Gun violence intervention and other initiatives were overlooked while the councilman gained

7 min read
Councilman W. Howard Myers, front and center, walks into the Petersburg District Court for a hearing on Thursday, Feb.  16, 2017.

Councilman W. Howard Myers, front and center, walks into the Petersburg District Court for a hearing on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017.

PETERSBURG—During the pandemic, the federal government dispersed billions of dollars throughout the states to help them respond to the economic impacts and shore up infrastructure.

The money had to be spent in four areas: to replace lost public sector revenue for government services, to respond to the negative health and economic impacts of Covid-19 by supporting small businesses, households, nonprofits, or other impacted industries, to provide additional pay for essential workers, and to invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

Petersburg received a total of almost $21 million of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), separated in two tranches of $10.5 million. Most of the money was spent on infrastructure projects, offsetting the increasing cost of health insurance for government employees, and seed money for the city’s capital projects.

One of the beneficiaries was also a council member.

How was the first tranche spent?

At the top of the list is $2.1 million for storm drainage projects and $2 million for the Petersburg Economic Development Authority’s Gap Financing Revolving Loan Fund. The city created a revolving loan fund in 2021 to help finance large projects for the furthering of the city’s Strategic Plan. The $2 million will act as seed money for these projects.

The Hotel Petersburg, owned by Nat Cuthbert–Councilman Charlie Cuthbert’s brother–was listed as of one of the projects that could receive money from this fund, according to the ARPA application.

A majority of the money set aside for the Southside Depot rehab, storm drainage projects, Farmer St. building rehab (where the new police headquarters will be), and the EMS life saving equipment have not yet been spent as of February 2023.

Here is the breakdown of the money:

  • Storm drainage projects: $2.10 million (none had been spent as of Feb. 2023)

  • Economic Development Authority Revolving Loan Fund: $2 million

  • Health Insurance Costs: $1.68 million (to absorb the increase in health costs)

  • Southside Depot rehabilitation: $1.36 million ($174,000 spent as of Feb. 2023)

  • Farmers St. Building rehabilitation: $1.27 million ($97,000 spent as of Feb. 2023)

  • Community recovery needs: $520,000 ($154,000 had spent as of Feb. 2023)

  • Petersburg Library Foundation – Learning Center: $269,000

  • EMS/ Fire life saving equipment: $263,000

  • Parks and Rec rehabilitation: $250,000 ($90,000 spent as of Feb. 2023)

  • EMS/Fire department radios: $226,000 (none had been spent as of Feb. 2023)

  • Downtown master plan: $100,000

  • police dept. radios: $98,500

  • Wilcox Lake dam rehab: $90,000 (none had been spent as of Feb. 2023)

How will the second tranche be spent?

Council approved of the budget for the second tranche of $10.5 million in March. Included in the second tranche was more money set aside for Southside Depot rehab and the new police headquarters on Farmer St., several studies including a fire/police promotional study, an economic development study, a downtown master plan, and the city comprehensive plan.

Also included in the second tranche is money for three vehicles for assessor offices, neighborhood services, and planning offices, and well as money to cover the cost for rising health insurance costs for FY 2024.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Farmers St. Building rehab: $2.2 million

  • Employee healthcare stipend: $1.6 million

  • Southside Depot rehab: $1.33 million

  • Poor Creek infrastructure project: $950,000

  • Hazardous duty pay: $782,000

  • City comprehensive plan and implementation: $600,000

  • Police dispatch systems and vehicles: $570,000

  • Emergency procurement: $500,000

  • Turf equipment: $500,000

  • City Parks Rehab: $394,000

  • Cemetery rehab: $300,000

  • Animal Shelters: $100,000

  • Police training: $100,000

  • Downtown master plan: $100,000

  • Economic development study: $100,000

  • Petersburg Area Art League: $100,000

  • Fire and police promotional study: $100,000

  • Three vehicles for assessor office, neighborhood services, and planning: $92,000

  • Explore Petersburg tourism: $72,500

  • Fire PPE: $11,000

Gun violence intervention and other initiatives were overlooked while the councilman gained

