The Charlottesville City Council will be presented with a $160 million five-year capital improvement program (CIP) that anticipates spending $50 million on a reconfiguration of middle school education.
Council and School Board will meet Thursday, January 28 at 5 p.m. to discuss budget preparations. (meeting info)
Staff has not recommended new funding for the West Main Streetscape in Charlottesville’s proposed capital improvement program for the next fiscal year, though the first phase of the project is fully funded. The future of a second phase is not certain at this time.
“The current CIP draft reflects priorities raised by City Council in previous budget work sessions,” said Charlottesville Communications Director Brian Wheeler. ”The inclusion of a $50 million placeholder for the City Schools reconfiguration project means other projects have to be reconsidered.”
While capital improvement budgets look ahead for five years, Council will only adopt an actual budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins on July 1. The proposed budget for FY22 is for $35.4 million, with $26.8 million anticipated to come from the sale of municipal bonds.
The draft CIP also continues the city’s $10 million investment in a new parking structure at the corner of Market Street and 9th Street. The project’s purpose is to support a new General District court to be used by both Albemarle County and Charlottesville.
The five-year budget anticipates a total of $13.5 million in investment in new construction of Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority including $1.5 million in FY22.
“This funding is the second year of a original City projected commitment of $15 million for the redevelopment of the public housing sites,” reads a summary of projects. In October, Council signaled they would approve a performance agreement governing the use of $3 million to help finance the Crescent Halls redevelopment and the first phase of redevelopment at South First Street.
The draft CIP restores several budget line items that were zeroed out for the current fiscal year. Instead of spending about $6.7 million of general fund revenue for certain items that could not be paid for through the sale of bonds, Council agreed with a plan to put that money aside in case of a shortfall.
For FY22, the draft budget restores funding to “non-bondable” items such as “city-wide traffic engineering improvements” and “bicycle infrastructure,” as well as funding for parks.
The draft budget also includes $800,000 a year in funding for the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund, for a total of $4 million. The specific use of those funds would be determined later.
The basic details of a plan to reconfigure Charlottesville’s middle schools were presented to the City School Board in December 2018. Michael Goddard is a project manager with the city who addressed Council at a work session on November 20, 2020.
“The plan is to utilize existing public properties so no land acquisition would be required,” Goddard said. “We would like to expand the pre-school and provide best-in-class wrap-around services, move 5th grade back to the elementary schools, reduce middle year transitions. By adding the 6th grade to Buford, we would make that a three year school.”
Both Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle School were built in the 1960’s. Goddard said another goal is to eliminate students needing to go outside to transfer between buildings.
The project has a placeholder cost estimate of about $55 million based on work conducted by the firm VMDO. In the fiscal year budget for 2020, Council authorized $3 million for design and pre-engineering.
“What we expect to see from our architect as part of this initial phase is a visioning document which gives us a general idea of what we can do, a goals and objectives document which lays out exactly what it is we intend to accomplish,” Goddard said.
West Main Streetscape
The firm Rhodeside and Harwell has been paid at least $2.8 million to develop design and construction documents for the three-quarter mile stretch between the University Corner and the Downtown Mall.
A value engineering study intended to reduce the costs will be shared with Council on Monday.
A total of $12.95 million was requested for the West Main Streetscape project in FY22 , but was not included. The project was split by Council into four phases in October 2017 in order to help secure funding. Phase 1 spans from West Main’s intersection with Ridge Street and McIntire Street to 6th Street NW.
“Phase 1 remains funded from prior CIP allocations,” Wheeler said. “The local allocations to Phase 1 are $3,162,045 spent and $13,422,860 available.”
The city received $3.2 million in VDOT revenue-sharing funds for West Main Phase 1, and the city will still spend $13.4 million in city funds.
Phase 2 travels between 6th Street NW and 8th Street NW. The city received $2 million in VDOT revenue sharing and $2 million in VDOT Smart Scale funding for this phase. The city had anticipated spending $7.1 million in capital funds but that is not reflected in the current CIP.
“We expect City Council to provide additional feedback on both phases in the budget discussions,” Wheeler said.
City staff had not budgeted spending any city money on West Main’s Phase 3, which spans from 8th Street NW to Roosevelt Brown Boulevard. Last year, Council agreed to submit a $10.38 million request to the VDOT’s Smart Scale process. Last week, staff recommended funding of this project.
As of last September, the city had not identified a funding source for Phase 4 which has a preliminary cost estimate of $8.7 million.
A former chief operating officer at the University of Virginia said in a March 2018 letter to Council that UVA would allocate $5 million for the city to use on the West Main Streetscape. The offer still stands.
“The University remains committed to its funding pledge for the West Main Streetscape project,” wrote UVA spokesman Brian Coy. “Per discussions with the City, our intent is to focus on safety and security improvements towards the western end of Main Street, supporting both students and the broader community.”
