MARK HOLMBERG: CBS 6 requests details of Richmond mayor’s itinerary during Hurricane Irene

Posted at 12:30 PM, Sep 27, 2011
and last updated 2012-04-29 12:30:48-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Some members of Richmond City Council and others wondered why no one had seen Mayor Dwight C. Jones the day Hurricane Irene blew into Richmond.

When CBS-6 asked where he was, the mayor's press secretary, Tammy Hawley, said "The mayor was here before, after and during the storm."

But Hawley wasn't in town that day, Saturday, August 27.

We couldn't find anyone in his administration, or anyone else for that matter, who said they saw Jones that day.

Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall spent much of that Saturday at the city's Emergency Operations Center on Hermitage Road. He told us that he talked with the mayor on the phone several times that day.

But it is the mayor who is officially the leader of the city's emergency response effort. And there was criticism by some – most notably City Councilman Marty Jewell - about the city's response to the storm, particularly as Irene headed for Central Virginia.

On September 7, CBS-6 filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for the mayor's itinerary on August 25, 26, 27 and 28, along with any travel expenses he or his security team incurred on those dates.

Hawley initially provided one document that was outside the purview of that request that showed the mayor flew from West Palm Beach, Florida (where he has a new condo) to Richmond on August 24, arriving shortly before midnight. (That was the day after a freak 5.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the region.)

In terms of the mayor's intinerary, Hawley said Jones' calendar showing his whereabouts is part of his working papers and are exempted from sunshine laws. (See that specific code at the end of this story.)

But elected officials in Virginia, including governors, have routinely released itinerary information upon request from the media.

Hawley said there were no travel expenses that could be found for those dates for the mayor or his bodyguards.

She confirmed that the mayor's security team had added another Richmond police officer – a detective, CBS-6 has learned – which brings the total number to three. That's still fewer than former Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's executive protective unit, a reduction pledge Jones made while campaigning. Hawley said adding the third officer made good fiscal sense because the other two members of the team were racking up too much overtime.

When CBS-6 asked about the mayor's whereabouts one last time Monday for this story, Hawley provided a receipt showing Jones bought an ice cream and a water as a guest at the downtown Marriott that Saturday.

Mayor Jones also came out to speak on camera about his whereabouts, saying he spent that Saturday night at the downtown Marriott, three blocks from City Hall. The night before, he said, he stayed at his own home and drove himself to the hotel.

"My power was out," Jones said. "My power was out for six days. I was like most of Richmonders, you know, trying to deal with the storm. Additionally, I had the responsibility of making sure that I was in contact with the Emergency Operations Center."

Jones said overall, the response to the storm was good, and those who participated in the effort were thanked during the following Monday's City Council meeting.

"I think we've learned some lessons," Jones said. "We have a committee working with Councilman (Douglas) Conner and our people to put together a plan for the next event that we have. Certainly we've learned some lessons, and the next time around, I'll try to be a little more visible."

Virginia state code 2.2-3705.7 refers to exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act. In part, it reads:

"The following records are excluded from the provisions of this chapter but may be disclosed by the custodian in his discretion, except where such disclosure is prohibited by law:

1. State income, business, and estate tax returns, personal property tax returns, scholastic and confidential records held pursuant to § 58.1-3.

2. Working papers and correspondence of the Office of the Governor; Lieutenant Governor; the Attorney General; the members of the General Assembly, the Division of Legislative Services, or the Clerks of the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia; the mayor or chief executive officer of any political subdivision of the Commonwealth; or the president or other chief executive officer of any public institution of higher education in Virginia. However, no record, which is otherwise open to inspection under this chapter, shall be deemed exempt by virtue of the fact that it has been attached to or incorporated within any working paper or correspondence."