The city received 107 requests for funding from individuals, organizations, companies, and city departments, including money for a police case manager and gun violence intervention funding. Most of these requests were denied, while Councilman Howard Myer’s real estate rental business, the W. Howard Myers Enterprises, received $40,000 in ARPA funds. Here are some of the requests that were denied:

  • Gun violence intervention funding on behalf of the police department ($100,000)

  • Nonprofit Pathways ($15,000)

  • Revitalization of water infrastructure for the public schools on behalf of PCPS ($278,500)

  • Rebuilding for community outreach and impact for Bethany Baptist Church ($400,000)

  • A police case manager ($112,000)

  • Alamo Addiction Recovery Center ($110,000)

  • A water audit on behalf of former city manager Stuart Turille ($150,000)

  • Old Towne Studio 7 ($23,000)

Meanwhile Myers was chosen to receive ARPA funding, along with nine other businesses, individuals, and nonprofits, totaling around $254,000. The rest of the ARPA money will be spent on city projects.

Old Towne Studio 7 requested funding in 2021 but was not chosen to receive money. A year later, they shut down the business because they could no longer keep it open.

  • W. Howard Myers Enterprises: $40,000, Business grant

  • Delores Raigns: $1,314.90, Hardship – Individual

  • Tia Farley: $7,500.00, Hardship – Individual

  • Shavone Robinson: $1,595.00, Hardship – Individual

  • The Hope Center: $25,000.00, Business grant

  • VSF LLC dba Old Towne Civic Center: $55,840.00, Business grant

  • Alternative Counseling Group: $1,000.00, Business grant

  • Historic Petersburg Foundation: $10,000.00, Business grant

  • The James House: $11,700.00, Business grant

  • Petersburg Area Art League: $100,000, business grant

City charged over $4,000 for the PI to see ARPA applications

We requested to see the 107 applications and supporting documents through the Freedom of Information Act, to see why each organization needed the money and how they were planning to spend it. We were told that it would cost us $4,265 for this request, because a finance staff member “must read, review, and redact 107 applications for the privacy of personal/confidential information submitted” in addition to having the finance director proof it “to make sure all sensitive data has been redacted.”

The estimated amount of time the finance department said they would need to go through all the applications was 128 hours.

We tried to refute the exorbitant cost based on the FOIA law that states that public bodies may not charge unreasonably high fees without proper reasoning. When we asked why information needed to be redacted from the applications, we were told that the applications “contain personal, financial, and confidential information that should not be part of public information.”

The three-page ARPA application consists of the following questions: A statement of need, the category of eligibility it falls under, how much the project will cost and if they already have additional funds, a schedule of when the project will be completed, how they have been impacted by COVID, how the project fits into the city’s “Strategic Plan,” and how it will benefit the city.

With the city not willing to send us the application without charging thousands of dollars, we modified our request to view only the nine applications of individuals and businesses that received the grant money, with no additional supporting documents attached. We were again told that it would cost us $200 based on the five hours of work needed to redact the application.

The questions asked in the application require minimally sensitive information.

Councilman Howard Myers requested ARPA money to “recover losses”

The first page of Howard Myer's ARPA application which almost everything was redacted.

The first page of Howard Myer’s ARPA application which was redacted almost everything.

The second page of Howard Myer's ARPA application.

The second page of Howard Myer’s ARPA application.

We modified our request for a third time, asking for just the application for councilman Howard Myer’s business, the W Howard Myers Enterprises, and were given his application with nearly the entire application redacted.

According to the application, Myers requested $80,000 in funding “to recover losses because of the Covid-19 Pandemic and venue shutdown by Governor Northam’s Mandate 2019-2021.” He was ultimately rewarded with $40,000.

Myers, through his LLC, manages properties around the city and rents apartments and office space, including the building on 30 Franklin St. and the Cameron Lofts.

Myers did not respond to inquiries on why he needed the ARPA funds and if he was the only employee of his LLC.

Joyce Chu, an award-winning investigative journalist, is the Social Justice Watchdog Reporter for The Progress Index. Contact her with comments, concerns, or story-tips at [email protected] or on Twitter @joyce_speaks.

This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Petersburg councilman received ARPA funding while others overlooked

You May Also Like

More From Author