The Virginia Department of Transportation is participating in a program that seeks to help provide a safer journey for winged creatures that majestically migrate across the Commonwealth. Angel Deem is the director of VDOT’s environmental division and she spoke before the Commonwealth Transportation Board on January 19.
CCAA is a program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that works with other government agencies to conserve land for at-risk species, such as the Monarch butterfly. Deem said the goal is to conserve millions of acres of land across the nation that are currently being used by state highway agencies and land used to produce energy. Another specific goal is to plant milkweed on 2.3 million acres.
Last December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services updated the endangered species list, and the Monarch is listed as “warranted but precluded.” Deem explains.
“What they mean by precluded is that there are other priority listings ahead of this one so they are essentially going to put it on hold if you will and continue to monitor its progress,” Deem said.
Progress would be made if existing habitats aren’t threatened to be converted to some other uses. The use of pesticides and mowing of state right of way are other threats.
“Those things are impacting the available foraging and breeding habitat for the Monarch,” Deem said.
Under the CCAA, VDOT would agree to taking several conservation measures.
“We would do some specific seeding and planting and brush removal to encourage suitable habitat for the Monarch,” Deem said. “We would also participate in what’s called conservation mowing, allowing food sources to be available to develop for the Monarch as well as breeding sites.”
VDOT entered into the agreement last November and the goal in the first year will be to apply the measures to 1,567 acres. Deem said VDOT has already achieved that goal and is now making progress towards the five year goal of doubling that amount. For more information on the program, watch the entire presentation on YouTube. (view the slides)
The fallout from the economic shutdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic means that Charlottesville is facing a tougher financial future than would have been expected. Last night, the City Council got an update on the city’s financial picture. Ryan Davidson is a senior budget analyst with the city. (read the report)
“There’s been a marked decline in many of our revenues and our new revenue projections are approximately $5 million than what we had previously presented to City Council,” Davidson said.
Specifically, meals tax collections are $2 million lower than had been forecast in September, and transient lodging tax collections are $1.86 million lower. But not all sources of revenue are in the red.
“Licenses and permits,” Davidson said. “This is one bit of good news! We are seeing continued strong performance in our building and plumbing and our other permits. We’re expecting almost a half million increase.”
Davidson said in the worst case scenario with revenues that continue to decline, the city could end up with a $13.2 million shortfall by the end of the year. To manage that shortfall, budget staff are using the cash reserve that Council agreed to put aside when it approved the budget for the current fiscal year. That money would have gone to various items in the capital improvement program. Davidson said the city may also need to use surpluses from both FY19 and FY20.
“That can be up to $4.1 million that we could bring in as the potential revenue source to help fill that gap,” Davidson said. He added that the city is trying to avoid laying off any employees, but it will take a full effort by Council and staff to continue to get through the year.
Davidson reminded the Council there are still just over five months left in the fiscal year, and projections can change over time as conditions fluctuate.
“Let’s try to manage to the worst case scenario, then if things are better than that, then we will be prepared for that,” Davidson said. “And if they’re better than that, we have leverage and we will have resources that we have not yet had to use.”
A data-driven application process has recommended funding for several major projects in the area, including $24.6 million for improvements at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road. This also includes nearly $8 million for the third phase of the West Main Streetscape in Charlottesville. Both are recommended for funding under the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process, which ranks projects according to a series of metrics including congestion relief, public safety, and economic development.
Albemarle and Charlottesville are both within VDOT’s Culpeper District.
“Culpeper gets a total of 20 projects recommended for funding for a total of $166.9 million dollars,” said Chad Tucker with the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment.
Smart Scale was put in place after nearly $230 million was spent on several projects to address congestion on U.S. 29 including construction of Berkmar Drive Extended and a grade-separated intersection at 29 and Rio Road. Smart Scale is now in its fourth round and nothing is final until the Commonwealth Transportation Board takes a vote in June. Under the recommended scenario, the Hydraulic project received the highest score in the Culpeper District.
“That will really augment the investments that have been done at Rio in helping to keep traffic moving efficiently and safely along the U.S. 29 corridor in the Charlottesville,” Tucker said.
Council has been waiting for the results of Smart Scale before making a long-term decision about the future of the West Main Streetscape, which was broken into multiple phases in 2017 after a previous Smart Scale application to cover the whole cost did not qualify for funding in the second round. A portion of the project was covered in the third Smart Scale round.
A roundabout at Troy Road and Route 250 in Fluvanna County has also been recommended for funding.
“I think Culpeper did a very good job of having targeted improvements that are addressing safety in congestion hotspots throughout the district,” Tucker said.
More on this as the weeks and months continue. For a more complete picture, be on the look-out for a story from Allison Wrabel in the Daily Progress.
