Nov 17 • 18M

November 17, 2022: Council briefed on changes to Charlottesville's Human Rights Commission; UVA to seek external review on handling of shooting suspect

Plus: Former Charlottesville City Manager Cole Hendrix has died

 
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Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.
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For those individuals or entities who are time-shifted, why not celebrate today as Thanksgiving? The actual date for that holiday is one week from today, but there are those north of a certain parallel who have already celebrated. All I know is that it is November 17, 2022, and this is currently the latest installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a newsletter and podcast wrestling with the news, or at least calling informational missives by that name. Now, pass the imaginary gravy. 

On today’s program:

  • The University of Virginia will not hold a home football game this weekend as the football team and the rest of the community continue to grieve

  • A longtime Charlottesville City Manager has died  

  • A quick look at some land use projects in Albemarle County 

  • And the Charlottesville Human Rights Commission wants to change their ordinance to be able to investigate fair housing claims and more 

Sign up to get all of the information as often as its published. Signing up is free, but paid subscriptions get a few benefits.

First shout-out: Rivanna Conservation Alliance Round-Up wrap-up

In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out: The Rivanna Conservation Alliance is inviting members of the public to a meeting Thursday, November 17 to get input on a proposed riverbank restoration project at Riverview Park in the City of Charlottesville.

Riverview Park is the only public access to the Rivanna in Charlottesville and a heavily used and much-loved part of the community. Unfortunately, Riverview suffers from high rates of riverbank erosion and other environmental challenges that damage the Rivanna River and threaten the integrity of the Park and the community’s use and enjoyment of it. RCA and Ecosystem Services will provide updates on the project and to get your feedback. Visit rivannariver.org to learn more about the project. Register on Eventbrite for the event which will be held at the Woolen Mills Chapel Thursday at 7 p.m. 

UVA requests external review of previous handling of shooting suspect; cancels final home football game of the season

It has now been nearly four days since someone fired a gun to on several University of Virginia students who had just returned from a field trip to Washington D.C., killing three of them and injuring two others. Yesterday, suspect Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. had his first appearance in Albemarle County court. 

One of the injured has been through two surgeries and another has been released from the hospital. Classes resumed yesterday at the University of Virginia, but there will be no home football game this Saturday as the match against Coastal Carolina has been canceled. There’s no word yet on the final home game with Virginia Tech.

“Instead there will be a memorial service at 3:30 p.m. in [John Paul Jones Arena] to honor the lives of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr., and D’Sean Perry, as well as the two students injured in the shooting, Mike Hollins and Marlee Morgan,” said President Jim Ryan in a video message sent yesterday

Ryan thanked students for organizing a silent vigil Monday night. 

“You’ve been through an extraordinarily difficult experience including the loss of three students and the injuries to two others,” Ryan said. “But also a 12-hour ordeal of sheltering in place and the fear and uncertainty that attended each one of those hours, whether you are a student, faculty, staff, or a parent.”

The suspect had been flagged as a potential threat and Ryan said that there are more questions to be asked.

“The criminal investigation is underway and we have also inviting an external review with respect to the University’s interaction with the suspect and whether we did all we could to prevent or avoid this tragedy,” Ryan said.

President Ryan said that may take some time to complete. Several media accounts are reporting that the Virginia State Police will conduct that investigation.  

For more details on all of these stories, I recommend reading some other articles written by colleagues in journalism: 

Longtime Charlottesville City Manager dies 

A man who spent 25 years as the City Manager of Charlottesville has died. Cole Hendrix served from 1971 to 1996 and presided over the conversion of Main Street into the Downtown Mall

“During his tenure he provided stable, professional management and leadership, and mentored many young public administrators,” reads a message sent out Wednesday by the City of Charlottesville. “He and his wife Janet continued to be part of our community after his retirement.”

I spoke with Janet Hendrix in September at the studios of I Love Cville on Market Street. 

“He came from Kansas City, Missouri,” Janet Hendrix said. “He went to school at [Kansas University] and got his master’s in public administration.” 

Janet Hendrix said that Cole Hendrix worked a series of jobs in cities and towns across the United States before becoming assistant city manager in Kansas City.  That’s when he was offered the job in Charlottesville. 

“He was just 36 when he came,” Janet Hendrix said. “Just a pup.” 

Cole Hendrix

The area was a lot different fifty years ago.

“The old K-Mart was a dairy farm, or behind there was a dairy farm,” Hendrix said. 

Janet met Cole during his tenure as City Manager and said the workload for the position was a lot even back then.

“Cole would come home every night and he would sit in his chair and he would work every night, but he was home for dinner,” Janet Hendrix said. “Council meetings, sometimes he wasn’t home until 1 in the morning, and that’s just how it was.”

