Chip Boyles, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, has been selected as Charlottesville’s city manager — for the time being.
Meanwhile, City Attorney John Blair, who has been interim city manager since October, is taking a job in Staunton, marking another high-profile departure.
The City Council announced Boyles’ appointment in a virtual press conference Thursday.
According to a council resolution, the offer was extended Tuesday and accepted Wednesday. Boyles’ first day on the job will be Feb. 15 and his salary will be $205,000.
Boyles has led the planning district commission, which serves Charlottesville and Albemarle, Flivanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties, since 2014. He previously worked as a city and town manager in Maryland and South Carolina and was the urban development director in the mayor’s office of the city/parish of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The announcement came after the council spent roughly 20 hours in closed session over the past week to address management disarray, in-fighting among the council and suspension of the search for a permanent city manager.
A consultant with Ralph Andersen & Associates, which was hired to find a successor to former City Manager Tarron Richardson, determined Charlottesville’s government lacked the stability to effectively recruit for its top appointed role. Blair has been interim city manager since October.
The council said the closed search process was not ideal and said it plans to conduct a public search for a city manager once leadership has stabilized, possibly in 2022. Councilor Sena Magill said Boyles will be welcomed to apply as part of the next search.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker said more information on the search process will be provided at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Walker said the possibility of new leadership within two years wouldn’t affect recruitment for top roles. She said candidates will understand that the process of selecting Boyles was not typical.
The search firm’s determination, coupled with Blair’s impending departure, expedited the process to find a city manager, the council said.
“We cannot have another interim manager,” Magill said. “We have too many vacancies. We have to empower someone to be a true city manager.”
Councilors said the process was not rushed and the city didn’t just settle on a candidate.
“We have been working to evaluate the needs of the city and bringing forward the best match for the city at this time, and we wanted to make sure we spent time in evaluating and doing the most thorough job we could,” Magill said.
The appointment was made to right the ship as Charlottesville is entering its fourth year of leadership instability since the Unite the Right rally.
Since the deadly rally, leadership has nearly entirely turned over, with virtually all high-ranking officials who were in office on Aug. 12, 2017, no longer with the city.
During Richardson’s tenure, several officials left the city and at least a half-dozen high-level positions remain vacant.
“It is a leadership crisis,” Councilor Michael Payne said.
In a joint statement, the council said it 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.
“As we’ve seen over the past few years, if this kind of discord occurs, it doesn’t go away,” Walker said. “It’s just the fanning of the flames. We all have to figure out how to do this differently.”
Boyles said the top priority will be filling numerous vacancies, which include a director of Neighborhood Development Services, three deputy city managers, human resources director and executive director of the Police Civilian Review Board.
However, Boyles said regional collaboration will still be important.
“I don’t want to lose focus either on the regional importance because as Charlottesville goes, so goes our region as well,” he said.
Walker said Boyles will bring a “neutral lens” to the city, while also having experience working with it.
Boyles’ last day with TJPDC will be Feb. 12. In an email to the TJPDC board of commissioners, he said he worked with Deputy Director David Blount and COO Christine Jacobs to recommend Jacobs as an interim director after his departure. The email said Jacobs already is taking over some of his duties and the board will vote on her appointment at its February meeting.
Blair has been interim city manager since October, while Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson has been acting city attorney. Blair’s last day as interim city manager will be Feb. 12 and his last day with the city will be March 5. On March 15, he will become the city attorney for Staunton, where he replaces longtime City Attorney Douglas L. Guynn, according to a press release.
All members of the City Council commended Blair’s work with Charlottesville and said he will be missed. Councilor Heather Hill called it “a great loss for the organization and the community we serve.”
“We are very pleased to bring someone with John’s broad experience and proven track record of success onboard as Staunton’s city attorney,” Staunton Mayor Andrea Oakes said in the release. “He has demonstrated a sincere commitment to public service during his career.”