It’s not every day that City Council hires a city manager, but the occasion has become slightly less rare in recent years. As 2021 began, Council spent more than a dozen hours in closed session to discuss personnel issues related to the hiring of a City Manager. Charlottesville has had the Council-Manager form of government in place for nearly a hundred years but in recent years the form has been tested.
Maurice Jones, a former city communications director, held the position for eight years until Council opted not to extend his contract in 2018. Deputy City Manager Mike Murphy stepped into the role on an interim basis before Dr. Tarron Richardson was hired in May 2019. Three new Councilors took office in 2020, and Richardson resigned in September. City Attorney John Blair stepped into the role on an interim basis and a search firm had begun work, but news came out earlier this year they had with drawn from the process.
With that as prologue, Council held a press conference on January 14, 2021 to make an announcement.
“Thank you all for joining us today,” said Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker. “We are selecting and we are appointing a new city manager. Mr. Chip Boyles.”
Boyles has been the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District for nearly seven years. If you’ve not heard of it, the TJPDC provides government services to the city as well as five surrounding counties. We’ll hear more about Boyles in a moment.
For now, Mayor Walker said the public deserved to know why this decision was made.
“We also are aware that the public will have a lot of questions about this process, why it was handled in this manner, and what our future process will look like,” Walker said.
For about an hour, Council took questions from the press about the hire, and what happens next. But first, Councilor Michael Payne read from a prepared statement representing the entire Council. Here’s the whole thing.
“Over the past week, City Council has held several closed sessions to discuss the state of the organization. We know that this has caused much speculation as to the reasons for these meetings and what is to come from them. Today we are announcing that Mr. John Blair will be leaving the City of Charlottesville effective March 5, 2021 having accepted a position as City Attorney in the City of Staunton. Mr. Blair’s final day as Acting City Manager will be February 12, 2021. Mr. Blair has served the city faithfully and diligently and we offer nothing but our sincerest thanks for his service in these challenging times for our city. We wish him the best in his career.
“With this, we would like to announce that Mr. Chip Boyles has agreed to join the organization as City Manager. After carefully balancing the needs of the city at this current time, we are offering Mr. Boyles the City Manager position with the goal of stabilizing the organization and rebuilding the leadership team within City Hall. Mr. Boyles, age 58, has served as Assistant City Manager and City Manager in the cities of Taneytown, Maryland; Hardeeville, South Carolina; and Clemson, South Carolina. Prior to most recently serving seven years as the Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission here in Charlottesville, Mr. Boyles was the Urban Development Director in the Mayor’s Office of the City/Parish of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“Over the past several months, city government has experienced significant turnover, uncertainty, and instability. This has occurred at a time when our community is facing historic challenges created by a global pandemic, economic instability, and the need to address long-standing inequities within our community.
“City Council must directly confront the causes of the instability within city government. We did not end up in this situation overnight. We will not get out of it overnight. The central task facing City Council over the next year is to work with the City Manager’s Office to rebuild stability and assemble a leadership team that applies professional, stable governance to the many issues facing our community. That is the foundation of serving our community and implementing sound public policy, and that foundation is cracked.
“Today is only the beginning of this work. Over the coming months, Council must take additional actions to change the dynamics within City Hall and create an environment of mission-driven teamwork, collaboration, and trust.
“Council must acknowledge its central role in creating the instability within city government. We will need to establish, and adhere to, clear procedures, expectations, and norms that govern how Council conducts business among itself, runs meetings, communicates with the City Manager’s Office and city staff, and prioritizes public policy. City government is filled with dedicated public servants who work daily to serve our community; it is City Council’s responsibility to show leadership and make the changes necessary to create an environment where city staff are empowered to lead the organization and execute Council’s policy priorities. Our community needs leadership, and Council must rise to the occasion.
“We would like to express our deep gratitude to all those who have stepped forward to offer their support, experience, and knowledge to our city during this moment of crisis. It highlights our greatest asset — our city’s dedicated staff, public servants, and community members. It will require our collective wisdom and efforts to support our local government in the task of creating the just, resilient, and equitable community we can and will be.
Why Boyles? Why now?
So, who is Chip Boyles, and why him? After thanking John Blair for his service, Councilor Heather Hill read from her own statement.
“Mr. Boyles coming on board is a great gain for the organization and the community we collectively serve,” Hill said. “I want to thank him and his family for believing in us to make their own sacrifices as he joins in our quest to stabilize the organization to best serve the needs of all our citizens.”
“I just want to say to welcome Chip,” Magill said. “Mr. Boyles, I look forward to working with you. I know you have Council’s 100 percent support behind you. We recognize we are in a very troubling environment and we are all behind working with you to strengthen our city.”
