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Charlottesville receives 20 applicants for empty council seat

Twenty people have applied to fill the Charlottesville City Council seat abruptly vacated by the resignation of Sena Magill earlier this month.

By the 5 p.m. deadline on Monday, the list included a planning commissioner, the school board chair, at least two former school board members and an organizer of several high-profile charitable events.

The seat’s four-year term is up for election this November, so anyone who fills the seat can’t serve without facing the voters for more than the remainder of this calendar year.

That’s fine by Kathy Galvin, who served for two terms on council before leaving her seat in 2019, and Kristin Szakos, who served two terms that ended in 2017. Both promise not to run for another term.

“The next Council member will need to hit the ground running,” Szakos wrote in her application. “As a former Council member, I am familiar with many of the processes and protocols.”

Galvin contends that her background as an architect and urban planner make her ideal to fill Magill’s shoes.

“Sena Magill’s strong voice for affordable housing, environmental sustainability, healthy communities, and collegiality on City Council will be missed,” wrote Galvin. “As Sena also demonstrated, addressing these needs requires listening to all voices, especially those who have long been marginalized.”

Another candidate is Alex Bryant, a 12-year local resident who has led such nonprofit groups as the Ix Art Park Foundation, the Tom Tom Foundation and Monticello’s signature annual event, the Heritage Harvest Festival. He currently heads a student robotics competition.

“An important quality that I bring to the table,” Bryant wrote, “is a commitment to cultural humility.”

Another applicant is former Charlottesville School Board Member Leah Puryear, who heads the University of Virginia’s federally funded Upward Bound program, now called Uplift UVA, which assists first-generation college students.

“I have come to know and L O V E our wonderful city,” Puryear wrote in her application. “I am a loving and gregarious person who has always been a consensus builder and group oriented.”

Also applying is the current chair of the city school board, Lisa D. Larson-Torres, who works as a home health care physical therapist for Sentara. Her resume shows recent memberships on several boards, including the Housing Advisory Committee, the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center and the African American Teaching Fellows.

“Whether on the school board or council, I feel that I have something that I can offer the City of Charlottesville now,” wrote Larson-Torres, emphasizing the word “now.”

Another familiar face is John Santoski, who, during his decade on the Charlottesville Planning Commission, helped devise the new Comprehensive Plan. He currently directs the ARC of the Piedmont, which provides services to the mentally disabled. He’s also a former city school board member who served from 1999 until 2002, when the majority white board hired its first Black superintendent.

“This was my initial experience with public hate of my position, and I soon learned that as public officials we need to do right by the community even in the face of hatred.”

Other applicants:

Donald J. Dunham III, the CEO of Cavalier Professional Services Inc., a business development consultancy with experience in such local ventures as the Darden Graduate School of Business’ iLab. Dunham formerly served as chief of exploration at BP, British Petroleum’s exploration unit for oil in Alaska.

Carla J. Manno, an educator and multidecade Fifeville resident. Rather than emphasizing her four UVa degrees, including an MBA and a Ph.D., Manno directed council to a letter she wrote to a newspaper nearly 30 years ago when she was a 24-year-old teacher at Buford Middle School: “Please help, not hinder, my and others’ attempts to demystify the fear surrounding both my school and my neighborhood.”

Michael Cusano, a reconstruction project manager, who has served on the city’s Housing Advisory Committee, its Parking Committee and was recently elected president of the Johnson Village Neighborhood Association. He noted decades of management and customer service experience.

Christopher Charles Valtin, a recently retired municipal bond dealer and former member of the Virginia Government Finance Officers Association, who attended UVa in the 1970s. “Given Charlottesville’s capital needs,” he wrote, “I believe it would be useful to have a member of the City Council who is familiar with financing capital projects.”

Kate Bennis, a clinical social worker and communication coach, who was formerly president of the Little High neighborhood. Her list of communication clients includes leaders at such firms as American Express, Deloitte, the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Treasury, the CIA, as well as people at such local firms as the Southern Environmental Law Center, the CFA Institute and Apex Clean Energy.

Philip B. d’Oronzio, a current planning commissioner as well as chair of the city’s Personnel Appeals Board. His day job is the head of a small mortgage company that he helped found. “Over this year, we’ll be grappling with matters that will profoundly impact what kind of city Charlottesville will be tomorrow, ten years from now, and fifty years hence,” he wrote. “I want to help.”

Margaret Elaine Gardiner, an adjunct instructor at UVa with a master’s degree in English. She noted that her first post-college job was providing hurricane relief. “That’s when I discovered I had a gift for shepherding people through labyrinthine bureaucracies,” she wrote, “a skill that has served me well in my twenty-seven years working in higher education.”

Sam Gulland, who served as platoon leader and executive officer in the U.S. Army after earning his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and his Master of Business Administration from Columbia University. Lately, he’s been working on utility-scale solar installations and said he finds the role of government is often misunderstood.

Sarah Moniz, formerly administrative coordinator for the Blue Ridge Coalition for the Homeless, who is now the human resources manager the Haven. “I am fortunate,” she wrote, “to have built trusting, synergistic relationships through my professional and volunteer work, and I would leverage these connections to develop more collaborative, equitable, and sustainable solutions for the city.”

Maynard Sipe, who said that he would, like the two former council members applying, decline to serve after filling Magill’s unexpired term. A real estate lawyer with a city planning degree from the UVa architecture school, Sipe serves as town attorney to two small towns. He also runs a nonprofit clinic at the UVa School of Law, where he is an adjunct professor. Sipe is also well-known locally as a musician and founder of radio station WNRN.

Natalie Oschrin, a 28-year resident with a master’s in hospitality management, who said she wants to improve the sustainability and walkability of the community. She urged greater density and said she yearns for a strong bus system. “We are a perfect town to set off the e-bike revolution and become a model for other American cities looking for solutions.”

Rosia Parker, an activist who has long been a vocal presence in front of City Council. She has been appointed to various bodies including the predecessor group to the Police Civilian Oversight Board and the board of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

James Louis Guidry Sr., a 60-day resident working as the manager of the University of Virginia Imaging clinic. “I just moved here from just north of Atlanta, Ga., and I wanted to get to know the town and help grow,” he wrote.

John Edward Hall, who lists his high school membership in the National Honor Society among his leadership and educational experience as well as his several past unsuccessful runs for a council seat. “I have some needed innovations in lean government that I wish to share.”

State law gives the city 45 days to appoint a qualified voter from the municipality via a majority council vote. A judge of the circuit court can fill the seat if the city fails to make the appointment.

Immediately after Magill’s tearful Jan. 3 resignation, the council voted to advertise the opening, hold a public hearing on Feb. 6 and choose the replacement council member by the body’s Feb. 21 meeting.

In announcing her resignation at the close of an evening meeting, Magill was so overcome by emotion that she passed her laptop computer to fellow Council Member Michael Payne to read her prepared statement.

“This has not been an easy decision as there is much I still want to do for the city,” she wrote, “but right now I need to focus on my family and their needs.”


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