What role should economic development play in the future of Charlottesville? That question is a crucial one as local governments continue to recover from the pandemic, and key in a city where there’s been much executive turnover in the past five years. This week, the city’s seven-member Economic Development Authority was briefed on a new strategic plan intended to guide the city’s efforts.
“It has been about ten years since we embarked on a full-blown strategic planning process so with the encouragement of our interim city manager, Michael Rogers, we are proceeding down the path to have a consultant guide us through a strategic planning effort,” said Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director.
The 17-member Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia is meeting this week at the Rotunda and yesterday a committee charged with overseeing audits and compliance gathered first.
One of their discussions yesterday was a review of a public safety audit conducted after the events of August 11, 2017, when a large group of white supremacists led a tiki-torch parade around Grounds shouting slogans such as “Jews Will Not Replace Us.” This resulted in a confrontation in front of the Rotunda in which several were injured.
The University of Virginia Police were criticized for inaction during the incident. A month later, UVA hired the firm Margolis Healy to conduct a review of safety and security programs and a series of recommendations was presented to the Board of Visitors that December. (UVA Today article from that time)
An audit plan approved by the Board of Visitors in June 2021 called for a status update on what’s happened since.
“Sometimes audits scare people, especially if it’s like the [Internal Revenue Service] or something like that,” said Tim Longo, UVA’s Associate Vice President for Safety and Security and Chief of Police. “But audits are about holding people accountable and reminding us of what we committed to and what we promised we’d do.”
The Margolis Healy report had six recommendations, and only two of them are considered fully implemented.
“When Margolis & Healy came, it’s important to remember why they came,” Longo said. “It is become something really bad happened in our community and what we found along the way that were things that were broken. Systems got broken. Communication was broken. Integration was broken. Cooperation was broken, amongst critical public safety systems and the damage will outlive all of us in this room.”
One of the implemented items is Longo’s new position which he said helped created a central command structure for UVa’s police department, the emergency management department, threat assessments, and security cameras.
“What the audit did was remind us that there’s just a couple of things we haven’t done yet,” Longo said. “One of the things we haven’t done yet in the police department is create a strategic plan around community engagement. We’ve put a lieutenant in charge of community engagement and promoted a sergeant into that rank. We hired a student, a community engagement person. We hired a diversity officer. But we didn’t create the plan.”
Longo said the plan needs to be completed “yesterday” but he hopes it will be done by the end of the academic year.
Longo said another item waiting to happen is the transfer of fire safety responsibility and the Medical Center’s emergency management functions to his office.
The full results of the audit were not listed in the packet, and I have requested a copy. Members of the committee had the chance to ask questions. Thomas A. DePasquale is in his second term.
“Do you feel there’s a good implementation between us and the city now?” DePasquale asked. “There was almost no implementation between us and the city during the crisis. Where are we on that?”
“Mr. Chairman, I believe that in the last couple of years the communications between the police departments has been far more robust than it had been in two or three previous years,” Longo said. “Historically the communication has always been great between the city, the county, and the University across the governing bodies and the law enforcement agencies. That’s beginning to improve greatly.”
Longo pointed to the recent decision by Albemarle County to create a separate emergency management division within the Fire Rescue Department.
The University of Virginia Police Department currently has 19 people in queue to become officers, which Longo attributed to recent pay increases for officers.
“I think we’ve just dropped down below double digits,” Longo said. “It’s been a long, long time since we’ve been there.”