“It was important to me as we tried to move forward that we in fact move forward, that we not wallow in or be submerged by the past,” Snook said. “And that we look forward to new leadership, to new experience that Chip brings to us that can be of great assistance to us. I’ve said before that in many ways that the events of August 2017 are like a bell that keeps ringing. It hasn’t stopped ringing in Charlottesville. And what we’re seeing nationally just reinforces that.”
The offices of the Thomas Jefferson District Commission are on 4th Street in downtown Charlottesville, right at the site where Heather Heyer was killed and many more were injured by a Unite the Right rallyist.
Before Boyles spoke, Mayor Walker gave her thoughts.
“This was a challenging process over the past few days, weeks, contemplating whether this was something you would want to do at this time in your life and I appreciate the opportunity as Councilor Snook said to be able to hopefully, truly move forward and start stabilizing, balancing the organization but also acknowledge the reason why we’re doing that,” Walker said. “We need a stable organization so that we can meet the needs of our citizens. And as we keep bringing up, and Charlottesville has been brought up a lot since the terrorist attacks in D.C., I think we don’t even understand how we will never be able to shift from that until we actually put some things in place and heal.”
“I’m very appreciative that you and the City Council are entrusting me with this important responsibility and the importance of it at this particular time,” Boyles said. “When leadership and solidarity is so needed in Charlottesville but as Councilor Hill stated is needed all across our entire nation, I look forward to working with all of the city staff. I especially look forward to working with all of the Charlottesville community. It’s very, very important for me. I’m a people person and that’s where I look to spend a lot of time.”
“I know there are a number of citizens that were looking for a different direction as a city manager but I am trusting the City Council and your commitment to the city to leave all of Charlottesville to a much brighter future,” he continued. “I hope that over time I will build the support of all the community, for all of us to work together to a more unified community and Charlottesville.”
Boyles will start work on February 15. He will be replaced at TJPDC on an interim basis by Christina Jacobs, the assistant director. The TJPDC Board of Commissioners will meet on February 4.
Questions from the press
The first question from the press came from Riley Wyant of NBC29.
“This step of getting Chip in here as City Manager is obviously a big one for rebuilding but what else is top of mind for you guys?” Wyant asked. “I know there are a couple of other staffing issues. What needs to be done moving forward?”
City Councilor Michael Payne answered first.
“I think it’s really going to require working directly with the city manager’s office in order to build a leadership team, fill those vacancies and fill them to create a mission-driven team that as Mayor Walker said is focused on bringing stability but bringing stability with a goal in mind, and that goal of executing the policy priorities that we ran on and care about for the community,” Payne said. “Likewise, Council is going to need to work with the city manager’s office to create processes to have clear communication among ourselves, develop a strategic plan, to more clearly communicate our policy priorities with the city manager’s office and city staff and have those procedures and collaborative work really guide the process of filling vacancies and bringing stability.”
In a follow-up question, Wyant asked Councilors why they chose Boyles. Mayor Walker went first and cited her experience working with the new city manager in his capacity at TJPDC. The RTP she mentions is the Regional Transit Partnership, an initiative Boyles launched to bring area transit providers together.
“The two capacities that I have been able to witness how Chip operates have been with the PDC when I stepped in when former Councilor [Mike] Signer… had family constraints during that late evening meeting time and then with the RTP. My thoughts here was just that we had wanted someone who was neutral. Chip has been in the community for a number of years but he hasn’t been in the organization, and it will provide us an opportunity to just look at any issues that were brought up through a neutral lens, and I thought that was very important. But in witnessing him within those two capacities I was able to see someone who was an excellent communicator and who was very thorough in the information that the Board members would receive from them. And I’m hoping that those skills along with being able to being a new and fresh perspective to the organization will allow us to heal and actually be able to get some of the work that we have all promised to do done.”
Councilor Snook said he thought Boyles could remind city government of the roles everyone is supposed to be playing.
“I was impressed first of all that he would bring and does bring to the position prior experience as a city manager,” Snook said. “I think that is important for all of us that he understands the role, and that he helps us understand the role that we have in the city manager form of government.”
Snook also called Boyles a consensus-builder who knows the city of Charlottesville.
“He’s lived here for seven years,” Snook said. “He’s had a chance to observe our government in action. He knows exactly what he is getting into, let me put it that way. All of those things are important characteristics. “
The next question came from Nolan Stout of the Daily Progress.
“So Chip, my first question would be that you were for the last seven years at a regional capacity,” Stout said. “How are you going to change to this instead of looking of regionally because the city needs to focus internally, how are you going to change your mission with that?”
“Well, sure,” Boyles responded. “Prior to my seven years it’s been predominantly at local government levels. Most recently it was stated in the city of East Baton Rouge, which is quite a bit larger with a number of its own challenges that we had to focus with. I was also there during a transition period for their Council, which is actually a mayor and 12 council members.”
