Charlottesville’s City Council was berated by a few residents at its meeting Tuesday for the process of hiring its city manager, while two councilors said the community needs to get past a churn of negativity and attacks.
Last week, the council announced it had hired Chip Boyles, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, as city manager. The city plans to conduct a public search for a city manager possibly in 2022.
The announcement came after the council spent roughly 20 hours in closed sessions over the past week to address management disarray, infighting among councilors and suspension of the search for a permanent city manager. The search to find a successor to former City Manager Tarron Richardson floundered earlier this month after a consultant determined the city lacked the stability to effectively recruit for the role.
In announcing Boyles’ appointment, the council said the closed search was not ideal. The council also said in a statement that it played a role in creating the dysfunction that put Charlottesville in its current state.
The speakers at Tuesday’s meeting, however, didn’t give the council the benefit of the doubt in its decision or its joint statement of accountability for causing instability within the government.
“I think the public was just clueless about what was going on, and I think that’s going to come back to hurt council,” said activist Walt Heinecke.
Two people expressed disappointment that the council didn’t listen to a petition that called for Richardson’s return, which had 205 signatures as of Tuesday evening. Charlottesville’s population was estimated at about 48,000 in 2019.
Gloria Beard, who saw dysfunction within the city firsthand as a member of the initial Police Civilian Review Board, was disappointed Richardson wasn’t returning. She asked that Boyles make an effort to conduct outreach within the community.
Don Gathers said each councilor bears equal responsibility for the state of City Hall.
“Everyone is culpable, everyone has some small portion of that,” he said.
Abby Guskind said she was sad that Councilors Michael Payne, Lloyd Snook and Sena Magill “didn’t stand up” for Richardson. She was “really, really disappointed” the petition didn’t lead to his return.
Guskind said councilors have certainly contributed to a culture of toxicity in the city government.
“The toxicity behind closed doors and what we’ve observed through this crazy last year behind our computers has really been difficult for everybody,” she said.
Activist Tanesha Hudson, who has frequently been a critic of the council and appeared on two local media shows to say Richardson should return, berated the council. She blamed white councilors for painting Mayor Nikuyah Walker as the problem, while also saying Walker and Councilor Heather Hill plotted to get rid of Richardson.
Hudson has consistently said that documents she has obtained through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act support her claim that a cabal of white city officials conspired to turn public opinion against Richardson and remove him from office.
The documents, which have been obtained by The Daily Progress, show a disconnect between Richardson and the fire department, Richardson’s concerns of council meddling and councilors expressing frustrations with the city manager’s actions.
Payne said councilors are just “community members.”
“There is no glamour to this job,” he said. “I’m still driving around with a spare tire on my car because I can’t afford a replacement.”
Payne was concerned that toxicity within the city and toward officials was going to derail any work Charlottesville has started or accomplished regarding climate change, affordable housing and equity.
“If we are constantly just at each other’s throats and insulting each other and expressing that we hate each other and we don’t trust each other throughout the community, I worry that we’re going to end up in a situation where we become a laughing stock for the entire state,” he said.
Walker said she’s stuck to her campaign promises and highlighted the council’s reluctance to choose a city manager in the way it did.
“This is hopefully something that should not happen again and hopefully future councils will find a way to prevent it from happening again,” she said.
Walker said the community is intense and that that energy could be detrimental to future city managers.
“If people can’t deal with this type of intensity and this type of negativity, they won’t be able to change the city in the direction you want it to go,” she said.
An exasperated Magill was the last to speak, saying, “We’re all just doing the best we can. I’m going to try to do better, but we can only do what we can do.”