The felony embezzlement charge against former City Council clerk Paige Rice, 37, for an iPhone and Apple Watch valued at more than $500 has many scratching their heads.
“It seems very unusual it got to this point without a resolution,” says attorney Scott Goodman. “It seems like something that could have easily been resolved without a felony indictment.”
A former city employee who spoke only on the condition of anonymity says, “It seems kind of odd to me someone didn’t call her and say, you need to return the phone, rather than sneak around and charge her with a felony. Particularly with her husband working there. It’s very odd.”
Rice is married to Joe Rice, deputy director of communications for the city. Neither responded to C-VILLE’s phone calls.
Rice was a fixture at council meetings for eight years. Last July she was named chief of staff to manage two new employees at the disposal of councilors. The job came with a salary bump from almost $73,000 to $98,000. The larger council staff had been touted by then-mayor Mike Signer, but was criticized by Mayor Nikuyah Walker, who call for a guest audit of the position and its pay.
Rice’s resignation letter came barely two months later on September 12. She took a job at the Focused Ultrasound Foundation as chief of staff.
Attorney Dave Heilberg says embezzlement is a crime of taking property with which one has been entrusted, but Rice’s case “is not as clear cut” as that of an accountant who writes herself a check. What Rice was told about the equipment could be a factor in her defense, and he points out that “technology goes out of date really fast” when assessing its value.
A grand jury from both Albemarle County and Charlottesville—which is also unusual, says Heilberg—indicted Rice June 7. And court records show the date of the offense as October 5, Rice’s official last day.
Goodman says the indictment could have consequences that “could be ugly,” particularly if Rice has information about other people in the city in similar circumstances who didn’t get indicted.
A city release announcing Rice’s resignation said, “The City Council appreciates the service of Ms. Rice over the last eight years and wishes her the best as she moves on to the next exciting phase in her professional life.”
Her next court appearance is August 19.
Quote of the week
“The House [of Delegates] has no prerogative to select its own members.”—Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that upholds a lower court ruling that Virginia’s legislative districts were racially gerrymandered
B’day non grata
At its June 17 meeting, City Council took steps to remove the birthday of local icon Thomas Jefferson, April 13, as a paid city holiday and to replace it with Liberation and Freedom Day, March 3, which commemorates the arrival of Union forces and the emancipation of the area’s 14,0000 enslaved people. Albemarle will discuss ditching Jefferson’s birthday at its June 19 meeting.
Not much activity has been seen on the ground at the site of the alleged Dewberry Hotel, now celebrating its 10th anniversary as a wraith towering over the Downtown Mall. But the Progress reports some movement on the Dewberry Group website, and renderings of the hotel have migrated from its hospitality to its living section, with a new name: the Laramore.
Deadbeat guv pays up
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice finally paid the $311,000 in back taxes his company owed to Albemarle County, plus the current tax bill, reports the DP’s Allison Wrabel. The county had started the process to sell 52 of Justice’s 55 parcels because of the large arrearage.
AG okays THC
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring spoke out in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in an op-ed published in both the Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot on Sunday. The General Assembly has yet to pass any measures on the issue, but decriminalization has been an issue generally shot down by Republicans in past sessions.
Rural broadband access
Central Virginia Electric Cooperative’s subsidiary, doing business as Firefly Fiber Broadband, will receive $28.6 million of FCC funds to provide 1 gigabit internet speeds for over 11,000 homes and businesses in central Virginia over the next 10 years.
Election turnout: Not great
Off-year elections traditionally have lower turnout, and this year’s June 11 primary was no exception. With no presidential or gubernatorial candidates at the top of the ballot, many voters chose to sit out the primary, despite several local General Assembly races.
- The 57th District, which includes Charlottesville and the Albemarle urban ring, had the highest turnout—15.7 percent—in state General Assembly elections, according to Virginia Public Access Project.
- The 17th Senate District, which had both a Democratic and Republican primary, brought in a much lower 5 percent of the electorate in each race.
- Total Charlottesville turnout (including City Council primaries) was 19 percent, compared to 27 percent in 2017.
- Total Albemarle County turnout (including races for sheriff and Rivanna supervisor) was 10 percent.
- In 2017, county turnout was 19 percent for the Democratic primary for governor and .05 percent for the Republican primary.