Updated at 8:45 p.m.
Charlottesville City Manager Chip Boyles resigned his position Tuesday, effective Oct. 29, citing “public vitriol” and a “broken relationship” with Mayor Nikuyah Walker following his decision to fire Police Chief RaShall Brackney.
“The public disparagement shown by several community members and Mayor Walker has begun to negatively effect [sic] my personal health & well-being,” Boyles wrote in a letter to City Council. “Continuation of the personal and professional attacks that are occurring are not good for the City, for other City staff, for me or for my family. Therefore, it is best that I resign effective the end of this month.”
City Council met for about an hour and 15 minutes Tuesday afternoon in closed session to discuss Boyles’ resignation. Councilors voted unanimously to accept Boyles’ resignation.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, councilors said they were worried about what Boyles’ decision means for the future of the city.
Councilor Heather Hill said she sees Boyles’ resignation as a “great loss” for the city,
“I feel there’s a lot of missed opportunity when we were actually making some meaningful progress,” Hill said.
Walker could not be reached for comment, but in a 32-minute Facebook Live video Tuesday evening, Walker responded to Boyles’ resignation and said he should have been fired.
“You shouldn’t have been able to sleep at night because you are a liar,” Walker said of Boyles.
Boyles, who took over as city manager in February, declined to comment on his announcement on Tuesday. He received an annual salary of $205,000.
“I came quickly into this position at the request of the City Council during a time of turbulence and organizational instability with the charge from you to initially stabilize the organization through filling the many open leadership positions,” Boyles wrote in a letter he sent to City Council on Tuesday. “The initial goal was to have me serve until you could search for a permanent City Manager. I feel I have been successful in helping to stabilize the leadership and quickly boosting employee morale across the organization. This success was disrupted with my decision to change the leadership of the City Police Department.”
Boyles is the fifth interim or full-time city manager the city has had since 2018, and the third since September 2020, when Tarron Richardson resigned. Boyles was previously the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. He was brought on after the city had tried to use a search firm to hire a new city manager, but was told by the search firm that the government lacked the stability to effectively recruit a new person for the job.
Councilors had hoped to start a new City Manager search in 2022. They had hoped that the city’s leadership might have stabilized by then.
At the time of Boyles’ hiring, councilors said in a joint statement that they must confront the causes of instability within city government and its own role in creating it. The statement said the council must establish clear procedures, expectations and norms for conducting business among itself, communicating with city staff and prioritizing policy.
Boyles hired a number of senior-level city officials during his tenure, including the city’s first deputy city manager for racial equity, diversity and inclusion. He also oversaw the removal of the city’s two Confederate statues in July and continued to steer the city through the pandemic.
Heading into planning for the fiscal year 2023 budget, Boyles and city staff were working to update the city’s strategic plan and change how the budget development works to include public presentations from department leaders about their budget requests.
In early September, he fired Brackney — a decision that Walker said was partially behind her decision to stop seeking re-election to another term on council.
Boyles has said that he decided to fire Brackney in part because of surveys showing dissatisfaction with the police department’s leadership. One of those surveys was conducted by the Police Benevolent Association, a group that Boyles believed was determined to see the police chief gone.
Last week, Walker grilled Boyles during a council meeting about his decision, asking a range of questions about when he learned about the surveys and what steps he took to address his concerns with Brackney. The other councilors publicly backed Boyles, which frustrated Walker.
On Tuesday, Boyles once again defended his decision.
“I continue to support my decision taken on this matter, but the public vitriol associated with this decision of a few vocal community members and the broken relationship with Mayor Walker have severely limited my ability to be productive toward the goals of City Council,” Boyles wrote.
When reached by phone Tuesday evening, Councilor Lloyd Snook said the first question will be what does council do with the city’s two deputy city managers.
“The law is, as long as we’ve got deputy city managers they are allowed to assume the duties of the city manager and we’ve got two very capable, very competent deputy city managers, so we’re okay for the short-term,” he said.
Sam Sanders is the deputy manager for operations and Ashley Reynolds Marshall is the deputy city manager for racial equity, diversity and inclusion. A third deputy position remains vacant.
For a long-term replacement, a search firm will be required, Snook said.
“It’s going to require a lot of stuff that we tried to do starting about a year ago and were not able to do, so we’re just gonna have to have to keep at it, but it’s probably not anything that’s going to happen till after Jan. 1,” he said.
“We were told by the last search firm we contacted last year, that in the opinion of that particular executive searcher, we were not likely to be able to hire anybody with council as dysfunctional as it is,” Snook said. “It was just not wise to conduct a search with council as dysfunctional as it was then and clearly is now.”
