Thursday, June 20, 2013

IBM Reports on Richmond Challenge

~Three-week project focuses on Neighborhood revitalization~

A six-member consulting team commissioned by the worldwide technology services company IBM has concluded a three-week research project in the city of Richmond and is now finalizing an action plan to help Mayor Dwight Jones’ efforts associated with poverty mitigation.

The work comes as part of the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge, a worldwide initiative to distribute a total of $50 million worth of services and technical assistance to a total of 100 cities through 2013. The Richmond project carries an approximate value of $400,000 at no cost to taxpayers. The City asked IBM to specifically look at ways to enable businesses, citizens, and community leaders to identify, champion and produce economic opportunity in targeted neighborhoods.

In sharing the findings, IBM executives acknowledged that the city of Richmond is on track to become a Tier One City through targeted economic, community, and workforce development efforts. “I’m very pleased to see that the work we have already been doing in using economic development strategies as a pathway toward reducing poverty is seen as forward thinking and on target,” said Mayor Jones. “This new research and analysis can help provide us with a solid roadmap that will enhance our focused budgeting work and improve our economic development and neighborhood revitalization efforts.”

The city of Richmond competed for and won the grant from IBM and is one of only 32 cities selected worldwide this year. Only seven U.S. cities were selected for the grant program. Through this Smarter Cities Challenge; residents, city leaders, economic development professionals, businesses, and colleges and universities collaborated with IBM’s consultants from across the country to create actionable recommendations and a plan to address the city’s challenges. Executives held 33 meetings with over 105 people over the three-week period.

Key recommendations that grew out of the research include:
·         Develop a Smarter City Decision System – essentially develop a performance framework utilizing key performance indicators.

·         Align stakeholder groups to focus on neighborhood revitalization utilizing Smarter City Decision System.

·         Evaluate and pilot social enterprise business model for targeted neighborhoods – essentially build businesses around a desire to solve a specific need that already has a demand and connect a targeted neighborhood to that business opportunity.

·         Implement specific tactical recommendations that affect key leverage points.

“I’m particularly interested in more specific recommendations on ways to develop a social enterprise business model,” said Mayor Jones. “I believe such an approach can work effectively in Richmond and can have not only an economic development impact, but a community unifying impact. I’m also very interested in achieving more of a horizontal management approach to city government with improved collaboration across departments.”

IBM will provide a full report with detailed recommendations to the City over the next six to eight weeks. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

City Awarded 2013 EPA Community-Wide Brownfields Assessment Grant

The City of Richmond has been awarded an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Community-Wide Brownfields Assessment Grants for Petroleum and Hazard Substance Sites. The total award of $400,000 consists of $200,000 designated for Petroleum Sites and $200,000 for Hazardous Substance Sites.

The City’s Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) will administer the grant funding. ECD aggressively pursued and obtained this highly competitive grant funding, and is one of 240 grant awardees nationwide. Only 106 of the 240 grant awardees support communities with populations greater than 100,000. This community-wide grant covers costs associated with the completion of Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessments for eligible property owners or prospective purchasers of previously used commercial and industrial properties. The grant period begins October 1, 2013 and concludes September 30, 2016.

 “This EPA grant will allow the City to continue to promote and encourage economic development throughout the city as well as provide a potential source for additional open space amenities for Enterprise Zone neighborhoods,” said Mayor Dwight C. Jones. “Any additional tools that help entice businesses and employers to the City of Richmond and to our Enterprise Zones are a welcomed opportunity as that increases the city’s tax base.”

Brownfields Assessment Grant funding will facilitate the assessment, remediation, and redevelopment of Enterprise Zone Brownfield sites for the creation of commercial/mixed-use projects in commercial areas such as the Hull Street Corridor and new modernized industrial facilities such as those targeted for the Commerce Road Corridor or the Port of Richmond. The proposed assessment areas are well aligned with Mayor Jones’ Sustainability Initiative, recommendations from the Richmond Region Green Infrastructure Report, the Groundwork Richmond VA Feasibility Study and Strategic Plan, and the City’s Downtown Master Plan. 