“The focus is to think back and to work back to my experience as a City Manager,” Boyles said. “But I don’t want to lose focus either on the regional important because as Charlottesville goes, so goes our region as well. So it will not be a complete change but more of a different and a way to focus towards the city of Charlottesville but keeping the region in mind as well.”
Stout then asked Council a question.
“How difficult was it going through these closed sessions and the process to get to this decision?” Stout asked.
Vice Mayor Magill answered first.
“I wouldn’t characterize them as difficult,” Magill said. “I would characterize them as thorough. We have been working to evaluate the needs of the city and bringing forward the best match for the city at this time and we wanted to make sure we spent time in evaluating and doing the most thorough job we could and I feel that we’ve done that and we’ve come out with a good result that I think we are all very happy with and truly believe this is a good way forward for our city and our future.”
Councilor Michael Payne said it has been an “extremely diffcult and challenging time for the city” at the same time there is a global pandemic. But he said the hiring of Boyles paves the way for opportunities.
“Along with all the challenges which are very real come enormous opportunities,” Payne said. “I think that we all feel confident going forward to be able to take a hold of those opportunities and get to a better place as a city and get to a better place to take action on policies to take care and support our community.”
I asked about Boyles to comment on the ongoing Cville Plans Together initiative, which aims to complete the Comprehensive Plan, create an affordable housing strategy, and update the zoning code. The Comprehensive Plan is a state-mandated document that is to be reviewed every five years. Council last adopted a plan in 2013, and the current review has been going on for four years. During that time, the city demoted its director of neighborhood development services, sometime during Dr. Richardson’s tenure. I asked Boyles for a general comment on these issues.
“Well, I’ll start with saying that I trust the staff at NDS,” Boyles said. “They’ve gotten us to this point with the Comprehensive Plan. I do believe coming in from the PDC, I fully understand not just the importance of the Comprehensive Plan but the timelineness of the Comp Plan. I do believe I will put a little bit more priority in not just that planning efforts but a number of the other planning efforts around affordable housing and others, knowing again how important than it is. And then of course weighing it with all of the other challenges and opportunities that we have but we’ll stay focused on things that are near and dear, like planning.”
Interim or permanent?
In my follow-up, I wanted to get to something I thought was important. Earlier, one of the Councilors said something about the search for city manager being opened again at some point in the future. I asked if we should consider Boyles an interim city manager. Councilor Hill responded.
“At this time, Council as reflected in the announcement, Mr. Boyles will be our City Manager and that’s what he should be referred to and we are certainly empowering him with all of the duties of a city manager,” Hill said.
Mayor Walker also wanted to respond about the process.
“This isn’t a process that any of us would have preferred,” Walker said. “I enjoy the open, the panel discussion, hearing feedback from citizens once they are introduced to the finalists and being able to weigh in. And it’s important for us to understand the culture that has been created by some of us internally, publicly, had us in closed session attempting to make this decision the best we knew how. So over the coming months, years, just as we reflect on how to make sure that we don’t end up in a position like this again, we’ll all have to look internally to see how we move forward together differently. I know we’re going to get this question a lot which is why I paused to comment because no one is going to be happy with the fact that five elected officials made a decision that is usually a very robust and thorough process by themselves. So we acknowledge that. We understand that those questions are going to come and we’re going to have to have a lot of conversations because of the way that this decision was made.”
On to the next question from Charlotte Woods of Charlottesville Tomorrow who asked Boyles what his priorities would be.
“The very first priorities which the Council have already stated and laid out are filling the positions that we need in the leadership capacity,” Boyles said. “There are quite a number of those.”
All of the people who were serving as Deputy City Managers under Dr. Richardson will have left by the time he takes office. This gives Boyles a blank slate to proceed.
“We’ve got a very big bus here,” Boyles said. “We have to get the right people on the bus and then the right people in the right seats. It’s crucial we do that. That will then set the stage for how we will be able to move the rest of the city forward.”
A future search?
Later on in the press conference, Brielle Entzminger of C-Ville Weekly returned to the question of an eventual reopening of the search.
“Is there a specific reason why you all are anticipating possibly starting the new city manager search in 2022?” Entzminger asked. “Is there a reason for that time length?”
“That is just to make sure that as the Mayor has stated that we do honor the process correctly,” said Vice Mayor Magill. “We also know at this time we don’t feel that… we can not have another interim manager. We have too many vacancies. We need to empower someone to be a true city manager. We are incredibly lucky that Mr. Boyles is here. And when we do a more formalized search, he will be welcome to apply for that should he so chooses.”
City Council hires the city manager, and that hiring is subject to a contract. Mayor Walker said Boyles understood what the terms would be before agreeing to take the job.
