Former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder is calling for a state investigation and the firing of Virginia Commonwealth University president Michael Rao amid reports that the VCU Health System paid $73 million to exit a planned Richmond development project, Richmond BizSense reported.
“I call for the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission to conduct an immediate investigation into this misappropriation of VCU spending,” said Wilder—who is also a professor at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs—at a press conference Tuesday. “I further call on Governor [Glenn] Youngkin to employ the resources of his office to provide transparency to the taxpayers on how and why this financial misbehavior can be tolerated.”
Richmond BizSense reported that the $73 million was paid to buy VCU Health System out of a lease. System officials claim no taxpayer dollars were used for the deal.
“We agree with Gov. Wilder that this financial outcome is disappointing. But by late 2021, construction and other challenges made it simply impossible to build the original project,” a VCU spokesperson told the publication. “Moving forward would have caused dire long-term financial repercussions. The one-time payment was funded by VCU Health operating funds and represents less than 2.5 percent of the health system’s annual operating budget.”
Wilder, who served as governor of Virginia from 1990 to 1994, has had a contentious relationship with the VCU administration. Last summer he sued VCU, Rao and others for not firing an employee who he said was sending him threatening messages. That lawsuit was later dropped.
Wilder also clashed with Rao last fall over plans to release a VCU-branded beer, a matter that erupted in controversy and prompted accusations that the administration was insensitive for promoting a branded beer after a student died from alcohol poisoning in a 2021 hazing incident.