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Ex-finance director stunned by city’s finances; hundreds pack special Petersburg meeting

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PETERSBURG, Va. -- Members of Petersburg City Council has voted to enter into a separation agreement with the city manager during a packed special meeting Thursday evening as troubling news spreads about Petersburg's finances and outstanding debt.

Former City Workers on Turmoil 

Rob Blount, who served as the city's finance director for 25 years before he retired in 2008, said he is surprised and disappointed to learn some of the city's bills have not been paid for more than a year.

"We've had a tough economic situation over a number of years in Petersburg" said Blount, who was around when tobacco giant Brown & Williamson pulled out of the city and a few years later when the mall shut down.

Even during those challenging times, Blount said the city's bills were paid "within 30 days of the due date".

But now just a few years later the city owes millions.

Rob Blount

Rob Blount

When Carol Matthews left the treasurer's office on Dec. 31, 2009, she said things were normal.

"When I left, our bills were being paid," Matthews said. "The bills were going out to the citizens, as they should, water bills were going out as they should, everything was processed and put in the bank."

In fact, Matthews still has the figures from her last day in office.

"Well it says the city had almost $10 million in funds, and the outstanding receivables was $2.5 million -- that was taxes to be collected for the current year -- so the balance was $6.8 million in the bank."

Carol Matthews

Carol Matthews

Residents Demand Answers 

"Citizens have the right to complain," said James Geter, who lives in Petersburg. "Questions need to be answered as to why things are in such a turmoil as they are."

After city leaders postponed a Tuesday evening city council meeting over so-called threats, citizens continued to demand answers saying they are concerned with city leaders' lack of transparency.

Ward 2 city council member Darrin Hill thinks canceling the meeting was a mistake.

"Our citizens, they are frustrated, but not to the point to where they would want to do bodily harm to any one of us," Hill said.

As a result, five of the seven members of city council have called to a special meeting Thursday night to discuss employee contracts.

Some residents think Thursday's meeting could be the beginning of a change at city hall.

"You come out on Thursday night and you see the changes that we're proposing. At least get the facts," Hill said. "At least from the five of us thus far."

City Manager William Johnson faces crowd.

City Manager William Johnson faces crowd.

Thursday's Meeting

CBS 6  senior reporter Wayne Covil and reporter Melissa Hipolit are at the meeting where dozens of people were forced to wait outside as the city's historic Union Station was filled to capacity. It is estimated that 300 people were inside the station.

City Manager William Johnson was left sitting alone in front of the crowd while council members met for a closed session.

The chair for Brain Telfair, the city’s attorney, was empty. He previously said he had a trip planned months in advance.

Here are Melissa Hipolit's tweets from the meeting.

Melissa Hipolit also broadcast portions of the meeting live on her Facebook page.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for continuing coverage of this important local story.