with Protogyrou, who said he expected a full report.
“It’s ironic that of all the nights, tonight we have a discussion on fraud, managing fraud and risk, tone, culture, control and policies,” Protogyrou said. “And what bothers me is, we as a council know nothing as to what went on. “For us to receive our information from the newspaper is not right.”
Protogyrou, a lawyer, questioned Jones about exactly what police, who handled the investigation, had reviewed. “I tell you, I deal with Norfolk PD, and sometimes they don’t take notes. Sometimes they take notes and for some reason they destroy those notes. I know how the system works. I don’t know what happened here, and neither do our taxpayers,” Protogyrou said. “I want to know how it happened, why it happened, what controls were not there, what culture in City Hall didn’t exist, what policies did we not follow.”
Protogyrou suggested the possibility of a review by the city auditor. Jones then said he wanted Alice Kelly, the city’s finance director, to brief the council at the meeting about changes that had been made.
“You cannot answer this for me tonight,” Protogyrou said. “I want to know, what is your new culture, and if you can do it in 30 seconds, I’ll be surprised.”
“Can we try 120 seconds?” Jones asked.
“No,” Protogyrou replied sharply. “I want it written down.”
Protogyrou said he could not ask the right questions without preparation from a written report.
Under state law, police reports from such an investigation could be released to the public, a decision left to the discretion of the affected governments. Because it’s optional, Norfolk and most other local governments in Hampton Roads rarely do so.
Fraim said police would avoid disclosing investigative techniques in writing. But, he told Jones, “there’s a good, healthy discipline about putting things down in writing.”
“This plan that’s been put in place after this incident ought to be reduced to writing for this council, just like Andy has said, and presented to us, so then we can ask you questions about it. OK? I just think that’s a healthy give-and-take,” Fraim said.
Councilman Paul Riddick, in a critique of how police treat blacks, took on Jones and Goldsmith over two fatal police shootings and said the city was acting like an ostrich that “buries his head in the sand.”
“The lack of investigation by the city manager, who also serves as our public safety director for the city, and the police chief… who can only say now that the investigation is in the hands of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, is not giving the citizens of Norfolk the level of comfort that I think is expected of our top public safety officials,” Riddick said.
Finally, Councilman Tommy Smigiel said that developer Ronnie Boone Sr. appeared to be getting a “free pass” for years of putting up buildings that lack proper permits and inspections.
Gesturing toward both Jones and City Attorney Bernard A. Pishko, Smigiel said, “These two offices here have to, at some point, put their foot down and say, ‘Enough is enough.’
“We have citizens who could be living in structures that haven’t been approved by law, and I worry about their safety,” he said. “If we can’t handle this as a city to the fullest extent, then maybe it needs to be turned over to another division to look into. Another city, another commonwealth’s attorney, somebody else, to make sure we don’t continue to be embarrassed.”
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