RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney was legally sworn in on January 1, 2017. On his 100th day running City Hall, Stoney sat down with CBS 6 reporter Jake Burns to have a wide ranging conversation on what the mayor has learned in his first few months on the job and his long term vision of the city.
Question: You promised in your first 100 days a complete review of City Hall process and how it functions. I wonder since that review is still ongoing, what are some of the things you have been most disappointed to find out about how City Hall works?
Stoney: Just how slow it can be sometimes, right? I worked across the street in state government as the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Government has a reputation of being slow moving, but this one, the government here in City Hall, can be really, really slow moving. But I think that we have tried every day recently to kind of up the pace. That’s why I’ve visited different departments to meet the employees where they are. But also, I’ve gone out in the community to see the problems first hand and bring those problems back to city hall for solutions. Getting my team around the table and saying, “You know what, here’s a problem I saw out in neighborhood x or neighborhood y,” and find solutions to fix them.
Q: Part of your first 100 days was a "shakeup" at the beginning of your administration. You decided to part ways with people in four high level positions. Some residents in the city might say it's going to take more than a shakeup. What do you see as the next step in that process, considering the fact the first major roadblock you faced involved your hiring practices?
Stoney: You know what, yeah, in the first 100 days we did part ways with people who were working here at certain departments. I think folks voted for me because they believed in change, and to me, that’s what change looks like. Moving people who were in different roles, particularly department heads, out of City Hall. But additionally, I think the performance review is going to give us another opportunity, the potential opportunity, to look at other roles over at City Hall and see where we should move forward next. This is the due diligence part of my plan. We’re going do the due diligence through our performance review, and after that, we’ll make the necessary changes, if they’re necessary.
Q: One issue that you have already seen is the problem with crime. Is there anything that has surprised you in your first few months about the crime issue in Richmond?
Stoney: You know, I can’t say I’ve learned anything new in terms of crime. It’s always, it’s the most difficult part of the job because you wish you could be everywhere at once. You wish the police department could be everywhere at once, but there are always restrictions that we all have. That’s why I recognized that and added money to the budget, $1.3 million extra, to focus particularly on raises of salaries for our police officers. So that we can keep the best right here in Richmond instead of them going out to Henrico or Chesterfield. But also, you hear the phrase community policing a lot. You really understand it after there’s a homicide in a particular neighborhood, how important it really is, how important community input and community engagement really is. And so, what I’ve always asked is that those individuals who live in our neighborhoods they have to help out our police department. Our police department, even though they work toward being super heroes for the residents of the city, they’re not super heroes. This is an opportunity for our residents to step up and actually be super heroes. Which if you see something you have to say something, report it to our police department.
Q: High crime rates are generally concentrated in pockets of low income neighborhoods. What do you plan to do to bring the inequality between wealthy Richmond and low income Richmond closer?
Stoney: Well you know what , every day I have been talking about building one Richmond – a Richmond that no matter how much money you may have or, or what color your skin may be, what language you may speak, you have a home right here. Everything we do is about that mission, building one Richmond. And so, when it comes to disparities, I think the greatest equalizer of any city is public education. That a person, that a child can be raised in, in any neighborhood, and get quality education right here in the city. And that’s why working with the school board and the city council, we’ve been, we’ve been working towards an education compact where we have a shared agenda on how we invest in the whole child; not just the child in the classroom, but what can we do in city hall to wrap every service that we can around the whole child.
Q: You proposed a $6 million increase for schools in the upcoming budget. What do you see as different in school budget discussions this time around since those talks are historically contentious?
Stoney: When I was a private resident, I saw the school board and the city council at each other's throats. I saw the school board at the mayor’s throat. That was sort of the culture of the past. I think we’re better when we’re working together. So at the outset, I had a meeting with all nine school board members, meetings with all nine city council members, and basically told them what I’d be willing to do on behalf of public education. So there was no hiding the ball or anything of the sort. It was just us getting around the table and working it all out, and so I did make an investment of $6.1 million dollars, above and beyond what they received last year, making it one of the largest investments in public education in this strong mayor form of government, in my proposed budget, so that’s a change. Normally folks are expecting conflict. I know conflict sells in the media, but for us, I think action and collaboration is a better sell.