The City plans to use a Brownfields Advisory Committee to assist with site identification and dissemination of grant information. The Advisory Committee’s quarterly meetings will be open to the public.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

City to Receive Findings from Richmond Smarter Cities Challenge

~IBM executives wrap up community engagement project~

 In November of 2012, it was announced that IBM selected the city of Richmond as one of 32 cities from around the world to receive an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant  The prestigious award, valued at $400,000 in human capital, aligns top global talent from IBM as a resource to the City to study a key issue as identified by the city’s leadership. The City of Richmond requested that IBM focus on the creation of an economic development tool that will improve the city through the strengthening of our neighborhoods; an instrument that focuses on the community level to support the attraction and retention of neighborhood businesses.

Over the last several weeks, a team of six top IBM experts have been based in Richmond and have been at work studying this issue. “We are always interested in ways to effectively improve our neighborhoods and communities,” said Mayor Dwight C. Jones. “We have been pleased to work collaboratively with IBM and the city’s diverse community resources toward the development of actionable recommendations that can support economic development strategies at a neighborhood level.”

Through this Smarter Cities Challenge; residents, city leaders, economic development professionals, businesses, and colleges and universities collaborated with IBM’s consultants to create actionable recommendations and a plan to address the city’s challenges. A key challenge facing Richmond, as with most cities around the world, is the ability to track over time the impact of public investment, provided through grants, programs and capital projects, and to attract private investment.

On Thursday, June 20, IBM will deliver a presentation of their findings and recommendations for the Richmond Smarter Cities Challenge. This will be a preview of the recommendations of the final report, which will follow the closing of the engagement in August. The preview will be held at 2 p.m., at the Hilton Garden Inn, 501 East Broad Street. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

City Receives Second of Three Requested Reviews of Richmond DSS

Mayor says report is balanced and consistent in identifying problems

Mayor Dwight C. Jones today shared the results of a review his administration requested from the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS). The VDSS review is one of three reviews the Jones Administration requested of the Richmond Department of Social Services (RDSS) following a number of allegations the City received about Child Protective Services (CPS) policies, procedures and management failures.

“The State, through the requested Quality Management Review, has provided us with a balanced review that further underscores the concerns that we have been responding to,” said Mayor Jones. “While the interim leadership we have put in place has already begun taking steps to address many concerns, a complete corrective action plan needs to be in place by July 31, 2013.”

The VDSS review, which looked at CPS, Foster Care and Adoptions and Resource Family Services, offered 25 findings and recommendations, including: 
  • create and implement a comprehensive records management system,
  • re-assess policy for determining the needs to file Emergency Removal Orders and Preliminary Protective Orders to adequately provide for the safety of children,
  • re-evaluate internal policies and follow the Structured Decision-making and CPS policy guidelines for ongoing CPS services for “high risk” or “very high risk” cases,
  • do a better job in making complete, comprehensive assessments to identify risk for children,
  • develop a plan to reduce the high number of overdue CPS referrals,
  • provide necessary training for CPS workers,
  • ensure that supervisors are consistent in implementing agency goals, practices and policies. 

In May of this year, following a requested City Inspector General report of CPS, Mayor Jones announced the retirement of the Director of RDSS and the resignation of the RDSS Deputy Director, citing very serious concerns raised in the report and several failures in the agency. 

“The VDSS report is consistent with other findings underscoring the needs for RDSS to do a better job with protecting the safety of our children,” continued Mayor Jones. “I am thankful to VDSS for the tremendous commitment of resources they have provided to assist us to this point,” Mayor Jones continued. “I will accept nothing less than the RDSS being a high performing agency, performing all duties according to all applicable standards and ensuring the utmost in child safety practices.”

The City has also engaged the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) to examine the agency’s overall practices. The VDSS report focused on compliance with state policies, while the CWLA report will focus on national best practices. The CWLA report is expected to be received by the end of July and the three reviews together are anticipated to help guide the City in its efforts to revamp the RDSS operation and strengthen its child welfare system.

Steve Harms, interim deputy chief administrative officer for Human Services, is overseeing the reviews for the Jones Administration.

 “This report presents many helpful recommendations and also cites strengths within RDSS,” said Steve Harms. “We will build upon those strengths and correct the deficiencies.”