“When you all take a look at the contract, you will see that Mr. Boyles… is leaving a very secure position and he didn’t ask him for anything out of the ordinary,” Walker said. “He was extremely generous through the negotiation process and I hope you will be able to see that when you view the contract.”
Then we got to a second round of questions from reporters. Here’s Nolan Stout with the Daily Progress.
“How does having Chip selected knowing that there is going to possibly be a vacancy in 2022, how does that help recruitment when there’s a possibility that leadership might be different two years?” Stout asked.
“I don’t think that anyone looking at this and understanding that this is not the traditional process and we don’t want to set a precedent in Charlottesville that anyone that Mr. Boyles will be attempting to recruit who will take a look and research our community thoroughly will have a problem with us acknowledging to our citizens who elected us that we will go through this process,” Walker said.
City Councils role?
Stout asked a follow-up.
“The Council statement mentioned a lot about its role in leading to where the city is now,” Stout said. “I wanted to know what specifically you guys are planning to do to address your role and change things moving forward.”
“There are definitely some conversations that we need to have about what the next 11 months and sixteen days look like,” Walker said. “We just need time to do that. It is clear from your reporting during your tenure here and others that we have been a in a constant state of crisis. Relationships are not healthy and they are not very conducive to a very successful environment. I would hope that as we look and go through that process of introspection that I was talking about earlier, that not only we need to do but staff needs to do, and the community members need to do, that we come up with those answers and are honest in our conversations about what needs to be done and that we have a willingness to participate in it. As we’ve seen over the past few years, if this kind of discord occurs it doesn’t go away. It’s just the fanning of the flames. And so we all have to figure out how to do this differently and be open to it.”
“And I think it’s going to take Council taking collective responsibility,” Payne said. “Each of us individually and together as a team. We can’t put the blame on any one thing or any one individual. This is all of us. We’re all together in this team and we have to collectively take full ownership of it together. It’s going to be necessary for us to acknowledge that and have those honest conversations and I think we will work directly with Mr. Boyles to just lay out better communication, lay out clearer expectations.”
Payne said this might include procedures on how Councilors interact.
“Just sort of guardrails for how we do our business day to day and how we communicate with each other and how we communicate with the city manager’s office and staff,” Payne said.
Later in the press conference, Payne reminded the audience that all City Managers are subject to contract, and none are ever permanent.
“Every city manager enters into an environment of some uncertainty,” Payne said.
In the short-term, Boyles will be responsible for putting together a budget for Fiscal Year 2022, which begins on July 1. Council faces continued revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic, and is also approaching its debt capacity. I asked Boyles if he’s being paying attention and if he’ll have a recommended budget in place by late February. He begins work on February 15.
“I’ve certainly been paying attention and I’m starting paying more attention,” Boyles said. “I cannot say that I have any particular direction at this time. This has been a very quick process. I start work on February 15. A great deal of the work will already be in place. In discussions with my existing Board and with the Mayor and City Council, the transition period unlike other places I think will go very, very positive and I will begin to work and be acclimated and begin to get my feet wet in the city business immediately. So hopefully that will help, but much of the budget preparation and delivery will be done.”
The Scottsville Town Council met last night for their first meeting of the year with a work session and the topic of public safety came up in a several ways. First, town Police Chief Jeff Vohlwinkel updated the Council on compliance with a presidential executive order issued last summer in the wake of the protests that rocked the nation after George Floyd was killed on May 25 after being held to the ground for nine and a half minutes by a police officer’s knee.
“So it’s a presidential executive order related to community policing and safety that requires us to show that we have a use of force policy that complies with the federal and state laws as it relates to use of excessive force and that we have a duty to intervene within the policy as well as barring choke holds,” Vohlwinel said.
Vohlwinkel said the police department’s accreditation would be in jeopardy and it could not receive federal funds without having made the policy change. He also told Council he has been in touch with federal and local authorities regarding the distribution of racist fliers in and around Scottsville.
“I’ve been in touch with the FBI and the Commonwealth’s Attorney and our adjoining agencies to converse with them as to what they have seen or heard related to this matter and I’ve reached out the Virginia Fusion Center as it related to receiving intelligence from them,” Vohlwinkel said.
The Virginia Fusion Center is a counterterrorism agency.
Later in the meeting, the Council discussed a draft of a proposed Mayoral Declaration of the Ideals of the Scottsville Community. Councilor Laura Mellusi read it in the absence of Mayor Ron Smith. (read the statement on the town’s Facebook page)
“We are Scottsville’s community and local government,” Mellusi read. “ We are a small town like thousands of others in our United States but we all have responsibilities to action when our country is threatened.”
The statement went on to say the community does not condone “political violence and intimidation, bigotry and political corruption.”
Councilor Ed Payne said he supported the statement but took issue with the phrase.
