Deputy City Manager Letitia Shelton has submitted her resignation as Charlottesville’s government approaches a fourth year of instability since the Unite the Right rally in 2017.
Shelton’s last day will be Feb. 19, the city confirmed Thursday. The confirmation came soon after the City Council announced its second emergency meeting of the week to continue discussions around stabilizing its government.
The meeting, which starts at 1 p.m. Friday, will be a closed session to discuss prospective candidates for the city manager position, a public contract and legal consultation.
The council met in a closed virtual call for about six hours Wednesday as tensions build, with management in disarray and the search for a permanent leader on hold. No action was taken and no discussion occurred in open session.
A consultant with Ralph Andersen & Associates, which was hired to find a successor to former City Manager Tarron Richardson, determined Charlottesville’s government lacked the stability to effectively recruit for its top appointed role. City Attorney John Blair has been interim city manager since October.
The council said Monday that it had “decided to pause working with a search firm“ and is evaluating “next steps to stabilize the organization over the next 12-24 months.”
Shelton was the final deputy city manager left from Richardson’s administration and the only deputy still working with the city. Paul Oberdorfer took a job in Ohio last month and Mike Murphy, who was interim city manager in the fallout of the 2017 rally, retired in December 2019. His retirement came after disputes with Richardson behind closed doors, but he remained on the payroll through October 2020.
Shelton was Richardson’s second-in-command at his previous job in DeSoto, Texas.
Since the deadly rally, leadership has nearly entirely turned over, with virtually all high-ranking officials who were in office on Aug. 12, 2017, no longer with the city.
During Richardson’s tenure, several officials left the city and at least a half-dozen high-level positions are vacant. Police Chief RaShall Brackney, who has been critical of the consultant, was also recently named a finalist for police chief in Dallas, although she was not selected.
Brackney’s comments to the council about the consultant also thrust Utilities Director Lauren Hildebrand and Charlottesville Area Transit Director Garland Williams into the spotlight as Councilor Lloyd Snook said they didn’t share the same characterization of their meeting with the firm. Hildebrand, Williams and the search firm have not returned requests for comment.
Snook has said dysfunction on the council and the actions of Mayor Nikuyah Walker led to the halt of the search for a city manager, not Brackney’s concerns.
Walker, who has not returned a request for comment, has lashed out on Facebook, saying white city residents are using division within the Black community “to move their own personal agenda forward.”
In a comment thread Thursday, she said she spent most of Wednesday’s closed City Council session “explaining to my white colleagues that I’m not being aggressive when I tell them something they don’t want to hear and that I’m not being a bully when I stand firm on my principles.” She said other councilors “don’t trust or respect me” and are ready for her seat to be available in the November election.
Although an entirely new council has been seated since the rally, it appears the same dysfunction still plagues the panel.
Walker and the rest of the council have received similar criticism as the 2017 panel and former Mayor Mike Signer received, with pushback from city staff, activists and the community for overstepping the bounds of the ceremonial mayorship and elected officials getting involved in operational functions.
The Heaphy report, commissioned by the city to investigate the events of the summer of 2017, criticized elected officials’ role related to the rally and its buildup.
In 2019, Richardson routinely pushed back against the council for what he called “meddling” in operations. In a March email, he wrote, “Please allow me to do my job for once instead of meddling in my day-to-day operations. I have asked for you to stop this in the past. … This [is] causing confusion. I should not hear from staff that you are communicating with them about planning without my knowledge.”
Richardson mutually agreed with the council to part ways in September after a 16-month tenure.
Councilor Sena Magill said Thursday that, in her opinion, the city needs to look at the short term.
“The city needs somebody that is predominantly focused for the next year to two years on stabilizing our infrastructure within the city, creating a solid positive work environment, as well as addressing key legislation that will be affecting our city within the next year or two,” she said.
Magill said the community is seeing in-fighting on the council, but “every single member of this council cares about this city and cares about the people of this city and cares about the staff of this city.”
“We have a lot of very good people in the city,” she said. “We have a lot of people we have lost, but we still have a lot of dedicated employees who it is important we support. … No one is blind that there are problems right now. We know there’s issues.”