Skip to comments.Portsmouth mayor fined for using assistant for personal tasks
Posted on 08/08/2009 4:53:41 PM PDT by csvset
Mayor James Holley's secretary has been busy.
She's surfed the Internet for a Taser gun to repel geese at Holley's home, and she's called T.J. Maxx stores across Virginia to find medium-size wooden shoe trees.
She's made hair and nail appointments with Mrs. Erma at Camelot Beauty Salon and at Foxy Nails and asked the city's information technology department to cancel Holley's subscription to Playboy. The Web site is typically off-limits to city employees.
Lorraine Stokes was so busy performing personal tasks for the 82-year-old mayor that they interfered with her job responsibilities, she said. So she took a list of her concerns, including 44 personal tasks the mayor wanted, to her supervisor and the City Council.
Council members have fined Holley $2,500 for an ongoing pattern of using his city assistants to perform personal chores. If he doesn't contest the fine, the money will be deducted from his paycheck.
Stokes is being reassigned.
Council members also offered to pay for the mayor to receive counseling at the city's expense "so that your future conduct may become more within generally accepted standards of conduct for elected officials," according to a letter that was given to Holley and signed by the six other council members.
"The most recent incident is only the latest one in a continuing pattern of conduct that has caused the departure of several prior employees," the letter states.
The council gave Holley the letter in a closed meeting Wednesday night. A copy of it and Stokes' account of the personal tasks the mayor asked her to perform over an unspecified time frame were provided to The Virginian-Pilot.
Holley, who did not return phone calls from The Pilot on Friday, was given seven days from the receipt of the letter to contest the fine.
He was interviewed Friday evening by Kristina Rohall of WVEC's 13News.
"Everything I do is city business," he said, adding that he would pay the fine.
Asked if he thought he'd done anything wrong, Holley responded, "Definitely not."
Councilman Steve Heretick said he and his colleagues decided on the fine after they confronted Holley about the allegations and the mayor's response was to have Stokes fired. Holley denied to 13News that he wanted her dismissed.
"When we discussed the matter with you, your response was - in our collective judgment - unsatisfactory," the council's letter states. "You did not acknowledge that you had done anything wrong, and you did not show any intent to change your conduct."
Heretick said a number of Holley's assistants have raised concerns about tasks that he asked them to perform. Stokes is the first assistant he is aware of to make a formal complaint, Heretick said.
"As the letter reflects, we were very disappointed in the mayor's reaction to his secretary's memo, none of which he denied," Heretick said.
Vice Mayor Bill Moody Jr., Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas and Councilman Doug Smith declined comment or did not return phone calls.
Stokes also could not be reached.
City Clerk Debra White said Friday that Stokes worked as the mayor's secretary for nearly two years. According to the city's job description, Stokes reported to both the mayor and White. Stokes' responsibilities included typing correspondence and reports, maintaining departmental records, greeting the public and answering phones, receiving inquiries and routing communications, and establishing filing systems.
Marc Davis, Holley's assistant from 2002 to 2005, said Friday that he read through Stokes' list and nothing on it surprised him. Davis, who no longer works for the city, said he left because of ethical differences with Holley, but he declined to elaborate.
According to a July 27 memo that Stokes sent to White, the harder she tried to accommodate the mayor, "the more often the requests occurred."
"The reason it continued is because I would rather make him happy by accommodating his personal requests than to face the abuse that he was handing out."
Stokes wrote that the mayor's requests interfered with her ability to perform her job responsibilities and that Holley got irritated when she did not complete the tasks as soon as he wanted.
"The problem is compounded by his verbal abuse, condescending speech, and hostility, such as being told 'you're a nobody,' 'I don't need you,' 'I'm going to ride you like I did the rest of them,' 'you've got to lie' and 'who are they gonna believe, a nobody or the Mayor,' " she wrote.
The letter also said that after a July 24 conversation with Holley, when she claims he threatened to have her fired if she didn't continue to perform personal tasks for him, "it suddenly became very clear to me that nothing I or anyone else can do for the mayor will ever be enough."
According to the council's letter to Holley, the mayor's administrative and secretarial work now will be handled by the city clerk's office.
Heretick said the idea to fine Holley came from a little-used state law that allows a governing body to punish or fine a member for disorderly behavior. They agreed on $2,500 because it equals one-tenth of the mayor's $25,000 annual salary.
"We wanted to make it more than a symbolic fine," Heretick said.
He said he feels bad for Stokes, whom he described as a diligent employee.
"We just don't treat people like this," Heretick said.
This is not the first time that the mayor has been in hot water for his behavior. In 1987, Holley was recalled as mayor after he was implicated in a hate-mail campaign. He was re-elected in 1996.
Some residents were upset with him last year after he described the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel and Waterfront Conference Center as a "white hotel" during debate over a proposal by state Sen. Louise Lucas to build another hotel and conference center. He apologized.
Holley, named one of the country's best-dressed mayors in 2007 and often praised as perhaps Portsmouth's biggest public booster, was narrowly re-elected to his fifth term last year by 202 votes.
Jen McCaffery, (757) 446-2627, email@example.com
Holley first served as a member of the Portsmouth City Council from 1968 to 1984, and was vice-mayor from 1978 to 1980. Upon his election in 1968, he became the first African American to serve on Portsmouth's City Council. He has twice held the office of mayor, first from July 1, 1984, to December 15, 1987, and again from July 1996 to the present day. Holley is also the first African American mayor in the city's history. His first term came to an end when he was forced from office following an expense account scandal, becoming the first Virginia politician in modern times to be recalled. Another factor in Holley's removal from office was his being linked to hate mail that was sent to community leaders. In May 2008 Holley was re-elected, narrowly defeating challenger Martha Ann Creecy in the first contested mayoral election in Portsmouth since 1996.
While an Independent, Holley has backed both Democrats and Republicans running for office, including Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential bid and former Senator George Allen's 2006 re-election bid. He also made a campaign contribution to Barack Obama.
Holley has supported a smoking ban proposed by Tim Kaine. He also serves as chairman of Hampton Roads Transit.
Holley drew criticism in 2008 for suggesting that Portsmouth needed a "black" hotel to act as a counter-balance to the "white" Renaissance Hotel. Holley was an early supporter of the Renaissance; his portrait hangs in the lobby, and the hotel's ballroom is named the "Holley Ballroom." He later apologized for the remark, saying that his words were "misconstrued" and "misinterpreted."
That is some “independent”
I lived in Portsmouth for over 20 years. Never heard Holley called an independent before.