Charlottesville City Council explains decision to whittle replacement member applicants to six

The four remaining members of Charlottesville City Council have privately selected a shortlist of six people who will move forward to a public hearing Monday to be selected as a replacement for former Councilor Sena Magill.  

They are: 

  • Alex Bryant, former executive director of the Ix Park and former executive director of the Tom Tom Foundation (application)
  • Former City Councilor Kathy Galvin (application
  • Current School Board member Lisa Larson-Torres (application)
  • Twenty-eight year Charlottesville resident Natalie Oschrin (application)
  • Former School Board member Leah Puryear (application)
  • Former City Councilor Kristin Szakos. (application)

The press release sent out Thursday morning did not give any indication about how these six were selected. Previous information had not indicated there would be a short-list, so I reached out to all of the Councilors and all of the eliminated candidates to learn more. 

“It was a very fluid process,” said Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade in an email to me Thursday morning. 

In his response, Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said he felt interviewing all 20 applicants would have taken ten hours and over three hours for the public hearing. He said he was concerned the work wouldn’t be done in time for a deadline of February 21. Otherwise, a Charlottesville Circuit Court judge would make the selection. 

“So I talked to other Councilors and decided to ask everyone to give me their top 5 or 6 choices, and I’d see who the top 5 or 6 would be,” Snook said in an email. 

Councilor Michael Payne confirmed this was the process.

“Those named the most frequently became the shortlist of top candidates, who following the public hearing we’ll schedule more extensive interviews with,” Payne said in an email sent Thursday afternoon. 

Payne said he was grateful to have had so many candidates to select from.

“Unfortunately with so many candidates, at some point Council would have to narrow who was being seriously considered by a majority of Council,” Payne said. “This doesn’t reflect on anybody’s experience, good qualities, or commitment to the community.”

Pinkston’s recollection of the process used also matches up.

“There was a remarkable amount of consensus among us,” Pinkston said.

What about the applicants? 

I also reached out to all of the candidates and got several responses. 

One candidate who did have land use experience was not chosen and said he was disappointed to have not made the cut. John Santoski was on the Planning Commission when it began work on the Comprehensive Plan in early 2017. 

“I always thought I was a reasonable and thoughtful School Board member and Planning Commissioner and I know we (the planning commission) put in an enormous amount of work on the development of the comp plan that was taken out of grasp at the eleventh hour and handed off to consultants,” Santoski said. “It was a good plan and cost a heckuva lot less than the current plan.” 

Santoski said he is not likely to seek a full term due to a large workload at his job at the Arc of the Piedmont. 

Santoski said he understood the decision,

Another applicant said she was concerned that the process appeared to have changed after the full list was announced.

“Once the 20 were posted, there was a sudden change to that process, essentially shutting down input from the Charlottesville voting community on not only these candidates for the appointment, but also the major issues about to be voted on by the Council,” said Carla Manno.

Manno said that deprived the opportunity for community members to communicate to the Council views on the budget and the zoning rewrite.

Two others said they understood the need to be a short-list.

“They had so many experienced and qualified applicants, they surely had to whittle down the list,” said Kate Bennis, who said she would not seek the office through the electoral path. She added she appreciated the opportunity to apply. 

“It gave me the opportunity to reconnect with the city government, deepen my understanding of the current issues, reach out to many in our community to get their expertise and advice on processes from how the city runs, to climate policy, to zoning ordinance,” Bennis said. 

Margaret Gardiner said she was surprised that there was a short-list after being instructed to sign up for the February 6 public hearing. 

“On the other hand, there are several exceptional women running for the position, so I’m not surprised I’m not in the running,” Gardiner said. 

Gardiner said she was not likely to run for office given the “different level of commitment” but said she has learned a lot from this experience. 

Sarah Moniz said she won’t be running for Council in the fall either. She said she appreciated being told by Mayor Snook of her elimination before it became public. 

“I would have appreciated the chance to speak at Monday’s Council meeting before any decision was made, but I do understand that they probably received more applicants than they were anticipating, and saw a need to narrow down the list,” Moniz said. 

Chris Valtim also said he recognized the need for cuts to have been made, but said he disappointed. He said he would consider a run in the future but wants to learn more about the existing Council. 

“I have an affordable housing proposal that I was hoping to present to the City Council next week,” Valtim said in an email. “At some point, maybe the next public meeting, I hope to present it.”

One applicant who has served on both the Police Civilian Oversight Board and the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority said she was very disappointed that a proper process was not followed.

“It went too fast and with short notice,” said Rosia Parker. ” “I also feel everyone should of been interviewed. That is the purpose of filing out an application.”

In her application, Parker said she did not have the resources to run for office, but said in an email to me that she would consider a run for the office if she would get her community to rally around a candidacy.

“I still feel there is no trust, transparency,or respect from the local government of Charlottesville,” Parker continued. “The City Council and The City Manager do whatever they feel like doing with the abusive power that [has} been Entrusted to them.”

Take a look at the law yourself at this link

State code leaves a lot of latitude to elected bodies to make decisions like this one. 

“There is no law that governs how Council makes this decision, and I had earlier asked the City Attorney’s Office and had been told that we could have essentially whatever process we want to,” Snook said. 

Snook said people who did not get selected can speak during Community Matters. 

Pinkston said time is of the essence.

“We tried to find a process that reflected our sense of who would be most likely to be a consensus candidate, without unnecessarily prolonging the effort,” Pinkston said.

I asked all of the Councilors what they sought in a replacement for Magill. 

“I was looking for candidates that would have experience with budgets willing to work with Council and others to move the city forward,” Wade responded. 

Snook said he is looking for someone with zoning experience. 

“I think that is the most important issue that Council faces in the next 10 months,” Snook said. “Also, I would prefer a woman.  I don’t think it is a good idea to have an all-male City Council.  Neither of these preferences is an absolute, though.”

Payne said he thinks it is critical to find someone who embodies the same principles that former Councilor Magill brought to the position. 

“I think it’s critical to appoint someone who, as much as possible, shares the perspective Sena brought to city council: a progressive vision of politics with a focus on affordable housing, homelessness, social services, and climate change,” Payne said.  

Pinkston said he feels it is important to select someone who handle the position technically, can work as a colleague, and who has “had “demonstrated a commitment to Charlottesville’s civic life.”

What happened last time in 1967 

Look to other media outlets for stories on this, too. 

A Council appointment like this hasn’t happened in over 55 years. 

According to the minutes of the June 19, 1967 Council meeting, the four Councilors present met to select a replacement for Robert S. Johnson, who resigned in his first year of office. Three weeks after his May 29 resignation letter, Council opened up the floor for nominations. Councilor Bernard Haggerty nominated Planning Commission Chair Bill Rinehart to fill out the rest of the term. 

Councilor Burkett Rennolds nominated five other candidates but there was only a roll call vote on Rinehart, who won on a 3 to 0 vote with Councilor Dutch Vogt abstaining/

A clip from the minutes of the June 19, 1967 Charlottesville City Council meeting

Publisher’s note: This is the third version of this story. The first was to Charlottesville Community Engagement yesterday afternoonI added more information to a piece that ran in the Fifth District Community Engagement feed. This is the third and final update.

I will update it one more time when I post it to Information Charlottesville as I expect at least one more response to come in. This newsletter will be back again Sunday with a look at the many meetings on the docket in Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District.

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