So, basically, under the city's current credit card policy, city employees can potentially embezzle money without facing prosecution. As Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania explained in a recent letter to City Manager Chip Boyles, enforcement and oversight measures in the policy are so "lax" that his office would likely be unable to successfully prosecute an embezzlement case.
Platania also made a point of saying it was "the third time" he had discussed issues about the credit card policy with city officials, and his frustration was palatable: “I am the city’s elected prosecutor, not its compliance manager,” he wrote. “Unless and until this is formally dealt with by city leadership, we will continue to read editorials … calling for the city to ‘solve its credit card problems.’”
"Since he directly asked them to set a policy to better monitor the credit cards, and they refused to act, his position makes sense," says David Heilberg, a long-time Charlottesville criminal defense attorney. "Without controls, the Robin Hood defense would probably work in a jury trial within the eligible cross section of City residents."
Looming over all this, of course, is former City Manager Tarron Richardson, who in 2019 said the city's current credit card policy didn't have enough "accountability measures or consequences" and that it was also vague in the examples of misuse.
“It’s of paramount importance [to accountability]. It holds folks accountable for the use of taxpayer dollars,” he said of his proposed policy changes. As the Daily Progress reported, Charlottesville officials charged more than $839,000 to credit cards in the first six months of last year.
You also have to wonder why Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker leaked the February 3 memo from City Attorney Lisa Robertson warning city councilors about possible illegal use of credit cards = which sparked this latest credit card controversy - and began vigorously defending her own problematic credit card use. Indeed, using credit cards to purchase gifts cards for community members, which Walker admitted to, was one of the things that Robertson warned about in her memo. However, as Platania explained, the memo was "meant to start an internal conversation about the need for an updated [credit card] policy."
On her Facebook page today Walker wrote that the memo read "more as an indictment instead of educational material," and then offered this: "I’ve...watched people go to jail and prison when they were innocent, so I know that I neither have the right color of skin or enough dead presidents to fight “leaders” who have determined my guilt without due process. I had no reason to trust this process or the intentions of those who played a role in it."
Of course, it could also be about our city government refusing to implement a new credit card policy, despite a strong recommendation from the former city manger, repeated reminders from Platania, and a year or two of media attention about it.
"The bottom line seems to be that the City was dysfunctional in allowing credit cards to be used like this and even more dysfunctional for not acting to fix the problem after they were advised to do so by Mr. Platania," says Heilberg.