In a City Council chamber where impassioned theater is routine, Tuesday's meeting was tumultuous, even by Richmond's standards.
The kindling for the flared tempers was Councilman Corky Booze's agenda item calling for a "forensic audit" of the Office of Neighborhood Safety, a city agency with a distinct approach to stemming street violence.
ONS staff and supporters think Booze has a vendetta against the agency's director, DeVone Boggan, and they came to the council meeting in force to defend him.
Police officers had to restore order several times, and at least one speaker was removed from the chamber.
Booze pulled the item from the agenda when he saw the turnout, calling his proposal "premature."
"I knew they were going to raise hell, so I pulled (the item) to give myself more time to get my PowerPoint presentation together," Booze said during a telephone interview the next day. Booze said he plans to bring his agenda item back and make his case for an investigation at the next meeting Tuesday.
Despite pulling the requested audit, more than a dozen public speakers weighed in to support ONS, sometimes directly accusing Booze of spurious motives in seeking to impugn the agency. Boggan is already raising money for an independent performance evaluation. "Why do you feel like you want to break us down?" Kevin Muccular, an ONS agent, said to Booze during public comment. "I feel like it's something personal between you and (Boggan)."
Muccular alleged that during a street corner chat with Booze in 2010, Booze told him, "If I win the election, I want to bring ONS and Boggan to their knees."
The agency, created in 2007, has enjoyed growing praise as violent crime and homicides continue to ebb in the city. More than 1,500 people have been supported in varying degrees through its services, which center on appealing to teens and young adults identified as most at-risk of committing violent crimes.
ONS staff provide conflict-resolution counseling, and the agency gives the at-risk individuals, called "fellows," monthly stipends of as much as $1,000 that are funded by grants.
Supporters say the financial incentives are powerful tools to get fellows to leave lives of violence and apply themselves in school and technical-training programs.
But criticism has dogged the agency. In October, a fight broke out in a third-floor suite at City Hall among several men from rival neighborhoods who were enrolled in ONS' "Operation Peacemaker" fellowship program.
The incident exposed rifts between ONS and the police department, which initially complained publicly about ONS agents' lack of cooperation in the investigation. No charges were filed.
Earlier this month, Boggan announced he is seeking at least $375,000, most in private donations, to fund an evaluation exploring the effectiveness of his agency's programs.
Booze thinks Boggan's plan is aimed at pre-empting his audit.
"(Boggan) wanted to get out ahead of me because he knew I was coming with this audit," Booze said. "This agency has a $3 million budget, and it is my fiduciary duty to ensure that the dollars of the people of Richmond are being spent properly."
But Booze's detractors see it differently. Councilman Jeff Ritterman said Booze's unsubstantiated attacks on ONS were a "real problem."
"Violent crime is Richmond's most serious problem," Ritterman said. "We have something that's working. Let's throw our support behind them."
Support within city leadership for Booze's efforts to initiate a forensic audit of ONS appears shaky. No one on the council spoke in support of his suggestion, and debate was closed on the pulled item before he could respond -- beyond a few testy exchanges with some of the speakers.
But Booze, known for his bare-knuckle approach to city politics, is undeterred.
He said he had a two-hour meeting Wednesday with City Manager Bill Lindsay on the matter and criticized Lindsay for defining "forensic audit" during the council meeting as "looking for evidence of criminal wrongdoing."
"If you define the word forensic, it means to take it apart and dissect it and see if anything is wrong," Booze said Wednesday. "My intent had nothing to do with this 'criminal' stuff. I am about transparency ... why the push back?"