Last week, I co-hosted held a candidate forum with the Free Enterprise Forum for four of the five candidates in the Democratic primary race for three seats on the city Council. Dashad Cooper was unable to attend.
The four who were present took questions on housing, economic development, and the budget. They also were asked a question by me during the session:
“Charlottesville has contracted with an independent consultant in their city manager search,” I asked. “While the new city manager might be selected prior to the November election, what three skills do you believe are critical for the position of City Manager?”
To recap, Michael C. Rogers has served as interim city manager since January 2022 after Council opted to hire the Robert Bobb Group to provide managerial functions. This was after a series of high-profile departures including one city manager appointment who opted to not actually take the job.
The city is now working with the firm POLIHIRE to identify top candidates. (read the brochure)
Candidate Bob Fenwick said listening is one skill necessary for the next manager.
“If the city manager has a good handle on the citizens and what they’re going to bring to him, it makes things so much easier,” Fenwick said. “And I tell you I have heard some good things about Mr. Rogers.”
However, Fenwick said community members should be playing a role in who the next manager will be.
“We have to be comfortable with who will step into that role,” Fenwick said.
Councilor Michael Payne said the process is underway and he expects interviews to take place soon. He does not know who has applied, but said the new manager needs three qualities.
“One, it needs to be someone who has very thick skin who is not afraid of being out in the community working with organizations really proactively soliciting feedback from the community and being open to criticism over where the city government is getting it wrong and needs to change,” Payne said.
Payne said the second quality is a full knowledge of the nuts and bolts of how government operates.
“And third, I think someone who is willing to be creative in working with the community, nonprofits, organizations like our housing authority, to really get creative about what does it look like for city government to take a different kind of role in trying to build community wealth, tackle issues like our racial wealth gap [and] the level of inequality in our city,” Payne said.
Candidate Natalie Oschrin said she agreed with much of what Payne had to say and offered her own comments.
“I think what is also very important for the city manager is they should foster a culture within the city that makes the city an employer of choice so that folks want to work for the city and the standing gaps can get filled, and filling those gaps will help us achieve all of the goals that we have set out,” Oschrin said.
Oschrin said the city manager will set the tone for how Charlottesville moves forward.
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said with certainty that the decision on a city manager will be made much sooner than the November election.
“The current plan is to have that choice made by the end of May and hopefully to have that person here by July 1 or August 1 at any rate,” Snook said.
Snook said the first quality he is looking for is patience and an ability to restrain Council from making a decision too quickly.
“If you think about the times we’ve gotten sued over the last six or eight years, and there have been a lot of times when that happened, it was almost always been over a decision that thought that for whatever reason we needed to rush to,” Snook said.
Snook said he’s also looking for someone with experience and someone who understands the Council-manager form of government.
The next candidate forum in the race for Democratic nominations to City Council is tonight with an hour-long event sponsored by the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association beginning around 8:15 p.m. This is an event on Zoom that is open to a wider audience. (register here)
Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the May 17, 2023 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.