Council suspends remote participation for public comment

A recent blast of racist public comment at a Charlottesville City Council meeting has prompted the elected body to suspend the ability of anyone to make a comment without being present. The incident took place at Council’s meeting on October 2. 

Council has a practice of first taking public comment on matters on the consent agenda. That’s a list of items that are fairly routine and Council does not require a discussion. 

Here’s what the notice for the October 2, 2023 Community Matters period looked like. Contrast it with the one at the end of this story.

A man who called himself Jim Conley pretended to want to speak about pass-through funding for bulletproof vests. Instead he made a racist comment that drew gasps from the audience. You can take a listen in the podcast version or read more in the Daily Progress article by Jason Armesto about how this would continue throughout the meeting.  

On October 16, Council began their meeting with an announcement from Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook.

“We’ve decided in light of recent developments that we will temporarily suspend public comment by Zoom,” Snook said. 

(Left to right) City Manager Sam Sanders, City Councilor Brian Pinkston, Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade, Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook, City Councilor Michael Payne. Councilor Leah Puryear was absent.

Council voted 4-0 to suspend remote public comment with Councilor Leah Puryear absent from the meeting. 

The change was made immediately and Snook invited people to come to Council Chambers to make their comment. 

One person who did so was Don Gathers, a one-time candidate for City Council who cut his campaign short due to racial harassment. He disagreed with Council’s decision to cut off remote comment. (Former council candidate Gathers speaks out about racist threats that cut short his run, Charlotte Renee Woods, Charlottesville Tomorrow, August 13, 2020)

“Especially without any notification,” Gathers said. “As we have seen there are several people who wanted to speak tonight but they’ve had that possibility eliminated from them. I think that’s something that should have been brought to the citizens and should have been made aware before it was enacted.” 

Several people did end up going to Chambers to make their comments anyway.  Council’s next regular meeting is on November 6. There are two regularly scheduled work sessions on the Development Code, but public comment is not taken at those meetings.

There were significantly more words associated with the public comment section of Council’s agenda for October 16, 2023

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 October 17, 2023 edition.

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