Richmond, Virginia Mayor Dwight C. Jones has a problem. According to news reports, it seems that work done for the church he heads was done by vendors and contractors that also do business for the city and it looks like at least one city employee used city time and e-mail to oversee construction at the church on behalf of the Mayor. The appearance of irregularity is something that needs to be investigated but the Mayor believes the scrutiny is a violation of the separation of church and state. You can’t use the 1st amendment to block an ethics investigation.
As he oversaw construction of Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ new church, the city’s director of public works used his official email account to communicate with contractors who had business before both the city and the church, according to an inspector in the city auditor’s office.
And of the five contractors who engaged in church-related communication with the director, three listed city account numbers on proposals they submitted for church-related projects.
The revelation came Tuesday (1/12/2016) — the same day that Jones pushed back against scrutiny surrounding overlap between top city executives and his church.
“It is unfortunate that city workers are now being victimized and being asked where they go to church,” he said in his first statement on the matter since the auditor’s office released a report last week finding the public works director, Emmanuel Adediran, oversaw construction of the church on city time.
“I have to question the motives of people who are asking city employees about their religious affiliation. I hope that none of this is politically motivated and that respect can be shown for the wall of separation between church and state,” Jones said.
Mayor Jones is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of South Richmond which means he is the head of the church and has a lot of influence in what is done for the church.
This doesn’t seem any different than an elected official getting a discount for buying a hot tub for their home and the vendor expects their chances on a city contract is improved because the person will remember the discount they got.
Or how about the totally unethical bribery masked as a donation to the elected official’s campaign. It becomes illegal when either the party giving the money or the elected official acknowledge the bribe was a bribe.
The result is the same. The vendor is looking to improve its chances of getting work for the city and in this case it looks like the church is benefiting from the relationship as well. The mayor’s office acknowledged that at least 10 percent of the city’s executive-level positions are occupied by people with ties to the church.
Asking vendors or city employees if they went to the church or had other ties is a legitimate question to ask.
If there was an attempt to influence who was awarded city business then it isn’t any less unethical just because a church is involved and if church members were getting city jobs they normally wouldn’t get if the mayor wasn’t the senior pastor then that is a concern as well.
Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams wrote a column that about this mixing of church and state.
Heading a church is many wonderful things, but it’s seldom a lesson in rigorous accountability. We confer our religious leaders with a level of power that doesn’t translate well to public demands for transparency.
The ministry is not politics, Hayter said. “It’s not a position where (pastors) are used to confronting skepticism. But that is inherent to politics.
“They’re not used to dealing with questions from the people that they lead. That is particularly true in the black church.”
Richmond can be an insular community, wary of outsiders.
“Many African-Americans, the first question they ask is, ‘Where are you from?’ It’s a Richmond question,” Hayter said. “The second question, generally, is, ‘What church do you go to?’… It’s a thinly veiled way of trying to feel someone out.”
Any questioning of Jones’ hiring practices could be twisted into an attack on a venerable black Richmond institution. Faith can be a convenient refuge from scrutiny. Why else would Donald Trump surround himself with black clergy such as Richmond’s Steve Parson?
James Madison wrote that religion and government exist in greater purity when they are mixed the least. There’s too much mixing going on at City Hall.
It would not be a violation of the 1st amendment if the church is treated the same as any other avenue of investigation. Corruption is the same if it is in city hall or in a church and it should be investigated if the two are mixed.
We shouldn’t look the other way just because a church pastor happens to be the mayor.