Nov 24, 2021 • 15M

November 24, 2021: Unite the Right organizers owe millions in damages; Former City Manager Richardson sues the city over disparagement clause

Plus: Albemarle County to revisit cell tower policy from 2000

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Sean Tubbs
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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Is there a name for the day before Thanksgiving? Feast’s Eve? Blackout Wednesday? Drinksgiving? Food Prepageddon? What about "I hope I didn't forget anything at the store because I'm not going back Day?” In any case, even though it is a holiday week, there’s still time for Charlottesville Community Engagement. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs. 

On today’s program:

  • A jury has found that the organizers of the Unite the Right rally guilty of a civil conspiracy and awarded damages, but did not reach a verdict on other claims 

  • Governor Northam and the Virginia Service Commission honor two area churches for their COVID testing work since the pandemic began 

  • Former City Manager Tarron Richardson is suing the city 

  • Albemarle County will revisit its 21 year old policy on cell tower placement

  • Albemarle says goodbye to long-time budget chief, and a Dean at the UVA School of Architecture takes a new job

Sines v. Kessler verdict 

After a month-long trial, a jury has awarded more than $25 million in damages to the plaintiffs of a civil lawsuit against organizers and participants of the Unite the Right Rally in August 2017. The jury in Sines v. Kessler held that plaintiffs proved their civil conspiracy case under Virginia law as well as their claim that the defendants engaged in racial, religious, or ethnic harassment. 

Under the conspiracy count, twelve defendants must pay $500,000 each in damages and five organizations must pay a million each. On the harassment count, five individuals must $250,000 each to two plaintiffs $250,000 in compensatory damages. 

However, the jury did not reach a verdict on a count claiming the defendants “engaged in a conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence in violation” of federal code. (42 U.S. Code § 1985 - Conspiracy to interfere with civil rights) They also deadlocked on a second count on the defendants failure to prevent the conspiracy. 

The jury also found that James F. Fields owes damages for an assault and battery claim to specific victims of his deliberate decision to drive into a crowd of people on 4th Street SE on August 12, 2017, as well as another count for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Fields is currently serving time for a criminal conviction on those charges.

Read the full verdict on Court Listener

A list of the defendants and how much they must pay in compensatory damages

Former City Manager sues Charlottesville

Another former Charlottesville official is seeking legal action against the City of Charlottesville. The Daily Progress reports that Dr. Tarron Richardson has filed a federal lawsuit against City Council and four individuals for entering into an agreement that prevented his ability to publicly critique the city after he left his position as City Manager in September 2020. 

“The First Amendment expressly forbids government bodies — including city councils — from engaging in viewpoint discrimination and retaliating against people based on the content of their speech,” reads the Nature of the Case section of the suit. 

Richardson wants a jury trial. The civil rights suit seeks damages as well as a declaration that a non-disparagement clause in his severance agreement is not enforceable. The suit also individually names City Councilors Heather Hill and Nikuyah Walker as well as City Attorney Lisa Robertson and former interim City Manager John Blair. 

The suit revisits Richardson’s tenure as city manager including his enactment of a policy to regulate use of city-issued credit cards and claims some Councilors sought to usurp his authority. 

“Because of ridiculous demands and the ongoing chicanery and obstructionism from Walker and Hill that would eventually prevent him from adequately performing his job, Dr. Richardson was constructively terminated,” the suit continues. 

The narrative claims that Councilors did not hold up their end of the severance agreement and disparaged him in social media posts and one interview that was later removed from a local media outlet. This past January, Dr. Richardson asked to publish an op-ed in the Daily Progress on race-relations in Charlottesville, but Robertson said the city would keep open the option of suing to compel Richardson to return the severance payment of $205,000. 

In all, the suit has four counts including violation of the First Amendment and breach of contract. He’s represented by the Haley Law Firm of Greenville, South Carolina, Keith B. French Law of Pearland, Texas, and Brand Law of Dallas. 

Earlier this month, former Police Chief RaShall Brackney announced she was filing a wrongful termination claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That’s the first step toward a potential lawsuit. 

After Richardson left, Council appointed John Blair to serve as interim city manager before naming Chip Boyles this past January. Boyles resigned in October, six weeks after firing Brackney. Marc E. Woolley will become the next interim city manager on December 1. 

(view the suit on Court Listener)

Richmond HUD award

The agency that owns and operates public housing in Richmond has been awarded a planning grant for the revitalization of a property in Historic Jackson Word. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $450,000 to the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority for revitalization of Gilpin Court as part of HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative

“Known as “the Harlem of the South," the neighborhood’s once vibrant main street was filled with thriving theaters, stores, and medical practices,” reads a description in a HUD press release. “The historical heart of the neighborhood was all but destroyed by its bifurcation for the construction of Interstate 95/64.” 

