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Mayor says city investigating her gift card purchases

Posted at 2:05 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 14:07:05-05

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - The mayor of Charlottesville is reportedly under investigation after using her city-issued credit card to pay for gift cards doled out to people who spoke at city council meetings.

The Daily Progress reports that in a Facebook Live video and subsequent posts, Nikuyah Walker said the city has been investigating whether she misused funds by purchasing the gift cards and by making a donation to a nonprofit run by a person who spoke at a city council meeting.

“Speakers come and speak typically about how to infuse equity in the conversation, and I pay them,” Walker said. “Community members come up with solutions that people who are making ($60,000 to) $200,000 can’t come up with, and I give them $25 gift cards for every hour that they spend and devote to helping us heal this community.”

Records obtained by the newspaper show that city staff members have known about Walker purchasing gift cards for at least two years. Walker said on Facebook that no one told her those purchases were not allowed.

Walker’s online posts include a Feb. 3 memo from Acting City Attorney Lisa Robertson referencing two referrals that Robertson recently received regarding possible unauthorized public expenditures.

Robertson noted that “there is no state enabling legislation authorizing appropriations, gifts (including gift cards), or donations to be made to any individual or entity by an individual city councilor, payable from city funds.”

City spokesman Brian Wheeler said city officials were not answering questions about the credit cards, citing a “personnel and legal issue.”

In a Facebook comment, Walker shared a portion of a December memo in which Robertson said she had reported the situation to Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania.

Platania would neither confirm nor deny any investigation, the newspaper reported.

“Instead of expressing their concerns to me, the acting city attorney went to the prosecutor,” Walker said in a Facebook post. “The most problematic part of this ordeal is that staff has stated several times that they were attempting to be helpful and all of my colleagues have stated that they believed that staff was attempting to be helpful. White people, please don’t try to help me in the future. Please don’t!”