Richmond has a financial crisis on its hands and there are many people in the city government, past and present, who are responsible for it. City Manager David Evans is one of those individuals, but he shocked everyone with his decision to resign. I guess that was his way of being accountable for what has transpired over the past six years under Mayor Connie Lawson.
It’s important to point out that Evans was hired as city manager in 1999 under former Mayor Ann Durham. According to financial records from 1999 to 2003, Evans’ performance was stellar. He created operating surpluses every year and built an investment fund from $3.2 million to $9.4 million. Under Mayor Lawson’s leadership, however, his performance has created operating deficits and an investment fund that is all but depleted.
There is no doubt about Evans’ role in this crisis, but as the old saying goes … the buck stops at the top and that is with Lawson.
She is the elected leader of the citizens of Richmond and she must willingly accept full responsibility for this crisis. She must also publicly admit that to the citizens who placed their faith and trust in her to lead this city. It’s apparent by this crisis that she has not honored that trust.
When Lawson took office in January of 2003, she inherited an operating surplus to begin her administration. The 2003 general fund financial records reported an operating surplus of approximately $1.2 million as well as an investment account worth $9.4 million. That’s not a bad way to start out as mayor, but unfortunately it didn’t last long.
In her first full year as mayor, the city went from a $1.2 million surplus to a $1 million deficit, and the following year it experienced another deficit of $1.4 million. During this same time period, the city’s investment account dropped by more than $3.3 million. These results were a clear sign that the city was headed in the wrong direction and she did nothing to halt it.
Since she took office, spending has increased 74 percent, while revenue has increased 47 percent and that’s a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, under the Lawson’s leadership, the city has continued to spend without consideration of its impact on the city’s financial health. Prior to Lawson taking the helm, revenues increased 19 percent in a five-year period, while expenses increased 14 percent when Durham and Evans were at the helm.
It’s apparent under Mayor Lawson’s guidance the city early on was headed in the wrong direction and that is the main reason for the city’s financial crisis, but there is even more trouble on the horizon in the 2010 budget. That budget — unanimously approved by the mayor and city commissioners — has a spending increase of 2.5 percent, while revenues are expected to increase over 9 percent. On paper, it looks great until you compare it to actual revenue trends over the past six years. That comparison reveals many revenue streams are overstated and creates a potential budget shortfall of between $2 million and $3 million for the 2010 fiscal year.
This is the “devastating situation” Lawson was referencing when the news broke about the city’s financial crisis. Numbers don’t lie and Lawson and the city commissioners have their work cut out for them without the experience and guidance of a veteran city manager. There are solutions available — some of them painful — that can help move this city in a positive direction, but only with the right leadership.
Lawson came into office with many hopes and dreams for making the city a better place to work and live. In some ways, she has accomplished those goals. But in doing so, she created the crisis we have today. It is what it is and must be corrected; however, is Lawson the person who can turn this city around?
Her performance to date indicates she is not. What’s even more troubling is members of the city commission have doubts as well.
City Commissioner Bill Strong had this to say, “She’s (referring to Lawson) going to have to show some kind of leadership or we’re headed for gloom and doom if we don’t do something.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of her abilities to lead and solve this crisis.
Furthermore, City Commissioner Mike Brewer has stated concerns of a “lack of communication” between the commission, the mayor and the city manager and that’s a serious problem that has contributed to the city’s financial problems.
Given this, it is difficult for anyone to accept that Lawson, who ultimately is responsible for this crisis, is the same person that can return this city to the healthy financial one she inherited. With serious communication problems and doubts about her leadership abilities within her own commission, that spells future problems.
As sad as it may be, if Lawson truly loves Richmond as she says she does, and wants Richmond to prosper and grow within its means, then she should do the right thing and step down for the greater good of Richmond.