City of Richmond spokesperson resigns, follows report of alleged misuse of city funds

Poster image - 2024-07-02T163942.464.jpg
Posted at 4:54 PM, Jul 02, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- The City of Richmond’s Director of Strategic Communications and Civil Engagement has resigned to pursue other opportunities, according to an email the city’s Chief Administrative Officer sent to his executive team Monday night.

Lincoln Saunders said the city was grateful for Petula Burks' work, from standing up a new Office of Strategic Communications and Civic Engagement from the ground up to helping the city embrace and celebrate its diverse culture.

In a text message sent to CBS 6 investigative reporter Melissa Hipolit, Burks said "My goal was and will always be to serve. My hope is that people felt heard and seen."

Burks’ resignation comes on the heels of a report by the Richmond Times Dispatch that raised questions about Burks’ use of a city-issued credit card to purchase nearly $100,000 worth of services from consulting and advertising firms operated by her former business partner.

"The first thing that must be cleared up is there is no business relationship between myself and the named vendor,” Burks said in her text message exchange with Hipolit.

The RTD reported the city had suspended Burks’ purchasing card for nearly a year because of overdue payments and an accidental personal charge that she said she had paid back.

The reporter who covered the story at the RTD, Samuel Parker, said on Twitter/X that, instead of answering his questions on the story, city officials told him Burks was resigning.

Burks started working for the city on January 4, 2022.

In a press release announcing her hire, Burks said the launch of the Office of Public Information and Engagement was a “marriage made in heaven” and she looked to “cultivate a city built on transparency, commitment to listening and activation around a shared mission and vision.”

In March, CBS 6 investigative reporter Tyler Layne reported that the city’s former FOIA officer, Connie Clay, had filed a lawsuit against the city after she said she was fired by Burks shortly after sounding the alarm about the city routinely violating its FOIA obligations.

Burks was Clay’s boss and internal emails obtained by CBS 6 revealed that Burks told Clay not to release certain documents requested by CBS 6 through a public records request, despite Clay warning Burks there was no lawful exemption to support withholding the information.

Here is the full statement Burks sent to Hipolit on Tuesday:

“The first thing that must be cleared up is there is no business relationship between myself and the named vendor. Many moons ago, we thought about creating a non-profit and completed the incorporation paperwork. The entity was dissolved a year later.

The work that has been created for the city of Richmond has been top-notch. My belief in helping our residents see themselves was my only goal.

Did I move too fast as we established the office, yes. There were milestones to hit in a short amount of time. Did I make some mistakes, yes. Did it all come from a good place, yes. Would I do it again, yes but with caution and guard rails. I'd work to ensure that the office worked closely with procurement to double check policies and procedures.

When we discuss the pcard issue, I was helping a family in desperate need. I had charged a hotel stay for them on my personal card. In the interim of charging an additional stay for the family, I paid for a conference hotel on my pcard. When asked to extend the family's stay, the stay was accidentally charged to my work card instead of my personal card. Once I realized, I self reported to our procurement office and began to work on reversing the charge. In the end, I paid it back.

My goal was and will always be to serve. My hope is that people felt heard and seen. Richmond is a beautiful place with a million stories to tell and thousands of people to be lifted. We've started something amazing and I pray it continues.”

Depend on CBS 6 News and for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

SHARE on social media to SPREAD the WORD!

EAT IT, VIRGINIA restaurant news and interviews



Watch 'The Jennifer Hudson Show' weekdays at 3 p.m. on CBS 6!

📱 Download CBS 6 News App
The app features breaking news alerts, live video, weather radar, traffic incidents, closings and delays and more.