May 2, 2023: Charlottesville City Council returns to in-person meetings; More transportation projects in the city could be canceled
Plus: A new City Attorney may soon be hired
I became a writer to try to understand what was going on in my head and to process feelings that no one around me seemed to want to hear about. May 2 is Childhood Depression Awareness Day, and I’m reminded of how confusing the world seemed to be when I was younger and how much I retreated from everything. 2023 seems to be more intimidating to young people than 1983 was to me, and I’m hopeful that somehow we can all figure out how to treat each other with respect. I’m Sean Tubbs, hoping you’ll pick up a pen and start writing out your life, too.
On today’s program:
Charlottesville City Council returns to in-person meetings
The city may soon have a new City Attorney
Several updates from interim Charlottesville City Manager Michael C. Rogers including attempts to collaborate with Albemarle County on parks projects and other areas of mutual interest
Charlottesville votes to allocate another $1.7 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds
First shout-out: Piedmont Master Gardeners’ Plant Sale is this Saturday
In today’s first subscriber-supported shout-out: At long last, the Piedmont Master Gardeners’ annual plant sale takes place this upcoming Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Albemarle Square Shopping Center. On offer are thousands of annuals, perennials, shrubs, vegetables, fruit-bearing plants, herbs and houseplants, including a large selection of native plants. Master Gardeners will be on hand to help customers choose the right plant for their home landscapes and growing conditions.
In addition to plants, shoppers can purchase garden implements, yard ornaments and other “Green Elephants” and can drop off tools for sharpening by an expert. The sale will also feature a Help Desk for gardening questions, as well as displays and information tables on a variety of topics, including conservation landscaping, soil and composting, trees and shrubs, pest management and much more.
Visit piedmontmastergardeners.org for more information!
Charlottesville City Council returns to in-person meetings
The May 1, 2023 meeting of the Charlottesville City Council had something that’s not been really audible in a long time in City Council Chambers - applause.
“It is really great to have people back in this room,” said Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook. “We have missed that for the last three years and so glad we’ve got a good crowd here.”
The last “normal” City Council meeting was held on March 2, 2020. The next one on March 16, 2020 was quite different with an in-person meeting that featured the first attempts of trying to allow public comment online. That was the subject of the second episode of a podcast I did at the time called the Charlottesville Quarantine Report. Go back and listen!
Charlottesville moving forward to hire city attorney
Prospective Communications Director turns down job
Charlottesville has been without an in-house City Attorney since Lisa Robertson abruptly resigned at the end of 2022. The city has contracted with two separate law firms to provide legal advice, but that could come to an end soon according to Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers.
“We will conclude the interviews for City Attorney this week and my plan is to come to you for interviews in the intervening weeks so that you can make a decision at the next Council meeting,” Rogers said.
Whoever is hired will direct legal strategy for any number of pending lawsuits against the city. Since the beginning of the year, the firm Sands Anderson has handled general government business and the firm Pandak & Taves has handled land use issues.
Rogers also announced that the search for a new fire chief will soon begin. The former chief, Hezedean Smith, left the position last fall to return to a similar job in Polk County, Florida. Deputy Chief Michael Thomas was elevated to the position on an interim basis.
“Chief Thomas has done an excellent job but I think it’s a good practice to have an open process,” Rogers said. “I’m sure that he will apply and will be a very competitive candidate.”
There’s also a written report from Rogers with new information.
The search for a director of communications continues to replace Brian Wheeler who left the job in late 2021.
“The Candidate that was our choice ultimately could not take the job, so we are having to repost for this critical position a third time,” reads the report.
The Office of Human Rights has hired Saad Khalifa as an intake specialist. This is part of an expansion of the office paid for initially by funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
The Office of Human Rights fielded 800 calls between January 1 and April 19, and 68 percent were not related to a complaint about discrimination. The office currently has seven open complaints and four new complaints pending assessment.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wants further tweaks to the city’s Human Rights Ordinance before they can certify the Office of Human Rights for the Fair Housing Assistance Program. OHR staff also worked to assist the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority with helping people complete applications for the open window for the waiting list last month.
Albemarle and Charlottesville top officials will meet in June at a “peer exchange session” at which they will talk about coordination on Court Operations, public transit, mutual aid for fire services, and projects at Azalea Park and Darden Towe.
In addition, Albemarle and Charlottesville are negotiating a new mutual aid agreement and the city is working with the University of Virginia to renew a Fire Services Agreement.
