January 5, 2021: Council suspends search for next Charlottesville City Manager
Today's Patreon-fueled shout-out is for the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign, an initiative that wants you to grow native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. Native plants provide habitat, food sources for wildlife, ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, and clean water. Start at the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page and tell them Lonnie Murray sent you!
On today’s show:
City Council suspends search for a new city manager
Three Georgia men have been arrested in connection with a shooting yesterday
Albemarle’s design review panel briefed on restoration of several “entrance corridors”
Details on two “community reads” currently being assisted by the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library
The Virginia Department of Health is reporting another 4,377 cases of COVID-19 today, and reports another 59 deaths. The percent positivity rating has risen to 16.2 percent, up from 12.2 percent a week ago. In the Blue Ridge Health District there are another 55 cases and one more death, bringing the total COVID-related fatalities in the district to 97 since March.
Yesterday the Blue Ridge Health District posted a video that showed the inside of the temporary structure that has been erected in the former KMart parking lot. The structure will be the location of mass vaccinations beginning tomorrow. Blue Ridge Health District spokeswoman Kathryn Goodman said in an email this morning Emergency Medical Services personnel, Region 10 residential facility staff and dialysis center staff will be the first to receive doses as part of Phase1A of the vaccine roll-out. Meanwhile, many health care workers at the University of Virginia and Sentara Martha Jefferson hospitals have received their second doses.
Charlottesville Police have arrested three men from Columbus, Georgia and charged them with several felonies related to a shooting on Emmet Street yesterday. According to a release, a 21-year-old resident of Fluvanna County was shot and is in stable condition at the University of Virginia Hospital. The suspects were apprehended by the Albemarle County Police Department and being held in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail pending a bond hearing.
Charlottesville City Council has suspended its search for a new city manager to replace Dr. Tarron Richardson, who resigned last September.
"Council has decided to pause working with a search firm for the City Manager recruitment and is evaluating next steps to stabilize the organization over the next 12-24 months,” reads a statement from Council sent to the Daily Progress yesterday by Councilor Heather Hill. “We anticipate providing additional information to the public in advance of our next regular meeting on January 19th."
In a Facebook post, City Councilor Lloyd Snook said the city had interviewed five search firms in October and selected Ralph Andersen and Associates in part because one of that company’s officials had made a statement that “it is going to take a special kind of person to want to come to Charlottesville at the moment.”
That official was Robert Burg, the company’s vice president. According to Snook, Burg had a virtual meeting with city staff on December 4. A story in the Daily Progress today based on a Freedom of Information Act request from Tanesha Hudson quotes an email from Police Chief RaShall Brackney in which she described Burg as “unprofessional.”
In his post, Snook said that Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker had disagreed with the hiring of Ralph Andersen and Associates. He quoted a December 10 email from Walker in which she said she would not meet one-on-one with Burg, but only as an entire Council. In the email, she said she did not think the firm was interested in hearing her point of view.
“I explained to you all in the summer that I believed that it would be extremely challenging to select a city manager with this current council and that I had hoped that things would have worked out with the previous city manager,” Walker said in that email.
Walker’s first four-year term is up later this year, as is the first four-year term of Councilor Heather Hill. In 2017, Walker was the first independent candidate elected to Council since 1948, and she announced last February she would seek another term.
In his Facebook post, Snook said Burg told that he had never seen this level of dysfunction before and that it would be difficult to hire a manager at this time.
“In my opinion, we will not be able to hire a permanent City Manager until after the next election, in November, 2021, and we should not try,” Snook wrote.
Council has now had four managers since the contract of Maurice Jones was not renewed in 2018. Deputy City Manager Mike Murphy served as interim until May 2019, when Richardson took over. City attorney John Blair is serving as interim manager. Council also recently suspended its strategic plan process. They are next scheduled to meet on January 12 in a joint meeting with the Planning Commission. That meeting will be on the Capital Improvement Program.
So far, no candidates for Council have filed paperwork, according to an email received this morning from City Registrar Melissa Morton.
Albemarle County might soon pursue scenic and historic designations for roadways that until recently have been under the jurisdiction of the Architectural Review Board. The ARB reviews projects within what are known as Entrance Corridors, but several roads such as Route 6 do not qualify because the Virginia Department of Transportation does not classify them as “arterial” roadways. Margaret Maliszewski is an Albemarle County Planning Manager.
“For four of the non-arterial streets, we are recommending that they be upgraded to arterial status,” Maliszewski said. “They include the full length of Avon Street Extended, Barracks Road from the city limits to Georgetown Road, Thomas Jefferson Parkway or Route 53 for the full length, and Richmond Road from Route 22 to the County.”
Maliszewski said staff is also recommending restoring a county-level scenic or historic designation for several other streets such as the rest of Barracks Road, Route 6 and Route 22. Other roads could become Scenic By-Ways, a designation granted by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The Board of Supervisors will be presented with the information at their meeting on February 3.
“If the Board wants us to start to consider the county scenic highway and the historic designation that is a multi-step process that would have public hearings and we’re not ready to jump into that yet. Really what we’re asking for in February is whether they want us to start pursuing it.”
ARB Member Frank Stoner said he wasn’t sure that all of the entrance corridor designations needed to be restored.
“Some of these corridors don’t really have any commercial development on them and I just wonder whether it’s worth the effort to pursue this designation,” Stoner said. “I don’t exactly know what’s involved once you get into VDOT.”
Stoner said he was most concerned about restoring ARB’s jurisdiction over Avon Street Extended, which he said was not a major arterial.
“And it’s a road that already has a fairly industrial character and so I worry that there aren’t many places anymore in the county where you can actually build something akin to a warehouse or a purely functional structure and Avon already serves that purpose,” Stoner said.
The year is still relatively new and there’s still time to pick up the habit of reading a book. If you’d like to read along with several hundred other area residents, the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library has the book for you as part of their Same Page program.
“So this year for 2021 our Same Page pick is Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson,” said Abby Cox, a reference librarian with JMRL. “This is the same book we picked for last year but Same Page takes place during March so as you can imagine, most of our book groups did not get to meet last year to discuss the book and we weren’t able to bring her in person because of the pandemic.”
Cox said Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir in poetry of Woodson’s childhood in South Carolina and New York in the late 60’s. And this year’s programs will also be virtual due to the continuing nature of the pandemic. JMRL has adapted.
“We have pivoted a lot of our programming to virtual programming so we’ve been having book groups meet through Zoom where people can also call into participate so that’s really how this is going to look for our Same Page programming,” Cox said.
Woodson will be on one of the sessions on March 17 at 7 p.m. as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book, which will be entirely virtual this year.
The “community read” is under the Same Page program, which is funded by the Friends of the Library group in partnership with the Virginia Festival of the Book. It used to be called the Big Read and was paid for through a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.
The University of Virginia’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are also doing a “community read” in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Their book for 2021 is Dr. King’s 1967 work Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community. A panel discussion for that will be held on January 25 at 6 p.m. (details)
“One of the things that is so great about a Community Read is it gives people to have conversations with neighbors or members of the community that they may not otherwise be in dialogue with,” Cox said.
Copies of both Brown Girl Dreaming and Where Do We Go From Here are available to be checked out from JMRL branches.
Are you going to read it? If so, let me know. Let’s have some dialog!
Today in meetings, the Charlottesville Tree Commission meets at 5 p.m. They’ll discuss their annual report to Council and hear a report from the city’s arborist. (agenda)