“The one word that troubles me is the term political violence,” Payne said. “Now that’s timely because there has been recent political violence but as we all lived through 2020, we saw there were other forms of violence that may in some opinion have been political or may not have. Social, maybe. If this is to go out to the public I would like to see the word political struck from this because violence is violence.”
Councilor Dan Gritsko agreed with Payne and said he appreciated what Mayor Smith was trying to do especially in light of the racist propaganda distributed over the weekend.
“I applaud his effort to be proactive to remind our citizens and to remind those around us who might want to stir up trouble that we don’t want there and we are trying to create a community that is inclusive, that honors people of enormously different backgrounds,” Gritsko said.
Jim Bowling serves as the attorney for the Town of Scottsville. After the discussion on the Mayoral declaration, he updated Council on the weekend’s incident.
“I can stress enough that I’d be surprised if this was done totally by outsiders and I think you’re going to fine some regional or local people involved and it’s important that the town’s citizens take on the responsibility to help their other citizens in trying to find whoever is responsible for this,” Bowling said.
Council discussed a potential reward for more information, but Councilor Dan Gritsko said he was concerned about overreaction.
“I’m not overly worried about who did it, we’ll find out who did it one way or the other,” Gritsko said. “We should be thick-skinned enough as a people to be able to deal with somebody’s poor reasoning or poor thinking in the light of freedom of speech as a country.”
Gritzko said he regularly takes students to the National Holocaust Museum in D.C. and the truth is that the Nazis murdered millions of people. But Bowling pointed out that the fliers were intended to intimidate.
‘The point here though is that this is criminal behavior and its domestic terrorism and anything else is to kick it under the table,” Bowling said.
Will it happen again? Mellusi told anyone watching to notify the authorities if they are intimidated.
“If you received information you’re not comfortable with, or if you’re feeling threatened in anyway, to please contact our chief of police and to share that information with him,” Mellusi said. “If you don’t live in the town but you’re in the county of Albemarle, county of Buckingham, county of Nelson, county of Fluvanna to reach out to those police.”
The race for two seats on the Charlottesville City Council began today with the first candidate to announce a run.
“My name is Juandiego Wade and it is my honor to announce my candidacy for Charlottesville City Council,” Wade said. Wade has been a member of the School Board since 2006, the first year there were elections for those positions. He’s won re-election three times since.
“I know the greatness that Charlottesville possesses, the greatness of its citizens, its staff, its organizations,” Wade said. He’s been an Albemarle County employee for thirty years and has served as the co-chair of the Community Working Group put together by University of Virginia President Jim Ryan.
“I believe to have demonstrated leadership and knowledge of local government which will allow me to hit the ground running,” Wade said.
So far, Wade is the only challenger to announce, though Mayor Nikuyah Walker announced last February she would seek a separate term. However, Walker is an independent whereas Wade is seeking one of two Democratic nominations in the June 8 primary.
After the announcement, Wade took questions from reporters. The first from Nolan Stout of the Daily Progress asked what issues Wade wanted to discuss during the campaign.
“My platform, my areas would be criminal justice reform, I’d like to see how that could reimagined and I think that we can do that if we work together as a community,” Wade said. “Affordable and workforce housing, public education, and the economy and I feel like with those areas I’m experienced in particular with education, and the economy as a career counselor working with the local shops and business owners for the last ten years in my current capacity with the county.”
Wade’s discussion with reporters was happening at the same time City Council continued to meet in closed session to discuss hiring a new city manager. A search firm is no longer working on behalf of the city to identify applicants. Wade didn’t want to directly address what Council should do, but did say that as a School Board member, he has worked closely with Superintendent Rosa Atkins, who has been in her position since July 2006.
“When you get a good leader, you have to support them and that’s something that I’m used to and that I understand,” Wade said. “Not that you don’t challenge your leaders with questions and ideas from time to time, but it has to be a team mentality.”
From that perspective, Wade said he understood what Council is experiencing.
“Governing, leading under the best of circumstances is a really difficult job and we’re not in a perfect situation now,” Wade said. “I can imagine the leaders, the current leaders of Charlottesville, they have some difficult decisions to make.”
He said his time as an elected official in Charlottesville has prepared him to make choices when the time comes.
“Over the years, on the School Board for the last 16 years, we have made some really difficult decisions and it got pretty heated and we got pretty short with each other but that’s part of it,” Wade said. “We get into this field to make those difficult decisions and that’s why we were elected to do that.”
Aside from calls to closed session, Council has not had a meeting yet this year and skipped one scheduled for January 4. They will meet tomorrow as part of a joint meeting with the Planning Commission. They had been originally been scheduled to discuss the Capital Improvement Program for next Fiscal Year, but that has been postponed to February.