After retirement, Cole Hendrix went to work for the University of Virginia as an associate vice president.

“The last thing he did while he was at the University was he was the acting director of finance while they were doing a search for a new finance director,” Janet Hendrix said.

Cole Hendrix would also play a frequent role as fill-in manager for towns and counties across Virginia when they were looking for a permanent occupant. 

“He actually was hired to stay for a while in one in which they were getting a new sewer treatment place together and they really needed his expertise and background in doing that,” Janet Hendrix said. “He helped them with that. It’s been a great life.” 

Watch Janet Hendrix appear on the Jerry Miller Show with Delegate David Toscano:

Albemarle County land use: Riverside Village developer seeks reduction of required commerical space

There’s a lot happening in Albemarle County, and not everything rises to the level of a full news story. So, here’s a quick update on three things happening in land use in Albemarle:

  • The Trading Post gas station and convenience store at 3017 Monacan Trail has applied for a certificate of appropriateness for a new fuel canopy as well as new signage. Currently the store is now branded by a major company but the new sign will mark this as a BP station. (ARB202200097)                       

  • A property owner in the White Hall District is seeking a special use permit to bring an existing 73-unit manufactured home park on a nearly 15 acre parcel, and to add another 14 units. (SP202200029)

  • The developer of Riverside Village on Stony Point Road seeks to amend an application plan and code of development for a prior rezoning to reduce the minimum amount of commercial required from 8,000 square feet. That space is currently vacant and the developer wants to convert the space to residential. (ZMA202200010

More on those land use applications in the future. Follow the Week Ahead on Sundays as well as this newsletter for more if there’s a story to be told. 

Materials submitted as part of the Trading Post’s rebranding 

Second shout-out: JMRL to hold Food for Fines drive

In this second subscriber-supported shout-out: Be a hunger hero! Bring an item to the Front Desk of any JMRL location during business hours between now and November 19 and receive $1 off overdue fines and late renewal fines for each donated item. Some of the most needed items are:

  • Canned soups, stews and chili - low sodium

  • Canned veggies - low sodium

  • Cereal - low sugar, whole grain

  • Peanut or almond butter - low sugar

  • Spaghetti sauce - low sugar

Donations from most branches will go to the Blue Ridge Food Bank, though those in Louisa County will go to the Louisa County Resource Council. 

City Council to vote on expansion of powers for Charlottesville Human Rights Commission

The Charlottesville Human Rights Commission meets tonight ten days after City Council held the first reading of a proposed change to the ordinance that would expand their ability to investigate discrimination claims. 

“It will just give us a little more teeth to investigate and make judgments against Fair Housing law violations in the city,” said City Councilor Michael Payne said. 

Charlottesville City Council voted 3-1 on May 20, 2013 to create the Human Rights Commission, with Mayor Satyendra Huja abstaining at the time. The Commission was an outcome of a city initiative called the Dialogue on Race.  Since then, the Human Rights Office has been through two directors and is currently led by Todd Niemeier. 

Page one of the monthly report for the Office of Human Rights in the packet for tonight’s Human Rights Commission meeting

Council was briefed on potential changes to the Human Rights ordinance that could expand the powers of the Human Rights Commission. 

City Councilors had already had the opportunity to ask Niemeier questions through what city staff refer to as “2-2-1” meetings where elected officials get briefings without forming a quorum required that would trigger Virginia’s public meeting laws. 

“During our 2-2-1’s, I heard some basic questions about what the ordinance was, what is the function of the Commission and the Office of Human Rights, especially maybe just reiterating that for the public as well,” Neimeier said. 

The Commission is seeking many changes to the ordinance to give them more power to investigate claims of discrimination. 

“The contents of the ordinance are based on state and federal human and civil rights law,” Neimeier said. “And what the ordinance does is that it provides processes for us to address unlawful discrimination within the city.”

The Human Rights Office is within the City Manager’s office and has three main tasks. One is to receive phone calls, emails, text messages, and walk-in visitors from community members who have claims. Another is to do outreach to make sure people know the office can do.

“In addition we do education and awareness around issues of discrimination,” Neimeier said. 

Another portion of the Human Rights Office report for tonight’s meeting (page 14 of the packet)

The third role is to support the Human Rights Commission, which is set up to hear appeals if staff has determined a complaint is not valid. The Commission’s powers are fairly limited.

“They can either recommend that they go back to mediation or they can recommend to the city attorney that a civil action be filed on behalf of the aggrieved party,” Neimeier said. “But they can only recommend that. They can’t grant any relief. They can’t grant monetary relief, injunctive relief. None of that. That’s not within the power of the Commission.”