The city is considering further cancellations of funded transportation projects to help with the city’s inability to move projects to construction. Last year Council canceled the West Main Streetscape and another Smart Scale project. What projects will be next to get the boot? How much progress has been made since last May when the “reboot” was first discussed? (read more in my May 29, 2022 story)
Charlottesville Area Transit has hired Kimley Horn to conduct a Transit Strategic Plan required by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. This is separate from the Transit Vision Plan, the ongoing governance study, the microtransit project for Albemarle, as well as the route changes discussed in 2021 but never implemented due to a lack of drivers. The TSP is to be completed by December 31, 2023.
The city has hired a housing program manager to implement the city’s housing policies. That position has been vacant since the summer of 2020.
Second shout-out: eBike Lending Library
In today’s second subscriber supported shout-out, one Patreon supporter wants you to know that Charlottesville now has an eBike Lending Library! E-bikes are a great way to get around the community but there are many brands and styles to choose from. Because many e-bikes are sold online, it can be a challenge to try an e-bike before buying one.
The Charlottesville E-bike Lending Library is a free, not-for-profit service working to expand access to e-bikes in the area. They have a small collection of e-bikes that are loaned out to community members for up to a week, for free. You can experience your daily commute, go grocery shopping, or even bike your kids to school, and decide whether e-bikes are right for you. Check out this service at
Council agrees to use $1.375M in ARPA funds to upgrade human resources software
The American Rescue Plan Act was the second federal response to the economic calamity caused by the shutdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 in 2020. Charlottesville was awarded a total of $19.6 million and Council was asked Monday to approve three allocations totalling $1,710,854.
$1,375,854 for Human Resources to purchase the “Success Factor HRIS system” which will be used to manage collective bargaining in the city.
$240,000 to update the city’s Americans with Disabilities Act transition plan.
$95,000 for the Charlottesville Fire Department, which includes $30,000 for public safety messaging materials, $5,000 for “Stop the Bleed” kits, and $60,000 for ballistic vests.
“If you adopt or if you approve the resolution of all of these transfers, that will leave us without about $2 million left in our ARP funds,” said Finance Director Chris Cullinan. “That’s roughly ten percent of our original allotment.”
Cullinan said all ARPA spending must be completed by the end of 2026.
Councilor Michael Payne wanted to know why the human resources project made the cut for funding. Cullinan said the existing system is out of date.
“Our Human Resources Department quite frankly is in need of an information system to manage all of the city’s human resources information,” Cullinan said. “Employee information, compensation, learning management, training, all of those things. With collective bargaining on the horizon there’s a greater need to make sure we can centrally collect that information, manage it, be able to understand all of the different inputs and outputs resulting from that.”
Cullinan said this software will interact with the city’s existing financial software and is eligible for funding through ARPA. The first round of collective bargaining will take place sometime this year.
“This is one of our highest management priorities,” said interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers. “We’ve got to provide support to strengthen our human resources department.”
Rogers said the software is part of the modernization of the city’s processes.
Payne said he would have liked to have seen more options than the ones recommended by staff.
“No malice towards any of the recommendations which are all very reasonable but we never got to see what other possible allocations were left on the table,” Payne said.
Payne would have liked to have seen options related to homelessness and implementing the climate action plan. He was the lone vote against the allocations, which passed 4 to 1.
Further usage of the ARPA funds will be discussed at the Council’s upcoming strategic retreat.
This Week in City Government with Sean Tubbs, Courteney Stuart, WINA, May 1, 2023
The city and county are facing another summer of pool and beach closures because they don’t have enough lifeguards, Tamica Jean-Charles, May 2, 2023
End notes for #529:
When will the next edition of this newsletter be released? Good question. The schedule for the next two weeks are a bit murky as an international visitor will be with me and I must devote my time accordingly. I’m also in need of a small break so I can think about what I need to get this newsletter up to a seven-day-a-week effort. There’s information that does not seem to get reported otherwise.
And that’s why people are stepping up with paid subscriptions. I’ve proven that I am reliable, accurate, dedicated. I would argue I’m not as thorough as I would like because there are so many stories waiting to be written. Thank you for my paid Substack and Patreon subscribers for making it happen.
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A second month for free
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Thanks to Wraki for incidental music in the podcast, which you can’t hear unless you listen to it. Check out the work on BandCamp!