Q: There have been headlines recently about $8.3 in unassigned funds for RPS. What did you make of that? From the outside, it looked bad to some because the school board had been asking for more money in recent years.
Stoney: As I said before, I would have loved to have learned about that information ahead of time; before I actually made my proposal public about the extra $6.1 million I was adding to the [schools] budget. But nonetheless, we have $8.3 million available to the Richmond Public Schools. Let’s get together around the table on how we go about spending it so we can improve the quality of life of each and every child. That should be the focus.
Q: The population in Richmond is growing at rate that hasn't been seen since the 1980's. Businesses are coming to town. However, getting to and from those business impacts quality of life. We hear complaints all the time about potholes in the streets and terrible alleyways. Do you have a long term infrastructure plan for the roadways in Richmond?
Stoney: We’ve been able to fill a number of potholes here in the city, but once you fill one, another one pops up because we haven’t really done a lot of paving in a very, very long time – a comprehensive paving program. Moving forward, as you know, we don’t have a lot of dollars in our capital improvement budget. And so, what that lack of dollars, that means I have a lack of dollars to invest in improving infrastructure throughout the city. So, right now we’re going to have to focus on piece-mealing it and being a little bit more intentional about getting to potholes when they erupt. Besides that though, you want to see more people get out of their cars and get on GRTC, get on the bus. And so, you saw what our bus rapid transit network plan that was endorsed and passed by the city council with a 9-0 vote. I thought that was a success. This is a system that has had old, old bus routes for a very, very long time, and for us to actually be intentional about changing those routes so they can feed into the bus rapid transit to get people to and from work, it’s a good thing for our residents.
Q: What would you tell families who get frustrated with under-performing schools or damaged roads and decide to move out of the city?
Stoney: What I would tell individuals who have just as many complaints about the roads as I do, is that all I ask for is a little patience. When I went to City Council recently, I highlighted the problems we have in Public Works; the fact that we have 100 less individuals in Public Works than we had ten years ago. That’s why we’re unable to pick up the leaves on time, that’s why your sidewalks have not been fixed in four years, that’s why we’re unable to get to your alleys because we have starved public works for ten years. And so the people who cut your grass, the people who pick up your leaves, are also the ones who fill your potholes. So we have to do a better job of being of just being intentional about investing in public works. And that we’ve begun doing that with this budget I’ve released where I’ve invested $700,000 in alley repairs, $300,000 grass cutting, so we can get ahead of what happened last year with that unpleasantness. But in the year’s past, we’ve kind of ignored it. We can no longer ignore basic services. We have to be honest with our public about what we can and cannot do. And there are some things we can’t, we don’t do well. We should focus on fixing that.
Q: You are the youngest mayor in the city's history. You are 36 years old right now. In the past, you have always said you are focused on the next four to eight years as Richmond's mayor. But look into your "crystal ball" for a moment, what will Levar Stoney be doing at age 50?
Stoney: 50? Sheesh, I’ve never thought about me at 50 years old, I’ll admit that. That would be a milestone for me personally since I had a father who passed away at age 49. He didn’t see his 50th birthday. So I welcome every single day that I get as a young man. But you know what? I’m going to do everything I can to be the best mayor that I can be for this city. Every role I’ve ever had in my life, I’ve thought about just transforming it, and that’s what I want to do here with the office of mayor. You know what? We’ve only finished the first quarter of a sixteen quarter game. Right? I think we won that quarter right there. I mean we got through our first 100 days, and I thought there were a lot of successes. We won just about every week, and I’m pro winning every week on behalf of our residents. So with fifteen more quarters left, who knows what will happen? But I guarantee you this, and I’m telling all of the people out there in the City of Richmond, I’m going to wake up every single day and trying to win on behalf of every resident. That’s my goal, and my team knows my goals, and so that’s what we’re going to do.
Q: With your first 100 days as a back drop, what do you tell people who visit Richmond from out of town about what the River City is all about?
Stoney: We’re about one Richmond. This is a city that is welcoming and inclusive to anyone and everyone. I want folks to come here and when they come to Richmond, I want them to feel the energy that is just reverberating throughout the city. We do have our challenges, like many cities do, but we have a whole lot to celebrate. And this is just the beginning. There’s a whole lot more to come.