Charlene Green, a leading figure in Charlottesville’s work on race and equity over the past decade, is stepping down from her role in the city.
Green, manager of the Office of Human Rights, announced during a Human Rights Commission retreat Saturday that she will leave on Feb. 21.
She is taking a job as the deputy director of Piedmont Housing Alliance. Her salary in Charlottesville is $80,953.
Green, who spent several years as a teacher, came to the city in 2010 as the program coordinator for the city’s Dialogue on Race.
The initiative, first conceived by the late City Councilor Holly Edwards, launched in 2009 in an effort to foster better race relations. It began with a series of study circles, which then led into action teams tasked with making specific recommendations.
The most substantial recommendation was a 2011 proposal to create a Human Rights Commission that would support victims of discrimination, raise awareness and investigate institutional discrimination.
City Council took another two years to establish the commission and the Office of Human Rights.
In 2014, Green became the outreach specialist for the Office of Human Rights and, the following year, became its manager following the resignation of Zan Tewksbury.
The office and commission have been scrutinized since their inception, with some saying they don’t do enough to investigate complaints and others faulting the council for limiting its powers. In her time at its helm, Green has helped focus the mission of the largely advisory and community outreach panel.
Moving forward, Green said that the city’s biggest challenge will be connecting all the initiatives focused on race and equity.
“I think the city in general has a challenge of connecting the dots with all the equity conversations,” she said.
During Saturday’s retreat, Green discussed speed bumps the commission might face and how to move forward with equity work after she leaves.
She mentioned meetings of several city departments and community organizations that she attends as a representative of the office and told commissioners to have a visible presence in the community.
“If you don’t have a manager in place or additional staff people, the question becomes who is at the table,” she said. “Having staff to support the work is critical.”
Green works alongside the office’s outreach specialist, Todd Niemeier, who said that the office was contacted 1,993 times in 2019 for an average of eight times a day.
Green said she’s proud of the Dialogue on Race and how it directly and indirectly led to several equity initiatives in the city government and in the community. The project was restarted in 2017 after the Unite the Right rally.
She also highlighted the creation of the Human Rights Commission.
“I think that’s an amazing achievement,” she said.
Green also is proud of the community connections she’s built through her work with the city. Deciding to move on, she said, was “the hardest decision in my life to make,” but it was motivated by a desire to spend more time with family.
Commission chair Shantell Bingham said she’s personally “very, very, very upset” with Green’s departure, but understands the motivation behind it.
“Charlene’s an asset that we can’t replace,” she said. “It feels as though we’re taking a couple of steps back.”
Before adjourning Saturday, the commission briefly discussed next steps, including an exit interview, what commissioners want in a new manager and plans to recognize Green’s service. The meeting, which wasn’t posted on the city’s website, was held in an Airbnb rental in Albemarle County that appears to violate the county’s homestay ordinance.
The panel will continue its discussion about a new manager at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Monticello Wesleyan Church. The position is overseen by City Manager Tarron Richardson, who would make the final call on any hiring.
Green is the eighth high-profile official to leave since Richardson started in May. She joins Deputy City Manager Mike Murphy, Parks and Recreation Director Brian Daly, Assistant City Manager Leslie Beauregard, Human Resources Director Galloway Beck, purchasing agent Jennifer Stieffenhofer, Interim Human Resources Director Teresa Vice-Moore and council outreach coordinator Matt Murphy.