Charlottesville, Albemarle County and University of Virginia officials are taking steps to be more collaborative as they work to increase equity and inclusion in their respective organizations.
On Wednesday, city and county elected officials and leadership from UVa met to discuss a memorandum of understanding for equity and inclusion.
The memorandum commits the entities generally toward common goals, but does not delve into specific measures. Some of the goals include evaluating current programs and policies, deepening the commitment to equity and achieving “alignment in both priorities and strategies employed to improve regional outcomes.”
“I think it’s a great step forward,” said UVa President Jim Ryan. “Obviously it’s a start, not a finish. … Getting started on something concrete would be a great way to turn this from a memorandum of understanding into something that’s actually making a difference on the ground.”
Charlottesville and Albemarle already have multiple MOUs on environmental issues, affordable housing, education, transportation and economic development.
Charlottesville City Councilor Lloyd Snook said he appreciated that the document included a pledge to set measurable goals.
“We can all feel good about ourselves, but without any actual identifiable indications of what that progress has been, we might just feel good without actually accomplishing anything,” he said.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she wanted to see some immediate collaborations that could be done, and views of people seeing a change in their lives that they want to talk about as a measure of success.
“If people are not grasping on to whatever we are implementing and are able to talk about how they have been impacted, how their lives have changed, as a result of whatever we’re doing, then I think we’re still in a position where we can stretch ourselves a little bit more,” she said.
Before leaving the call, Ryan proposed an initiative to ensure all children would be able to read by third grade. Afterward, officials widely supported the idea.
Snook said he is “intrigued” by the idea because constituents frequently bring up achievement gaps as a key equity issue.
After Ryan left the call, Walker said leadership needs to be fully committed to regional collaboration.
“If we are truly in this together, then we need to make sure there is a commitment for us to participate in the meetings the entire time,” she said.
Officials agreed each entity needs to dedicate a staff member to ensure the agreement’s goals are met.
Also during the meeting, Thomas Jefferson Health District Director Denise Bonds and Ryan McKay, senior policy analyst for the district, presented updated COVID-19 numbers from the area.
Both Charlottesville and Albemarle approved stricter restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus in July. Both bodies later extended those restrictions, with the county’s staying in place until Nov. 18 and the city’s remaining until the end of a declaration of a local emergency.
The university has implemented restrictions that will carry over into the spring semester, including face mask requirements, limits on student gatherings and regular testing.
In both Charlottesville and Albemarle, the number of cases decreased over the seven days ending Oct. 19, with 45 cases and 49 cases respectively, but rose again over the seven days ending Oct. 26, with 70 cases and 78 cases.
The rolling seven-day percent positivity was around 2.2% on Oct. 26 in Albemarle, while it was 2.1% in Charlottesville. McKay said the percent positivity is influenced by all of the testing that is done at UVa.
McKay said the area is now seeing more cases outside of the university setting.
“The university has contained and mitigated spread through reopening rooms for isolation and quarantine, and we’ve seen some different settings for transmission among the community,” he said.
Bonds said there is a huge amount of COVID fatigue, and it has been a stressful and worrying time for many.
“I think with the added stress of an election that’s coming up next week and the uncertainty surrounding that election, that’s causing people to let down their guard, essentially,” she said. “That’s where I would ask all of you to really help us in educating your constituents and cheerleading them on that we need to continue to do those mitigation measures that we know work. We need to not go and have a big family Thanksgiving gathering.”
Both elected bodies will later vote to formally adopt the MOU. Ryan said university attorneys will review the agreement before he signs onto it.
The meeting was the most recent public joint discussion of the three entities.
The Planning and Coordination Council, a regional planning group organized to encourage collaboration between the city, county and UVa, dissolved itself last year and a new, staff-led initiative, the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee was established.
Albemarle Spokesperson Emily Kilroy said Wednesday’s joint meeting was centered on the equity and inclusion MOU discussion and the COVID-19 update from the health district.
LUEPC has not met since March, according to meeting documents posted online, and a meeting for elected officials to receive a formal presentation or update from the committee has not yet been scheduled, “as the impact of the pandemic has shifted focus to regional emergency response,” Kilroy said.