The intent is for the process to be led by residents, a process already underway at the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. The CRHA had applied for a planning grant in 2010 but was not selected. The agency has not applied since. (list of 2010 applicants)

Outgoing budget chief 

The government of Albemarle County is in transition with many long-time staffers having already retired or about to do so. One of them is Lori Allshouse, who served for many years leading up the county’s budget preparation each year. Nelsie Birch joined Albemarle’s executive leadership in the summer of 2020 as Chief Financial Officer and had this to say about Allshouse at the Board of Supervisors meeting on November 17, 2020.

“She’s been the face of all things budget, all things capital projects, capital planning, five-year financial planning, financial policies,” Birch said.  

Birch thanked Allshouse for preparing her and the rest of the staff for all of the various budget challenges that have come during the past two years. 

Allshouse has worked for the county since 2000. Her last job title was Assistant Chief Financial Officer for Policy and Partnerships in the finance and budget department. Her last presentation dealt with cost allocations for partner organizations in next fiscal year. 

You’re reading Charlottesville Community Engagement and it’s time now for another subscriber-supported Public Service Announcement. Since the pandemic began, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society has been offering virtual presentations on all manner of topics. This Sunday at 4 p.m. they’ll present an important topic to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. 

The ACHS is working on a Race and Sports initiative to tell the story of the “Desegregation of Central Virginia Public High School Athletics.” Dr. Shelly Murphy and other participants will update the Richmond groups on local efforts to collect stories from those who lived through the transition away from segregated schools, when institutions such as Jackson Burley High School vanished. This is part of the Sunday Sit-In series put on by the Richmond groups. Register online for the event, which begins at 4 p.m. this Sunday. (register)

A-School move

An associate dean at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture is moving on to take a position at Georgia Tech. Ellen Bassett will become the Chair of the College of Design at the Atlanta-based university. Bassett is currently the associate dean for research at the School of Architecture. She’s also served as the chair of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning and the director of the School of Architecture’s Real Estate Design and Development.


Service awards

Two Charlottesville-area churches are among the recipients of Governor Ralph Northam’s Volunteerism and Community Service Awards for 2021. Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church and Church of the Incarnation have been honored as Outstanding Faith-Based Organizations for their offering of free COVID-19 testing in their respective neighborhoods.

“Located within highly populated neighborhoods, the majority of those tested have been members of the community’s most vulnerable populations who would otherwise be unable to receive free, consistent, and timely testing,” reads the press release for the awards

Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church is located in the city’s Ridge Street neighborhood and the Church of Incarnation is located off of Hillsdale Drive in Albemarle County. 

Albemarle wireless

Albemarle County will review the rules by which cell towers are regulated. A previous Board of Supervisors adopted a policy in December 2000 which among other things requires tall towers to be as invisible to the eye as possible. Several supervisors since then have asked for the policy to be revisited to increase the availability of voice and data service throughout the county. The Board has authorized $100,000 for a study, and Development Process Manager Bill Fritz checked in elected officials on November 17. (2000 Wireless Policy)

“Staff wants to ensure that we put out a [request for proposals] that meets the Board’s expectations for the scope of work in the review of these regulations,” Fritz said. “The policy has never been revisited and changes in the regulations have been largely limited to keep up with changing federal regulations, court decisions, and changes in technology.” 

A summary of what’s in Albemarle’s wireless policy (read the whole thing)

Fritz said the consultant would be charged with taking potential changes through a community engagement process eventually resulting in a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors. Changes might include elimination of some permits having to go to the Board for approval.

“It could include revisions to the ordinance to eliminate the need for special exceptions that have been routinely approved,” Fritz said. “It could include allowance of facilities at greater height or lesser design standard in areas of poor coverage. These are just some ideas.”

Supervisor Diantha McKeel has been asking for the policy to be revisited for many years. She suggested going right to making changes in the county code. 

“The policy is so old that to be honest with you I would just start over with an ordinance,” McKeel said. “And let’s get to the meat of it and let’s not worry about this old outdated policy.” 

McKeel said the new policy needed to put more emphasis on what she said were the positive benefits of more cell towers, including public safety. 

Supervisor Ann Mallek said there are other ways to provide more voice and data service that would not require a wholesale change to the policy. 

“This is taking the mantra of the sales people that this is the way to achieve broadband,” Mallek said. “The county has made a dedicated investment and will continue to make a dedicated investment that broadband is delivered through fiber.” 

Supervisor Donna Price said the county should explore any methods to expand data service. 

“We need to update our policy and acknowledge the changes in technology as well as the needs, not the desires, but the needs for connectivity through all of the mechanisms that are available,” Price said. 

The request for proposals has not yet been issued.


Thanks to Becky Calvert and Jennie More for their assistance in coming up with names for the day. 

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