Charlottesville School Board veteran and University of Virginia administrator Leah Puryear was chosen on Tuesday to fill the City Council seat vacated after the abrupt resignation of Sena Magill earlier this year.
It was a unanimous decision to name Puryear to the council.
Puryear was one of six finalists out of 20 applicants for the seat, which has nine months before it goes up for election.
“It was a challenging decision because there were so many great people,” said Council Member Brian Pinkston shortly after the vote.
The final vote in open session came after an hour-long, closed-door meeting in which the six finalists were individually interviewed.
After Circuit Court Clerk Llezelle Dugger administered the oath of office in Council Chambers, Mayor Lloyd Snook came down from the dais to shake Puryear’s hand.
“What I hope to bring the City Council is new and fresh eyes and new and fresh opinions,” Puryear said after the ceremony. “We are looking at the zoning ordinance, we must develop and implement a budget, and we are looking to hire a permanent city manager.”
For 42 years, Puryear has served as the director of the University of Virginia’s federally funded Upward Bound program, recently renamed Uplift at UVA, to assist first-generation college students. She also has an extensive track record in local service having chaired the city’s school board and serving on such other boards as the AIDS/HIV Services Group, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and Offender Aid and Restoration.
In 2021, she was awarded the 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Community Award at an annual event convened by UVa. She holds a master’s degree in education from the University of the District of Columbia and completed a summer program for administrators at Harvard University.
“I was very surprised,” she said of getting selected. “I had some tough competition.”
Initially, 20 people applied for the post, but a winnowing process among councilors resulted in six finalists.
The other five included a pair of former city councilors, another former school board chair, and a pair of younger faces, a winery wedding manager and a nonprofit program director.
Puryear takes the seat effective next Monday, but that seat’s four-year term expires at the end of this year, and Puryear declined to specify whether she’d seek election.
“At this point in time, I am focused on the unexpired term of Councilor Magill,” she said, “and that’s where my energies are focused at this time.”