Now the Commission wants to change the ordinance in part to expand their investigative reach. 

“We added language to make the ordinance substantially equivalent to federal Fair Housing law,” Neimeier said.

That would allow the Office of Human Rights to be able to enter into a Fair Housing Assistance Program workshare with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That will bring complaints into the Charlottesville office that may have originated elsewhere. 

“So that’s an additional responsibility but the federal Fair Housing Office will support us by providing training and guidance, funds for capacity building when we first start out in that work share agreement, and we also get reimbursement for handling complaints of discrimination and those reimbursement rates vary depending on how the complaint is resolved,” Neimeier said. 

That will also allow the Office of Human Rights to enter into conciliation discussions as a third party directly involved with cases. The bar to making a finding also will change. 

“The standard changes from probable cause and above to reasonable cause because that’s how federal law refers to the determinations in a case,” Neimeier said.

Under this proposed change, if staff believed there is no reasonable cause for an alleged violation, the Commission could hear the appeal and they could make a determination. Under the proposed change, the office can issue a charge against a violator. 

“Once a charge is issued, it’s basically a description of the violation and it’s a statement that a civil action will be filed by, in this case, the City Attorney’s office on behalf of the aggrieved person,” Neimeier said. 

Another portion of the Human Rights Office report for tonight’s meeting (page 14 of the packet)

Neimeier repeated that he has had conversations with Councilors about these in private meetings. Once the ordinance is adopted, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will review the city’s application. 

City Councilor Michael Payne said the last City Council had directed the Human Rights Commission to make these changes. He supports them.

“It will just give us a little more teeth to investigate and make judgments against Fair Housing law violations in the city,” Payne said.

Payne also wanted to know what the budgetary needs would be to add positions to deal with an expanded workload. The city has already committed one-time money from the American Rescue Plan Act for one new position.

“That will allow us to hire an intake counselor as well as an investigator,” Neimeier said. “Right now we are a two-person office.” 

That will also increase the ongoing budget heading into the future when the federal funding runs out. Niemier said he is working now to get a job description for the intake position. He said the federal workshare program will increase the workload. 

Mayor Lloyd Snook said the ordinance needed to clearly outline the responsibilities for landlords or others who would be potentially under investigation. 

“The part that most needs to be written as a fourth or fifth grade level is the part that says what you can’t do,” Snook said. 

Snook said he was able to ask around 20 questions during his 2-2-1 with Neimeier.  He also urged caution in proceeding too quickly without doing due diligence. 

“Most of the time when we have made hasty decisions, when we have done something that we didn’t fully vet, fully think through, fully edit, we’ve been dissatisfied with the results,” Snook said. 

After more discussion, Snook suggested no vote be taken at the meeting. 

“Having said all of that, anybody else have anything else they want to say or should we basically table this until the 21st and take it back up then with whatever new drafts or anything else we may come up with,” Snook said. 

Yet, the item is listed on the agenda for Council’s meeting for a second reading, and on the consent agenda. I have a question out to the city about that. 

In the meantime, the City Human Rights Commission meets tonight at 6:30 p.m. The packet includes recent minutes as well as a report for November. From this we learn that the Human Rights Office has received six complaint this year for housing discrimination in Charlottesville and two in Albemarle. (download the meeting packet)

Another table from the November report of the Office of Human Rights that lists some of the transactions conducted by staff (Report begins on page 14 of the packet)

Reading material you may find of interest:

Departing comments for episode #460

We are a week away from Thanksgiving, and for the next week and a half I will be producing fewer newsletters. I don’t know my exact schedule at the moment, but I am going to take advantage of the downtime. There’s a lot to rest up for in the future. 

In the meantime, thank you to  all of the subscribers, paid and unpaid. I’m really glad to be able to write and produce this newsletter and podcast as often as I can, and I’m grateful to all who are following along. Extra thanks to the roughly one in four who have stepped up to support the work, either through a paid Substack subscription or by becoming a Patreon supporter

If you do support through Substack, Ting will match your initial payment. This is an extra level of support that really comes in handy as I contemplate what the future may look like. I believe this work is important to do, and one in four of you are supporting me directly. 

And even if you don’t sign up for a paid subscription to this newsletter, Ting wants your business, and if you sign up through a link in the newsletter you will get free installation, a $75 gift card to the Downtown Mall, and a second month for free. Just enter the promo code COMMUNITY.

Now, onto the next one! Please share with people you think they might be interested. Whether you’re one of the one of the four, or one of three in four, you are all important to me. Thanks for reading!