When asked if he expected the council to be less dysfunctional in the new year, Snook said, “I certainly hope so.”
City Hall has seen a number of senior-level staff leave in recent years, and City Council meetings have been marked by hostile and tense disagreements that sometimes became personal.
Vice-Mayor Sena Magill said she’s disappointed by Boyles’ resignation because she thinks he’s made a lot of effective changes.
“I don’t think people understand how much Chip Boyles was bringing to the city as a whole. He had some amazing ideas when it came to how we could expand equity through our community,” Magill said, though she didn’t provide specific examples.
“I understand that many members of our community were upset with some decisions he had made. Overall, I think his resignation as a great loss to the city, because I really do believe that he was actively working toward the goals that people want in this city,” she said.
In a note to city staff, Boyles said he knew his tenure would likely be short-term, but he had hoped to serve longer in the role.
“Changes occurred, great new hires made and I believe a collective positive direction in morale reborn,” Boyles said. “I am and will be proud of the accomplishments that you have made during my tenure and extremely happy to have been able to serve this community with you.”
During his time as city manager, Boyles helped to restart the design process for the school division’s reconfiguration project, which had stalled during the pandemic. The project cleared a key hurdle last week when City Council approved the conceptual design and $75 million budget for the project’s first phase.
“I recognize that changes are still needed to get Charlottesville to be the great community and City organization that it can be,” he continued. “I trust that each of you will continue to work within the city and with each other to come together creating one unified community.”
Boyles also thanked city staff members who had reached out to him to show their support.
City spokesman Brian Wheeler said he did not expect the city to release any additional information Tuesday.
Councilor Michael Payne said he was caught off guard by Boyles’ decision, but after hearing Boyles’ personal reasoning, he believes this was the best decision for Boyles as a person and for the city as a whole. He is concerned about the path forward, however.
“There’s a very critical and severe crisis to figure out now in terms of how we’re going to find an interim city manager and find a permanent city manager … I think the city is absolutely in a position where our ability to execute basic public policy, to be able to put together a budget that is strong, to be able to maintain basic government services is definitely in doubt, and I think that is the severity of the situation in terms of the immediate need in order to find people who can keep the basic functions of city government operating,” Payne said.
Hill said she is concerned about how the chaos and turnover in the city government will have further ramifications down the road, especially in terms of preventing progress from being made.
“It’s paralyzing,” she said. “We’re not able to get our work done and be productive.”
Payne expressed similar concerns with the current state of the city government.
“You need a functional government … to implement new initiatives and policies that we want to see happen in housing, climate change, criminal justice and, you know, we’re just not in a position where those things are possible and I think that that’s the immediate challenge,” he said.
“Now things are just going to be on hold again,” Magill said. “We can’t move forward with equity initiatives, with school reconfiguration, with climate change issues … we haven’t had a stable functioning government in a long time.”
Snook said the city has “descended into the politics of personal destruction.”
“It’s just been very distressing and, not only Chip, but people have been going after various other people as well and calling them all kinds of names,” he said. “It’s just gotten really out of hand, and then the last meeting was a good example of how it has gotten really out of hand. I have no doubt that it was having a serious effect on Chip’s personal health, and it’s certainly not a reflection on his courage or his guts, but his body was rebelling, and he just needed to do something about that and it was really unfortunate.”
When asked how the city can move away from that in the future, Snook said he didn’t know.
“It involves a lot of people who use tons of time on Monday nights to just, attack, attack, attack,” Snook said. “Everybody makes mistakes, not every mistake requires that heads roll.”
“These kinds of personal attacks and investigations into personal issues, it’s just awful,” Snook said. “And I hope we will figure out a way to move forward. It will help, I think, that come Jan. 1, we will not have those attacks being led from the dais.”
Walker said on the Facebook Live she didn’t have major issues with the city manager before Brackney’s firing.
“There are a couple things that I regret during my tenure here, but this last couple weeks isn’t one of them,” she said.
Boyles was not the only person at fault in Brackney’s firing, Walker said.
“There were other leaders in the city attorney’s office, his office, communications, the police department,” she said. “There were all people who played a role, and all people are protected by at least three of my colleagues and by the silence of Councilor Payne.”
More broadly, Walker said that she has spent her time on council fighting white supremacy and took issue with the idea that she is the cause of the city’s dysfunction.
“Based on what occurred during the meeting, I have no one that speaking up,” she said. “Everyone is OK with everything that’s happening, and the only issue is the Black woman, who is the mayor, and they qualified that I’m the issue by saying that there are other Black people in this community that have an issue with me and then I have no idea. … I have risked everything to tell the truth in this community.”
Allison Wrabel and Katherine Knott contributed to this report.