The Mayor and Corruption Charges
Last week, we learned from the email newsletter of Mayor Tom Butt that he has been under investigation for corruption. Local media has picked up the story as well. City Manager Laura Snideman and City Attorney Teresa Stricker were concerned enough about accusations a city employee made against him that they hired an outside attorney and private investigator to examine some of his business dealings.
Details about the accusation or what was learned in the investigation had not yet been released by a reliable source -- initially only Mayor Butt was talking.
Butt claims the accusation against him was baseless and that he did nothing wrong. Time will tell if that is true, but his response to being investigated is inappropriate and offensive.
In his email newsletter, Butt stated plans to make a motion at the June 29 city council meeting to fire both Snideman and Stricker for their part in investigating him. To anyone who values transparency in government, this is an excessive countermeasure. Fortunately, firing his own investigators is likely not something Butt has enough political support to do anymore. It's an empty threat.
For the record, the RPA believes that if there is potential corruption in our city government, it should be investigated, brought to light, and eliminated. After all, avoiding even the appearance of impropriety in government dealings is codified in California law and part of the ethics training every California officeholder receives. The city manager and city attorney were right to scrutinize an accusation brought forward by a city staff member.
Just as troubling, Mayor Butt used his newsletter to print the full name of the city staff member who made the accusation against him. More than one Richmond community member can confirm that being "doxxed" by the Mayor in his email newsletter can bring online and in-person harassment from the Mayor's small group of vehement supporters. It's a dangerous practice the Mayor turns to when he realizes he can't win any other way. When Butt does it to most Richmonders, there's not much that they can do to protect themselves.
The mayor’s reasoning for firing Snideman and Stricker is that the City Manager authorized more than $10,000 in spending to undertake the investigation without the approval of Council, which violates the city charter. The RPA has been clear on this issue: as our democratically-elected leaders, City Council members should approve every city expenditure above $10,000. But potential corruption within Richmond should be taken seriously, and the investigation is already underway. The City Manager and City Attorney should be allowed to perform their jobs without fear of retaliation.
The possible termination of Laura Snideman and Teresa Stricker was discussed Tuesday, June 29, during the closed session of the City Council meeting. Typically, the contents of a closed session are not revealed to the public afterward. But there are exceptions to this rule. Because the Mayor has already aired this issue within a public forum, Richmond residents deserved a full report of the discussions that occur this coming Tuesday. Heather McLaughlin from the City Attorney’s office reported that only Mayor Butt voted to terminate, with Councilmember Bates abstaining and the other five councilmembers opposing termination.
This is not the first time someone has accused Mayor Butt of using his public position for personal profit. And finding ways to retaliate against "progressives" and other political enemies is, without a doubt, his favorite hobby. But now he's retaliating against whistleblowers and investigators -- and it has surely gone too far. Transparency requires that possible government corruption be fully investigated, without any outside interference.