At a community budget forum Wednesday, Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker addressed concerns that the city is giving too much funding to the police department and not investing enough in alternatives to traditional policing.
“[Charlottesville Chief of Police RaShall Brackney’s] budget has been pretty clear about where money is going,” Walker said. “I’m not in the business … of defending police. This has been a very challenging conversation, but I do not think that neither the community nor council members have been fair to this process about what she has been providing.”
Brackney also defended the department.
“The Charlottesville Police Department prepares a budget that is extremely extensive,” Brackney said. “82% of our budget is personnel costs.”
Brackney pointed to body-worn cameras as an example of something the community has asked for and is an expense that the police department incurs.
“We have to work towards a coproduction of public safety, and we have to think about the resources that we’re going to need to do that,” she said.
The police department’s budget for Fiscal 22 so far is about $500,000 shy of last year’s budget, despite $900,000 moving from the city’s Capital Improvement Plan into the department’s operating budget. The reductions have come from two unfunded positions, an unfunded crossing guard position and a $255,000 reduction for two mobile data units.
Later in the forum, community members asked the council to consider hiring attorneys to represent tenants in eviction trials.
“The city should commit to providing an attorney to every single tenant in eviction proceedings,” said Mary Bower, chairwoman of the Charlottesville Human Rights Commission. “This is a matter of equity and a matter of racial justice … There is plenty of data, both nationally and locally, that shows that an attorney results in far better outcomes for tenants.”
Bower said there is a racial disparity when it comes to evictions and that Black tenants are evicted at a higher rate than are white tenants.
“The most affordable housing is the housing you’re in right now,” said Nancy Carpenter. “Anything that the city can do to support that, which includes eviction defense, providing funding for perhaps one of our nonprofits … could possibly help assist families and individuals to stay housed while they work through whatever issues are causing unstable housing.”
City Manager Chip Boyles said there is no plan for hiring eviction attorneys yet.
“I would recommend that we should partner … with one of our nonprofit partners and provide funding for someone who is already providing these legal services,” he said.
Councilor Lloyd Snook said he did not think that the city should hire an eviction attorney as a city employee. He voiced concern that there could be a conflict if the evicting agency was one that received city funding, and that this could cause the city to be involved in the litigation. He suggested providing funding to an agency such as the Legal Aid Justice Center to provide legal services to tenants facing eviction as opposed to creating a city specific program.
“If this were a city employee, the city would be on the hook for any judgment,” said Snook.
Councilor Sena Magill suggested creating a contract with an outside agency and that the council agree to fund the services for the whole contract to maintain consistency, as opposed to applying for competitive grants to fund the program. Boyles added that the city is waiting on American Rescue Fund money that could be used to create a pilot program for legal representation for tenants.