One big ticket item for consideration by the current or a future Council is whether to move forward with at least $50 million to reconfigure schools for 5th through 8th grade. This next comment comes from Wade the School Board member who has to vote on a budget request to send to Council.
“We will need to look at the budget just like in every year,” Wade said. “We have a great relationship with the city government working with public works and the City Manager’s office to move forward because they know just like we do that when we have great schools and modern schools that that is a plus for the city. That that is going to draw businesses and residents in and so I know that they want to do it.”
So far, Wade is the only announced challenger. He said he would wait to see who else seeks the Democratic nomination.
“Until we get two nominees, I just want to talk about my vision and listen and I think that I can do that I will hopefully be one of the seats come next November that will be able to serve the city,” Wade said.
Bekah Saxon, the co-chair of the Charlottesville Democratic Committee, said the current plan is for local Democrats to select nominees in the June 8 primary.
“We are excited to see how the candidates emerge and are committed to making sure voters are able to learn about the entire slate of candidates in the Democratic primary in the months leading up to the primary,” Saxon said in a message to me this morning.
Local election campaigns are often community events where people gather together. For at least the first part of this race, things will be a little different. I asked Juandiego Wade to talk about how the pandemic will affect the race.
“You know, Charlottesville is all about relationships and some of those things that that a candidate can really do well on is having those meet and greets in people’s neighbors’ living rooms and kitchens and things like that,” Wade said. “I don’t think that may be possible this time around but what I do imagine is that maybe meeting as the weather warms up in someone’s backyard, or a big area where people can spread out and we can talk. But certainly Zoom will be part of that for this campaign. If there are public forums people want to come to, that it just may have to be socially distanced when people meet.”
Some other information on the candidate. Wade is a native of Richmond, graduated from Norfolk State University in 1988 and the University of Virginia in 1990. In 2019, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce honored him with the Paul Goodloe McIntire Award. According to his campaign website, he has been married to Claudette Grant since 1993 and then have one daughter who attends James Madison University.
Just as a violent insurrection against the U.S. Capitol was fanned by the sitting U.S. president on Wednesday afternoon, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors met for its first meeting of the year and appointed Ned Gallaway to a third year as Chair. Unlike Charlottesville, the Board appoints its presiding officer every year.
Each Supervisor gave thoughts about what they hope 2021 will be like. Supervisor Diantha McKeel represents the Jack Jouett District and her second term is up at the beginning of the year. She made these comments before the moment of silence.
“We now have 8 million people who have moved into poverty,” McKeel said. “We have 90 million people who have no health insurance. One in six adults are going hungry. One in four children are going hungry and in the United States right now we’re losing someone to COVID every 30 seconds.
Supervisor Ann Mallek represents the White Hall District and she gave these remarks which supports Albemarle government action to respond to the pandemic.
“While we have many more obstacles in our future from COVID-19 I am confident that we will avoid chaos, provide services and earn the confidence of our citizens,” Mallek said. “I know there is a long to-do list already and our work plan is overflowing but there are high-priority program issues I hope we will all think about and give attention to in 2021.”
These include completion of the county’s Housing Albemarle plan, finding ways to pay for infrastructure to support urban growth, and connecting the Climate Action Plan with action steps including the county’s own procurement policy.
“If we take a cradle to cradle approach and get thorough documentation, not information from sales people, we will make much better decisions,” Mallek said.
Supervisor Donna Price of the Scottsville District is in the second year of her first term. She said the pandemic will continue to lead to hardships for Albemarle residents. Price listed three priorities.
“The first one is expanding broadband and that includes revising our cell tower policies in order to ensure that we can expand availability and access,” Price said. “On top of everything we have to look at equity and I’ve said before, equity must be prospective not retrospective. And every decision the county makes must be made with a view towards equity.”
Price’s third priority is to find a way to find locations in the county where “convenience centers” can be built to allow residents to drop off solid waste for disposal or recycling.
“As I travel to neighboring counties I see that virtually all of them have no fee convenience centers,” Price said. “We have no convenience centers in Albemarle County.”
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley is in her second year of her first term representing the Rivanna District. She said education is a priority as the pandemic continues.
“We need to do something with our schools,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “I’m hoping that the school district will figure out a way to make up for lost time for our children. That’s the basis of our democracy. We need to have an outstanding educational system for everybody.”
Supervisor Liz Palmer is in the final year of her second term in the Samuel Miller District. The pandemic is a focus.
“And I hope that we can continue to do the great job that we have been doing in masking and social distancing in spite of the spike that is going on now,” Palmer said.
Gallaway is in the final year of his first term representing the Rio District. He thanked the Board clerk and her staff for their work in helping government meetings continue during the pandemic.
“I know that work is going to continue and we don’t really know when that’s going to end but I know that the Board members are confident that we will continue to be able to provide services,” Gallaway said.