While discussion of Police Chief RaShall Brackney’s contract termination was not on the agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the topic took up the majority of the four-hour meeting. But at the end of the night, the reasons for Brackney’s firing still remained largely a secret to the community.
Early in the meeting, Mayor Nikuyah Walker was vocal about her disagreement with the decision to talk about Brackney’s termination. She said she had no idea Brackney was about to be terminated.
“ … To take what doesn’t seem like much information and terminate [Brackney] in this very public way … that is shameful,” Walker said.
Last week, City Manager Chip Boyles exercised his right to terminate Brackney’s employment contract upon 90 days’ notice. Brackney, who was hired by the city in June 2018, will be on paid administrative leave until Nov. 30.
Brackney has not commented on the termination publicly.
On Friday, Boyles announced that the city would begin a nationwide search for its next police chief. Assistant Police Chief James Mooney will manage the police department until a new chief is hired. Mooney was set to retire Wednesday prior to the announcement that Brackney had been fired.
Walker moved to add discussion of Brackney’s termination to the night’s agenda. Her motion was not seconded and therefore was not added to the agenda.
But that wasn’t because city councilors were trying to avoid the topic, they said. They were advised not to discuss Brackney’s termination for legal reasons, some explained. That was why they did not second Walker’s motion to add the discussion to the agenda.
Councilor Heather Hill said in an interview that councilors talked about having a public discussion in their closed session held prior to the meeting. Hill said city staff advised councilors that they should not discuss Brackney’s termination publicly because it would compromise the confidentiality of other personnel. At least one councilor agreed.
“I am concerned that if we have a public discussion without any sense of ground rules, recognizing that there are libel or slander and other procedural issues that may come up, that we’re opening ourselves up for more problems,” councilor Lloyd Snook said.
“We have to have some sense of, of consent to having the discussion publicly about an employee before you do it. I just don’t know what the ground rules are so that’s the reason that I did not second it because nobody can answer that question,” Snook said.
Boyles did not address the decision during the meeting.
Walker withdrew from the November City Council election on Wednesday morning, partially citing the other councilors’ unwillingness to discuss Brackney’s termination.
Walker did not respond to a request for comment.
Nevertheless, the topic was discussed at length during the meeting, mostly in response to the public comment portions of the evening, which were overwhelmingly comments from community members angry about the lack of public reasoning for Brackney being fired.
Councilor Michael Payne said he wants to continue to make police reform a top priority, which was something Brackney was passionate about in her tenure.
“One of the immediate concerns I have is the timing of this personnel decision. It has created a lot of doubt in community members’ minds around the reasons for this decision,” Payne said.
“One of the immediate concerns in the interim is what are we going to do to ensure for the public that we do not go backwards on reform that is a real concern … this sent a signal that it is time to go back to the old ways of doing things and I desperately hope that it’s not,” Payne said.
Members of the community have speculated that Brackney was fired after survey data was released by the Central Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association last month that indicated dissatisfaction among its members with the leadership of the city police department.
Hill suggested that the survey was not related to Brackney’s termination and that she supported the decision.
“I certainly hear those concerns and see how the public can can see it that way, but I certainly have confidence that that those things were not directly linked, and that there are a broader range … these are personnel discussions and I’m really sensitive to how much we will discuss publicly at this time without really understanding what the scope of that discussion would be,” Hill said.
Snook also voiced his support for Boyles’ decisions.
“I believe that given all of the facts, many of which haven’t been made public, many of which haven’t even been hinted at in this discussion … it was a good decision,” Snook said.
Councilor Sena Magill said she felt Boyles had kept all the councilors well informed about what was happening and gave appropriate reasoning.
“This is a decision of the city manager, and we hired the city manager. And this is his job. It is his job to run the city under our overarching policies,” Magill said. “I feel that [Boyles] talks to us, I feel he communicates with us, and fundamentally this is his decision and I am behind him on it, period.”
The discussion became more contentious when Walker suggested that other councilors may have been privy to private conversations with Boyles about firing Brackney before she was briefed. All four councilors denied these claims.
“I have not influenced this process. I found out at the same time as the rest of this council. Do I support this decision? I do,” Hill said.
Snook said he has had general conversations with Boyles about related concerns in the police department but that he was not involved in private conversations about whether Brackney should be fired.
“Do you think that someone who looks at what is happening will take the city seriously and will feel like if we ask them to come and do a job that centers around reforming an institution that started out as slave patrols will take us seriously?” Walker said.
During the last public comment period of the night, Michael Wells, chapter president of the Central Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association, thanked Boyles for “doing the right thing” by firing Brackney.
“Brackney should examine her own blind spots for how her behaviors, not race or policy, have influenced officer perception of her … I just wanted to tell you guys that you have a real issue in Charlottesville City. You have a few people that speak up all the time … Now I’m going to be one of those people. I want to be involved,” Wells said.
Wells is a detective for the Albemarle County Police Department and does not work for the city of Charlottesville.
Walker asked Wells if he had been secretly taping meetings with Mooney and Boyles.
“I’m not going to answer that,” Wells said.
“Did you use that information from those tapes to threaten the City Manager?” Walker asked.
Wells would not confirm or deny any of Walker’s questions.
Walker said she was concerned, based on PBA survey results, that the PBA was opposed to police reforms that would prevent racist profiling from officers.
“You should focus on every race and every color, not just Black and brown,” Wells said.
“So the community that’s most affected by racist beliefs and practices, you don’t believe?” Walker asked.
Wells asked Walker what facts she had on racism in policing and told her to have a good day before hanging up the call and didn’t answer her question.
Walker asked Boyles to be prepared to answer her questions at the next meeting about Brackney’s termination, including whether the PBA surveys played a role in the decision and how many meetings Boyles had with Wells.
“You all should be ashamed,” Walker told the councilors. “[The police] are not coming for your kids. They’re not going to target you at all.”