Take-Aways: the Week in Review

Police chief firing whydunit continues, FLUM in a nutshell, scraping streetscaping, a local legacy of weed, and more...

Contradictions continue to abound surrounding the firing of Charlottesville Police Chief ReShall Brackney. During a City Council meeting earlier this week Mayor Nikuyah Walker revealed she had secretly recorded conversations with City Manager Chip Boyles in August concerning a survey conducted by the local Police Benevolent Association that was critical of police department leadership, during which he said:

“This Wells guy [PBA president Michael Wells, an Albemarle County detective], all he has in his sights is the chief’s badge,” [City Manager Chip ] Boyles said in a recorded conversation with Mayor Walker in August. “He is living 24 hours a day seven days a week to try and get her fired. He can say all he wants to, I think he could care less about the officers. For him, it’s a mission.”

Ironically, Boyles would help Wells complete his mission by firing Brackney on September 1, following the release of an additional internal police department survey also critical of leadership, saying later in a Daily Progress op-ed that “these surveys revealed substantial concerns of trust and confidence in the leadership. I found these concerns troubling, especially when factoring in the known strained relationships across government, community, religious and regional stakeholder groups. These relationships are critically important; and when internal and external strife are present, it is imperative to act."

Later, in a Charlottesville Tomorrow story, Wells would make this rather disturbing comment, “the city manager when I met with him was not even aware of the [police department] survey. Frankly, people are scared of [Chief Brackney] because— and I believe [City Manager Chip Boyles] is scared of her because he’ll be called a racist because that’s her [modus operandi] because she’s a Black female and she makes it known on certain terms that if you don’t agree with her, you’re racist.” Oddly enough, Charlottesville Tomorrow had no follow-up questions concerning this or comments from anyone else about it.

Later, as reported by CT, Boyles said the "department was in chaos" and "because of the conversations he’d had [with stakeholders], he said he did not believe Brackney would be capable of working collaboratively with officers — and other community members — in the manner needed to fix the situation."

Meanwhile, Councilor Heather Hill said that "there were other reasons the chief got fired and the decision was not influenced by mr wells at all," as reported by Molly Conger, though Hill did not say what those other reasons were.

So, why was the department in chaos? Because Brackney couldn't work collaboratively with officers and community members? Or because Mike Wells of the PBA was on a "mission" to get Brackney fired and some officers were engaged in pretty disturbing behavior as revealed in the August 20 press release?

Remarkably, despite all this, officials haven’t offered any specific reasons, beyond the concerns of the surveys, about why Brackney was fired so abruptly. Although, recently, City Councilor Llyod Snook, who says he supports Brackney's firing, says he became concerned about officers leaving the force, even those whom Brackney "hand-picked," he said, adding that "even Black women officers were leaving."

However, officers leaving the force was apparently a greater problem when Brackney was hired. She told the Daily Progress in December 2018 that the department was experiencing a "mass exodus."

At the time, the CPD had 128 officers. Two years later, according to the CPD's 2020 annual report, the city had 121 officers. Not exactly a mass exodus.

As the Washington Post reported recently, predicting dire consequences, like officers "leaving in droves," are strategies police officers and their unions have used to lobby for greater resources and oppose reform efforts. "At least 35 state qualified-immunity bills have died in the past 18 months. The efforts failed amid multifaceted lobbying campaigns by police officers and their unions targeting legislators, many of whom feared public backlash if the dire predictions by police came true."

FLUM debate in a nutshell

The debate over the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) and the proposed re-zoning of Charlottesville neighborhoods is complicated and contentious, but it’s also marked by a fundamental difference of perspective and undertanding, which this captures. Source: twitter

West Main, Preston, likely to remain desolate urban treks

The long-considered West Main Streetscaping project, which has ballooned to an estimated $50 to 54 million, has gone from being in limbo earlier this year to being something officials are likely no longer willing to spend money on. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but it’s also sad, as streetscaping projects can have a transformative effect on our urban surroundings. For instance, I have always found it fascinating that the walking distance from Ridge/McIntire to the end of the DTM is the same as the walking distance from Ridge/McIntire to the Drewery J. Brown Bridge. Yet walking the mall feels like a casual stroll while walking that section of West Main feels like a trek.

The late UVA architecture professor Bill Lucy told me it was an optical illusion. Because the buildings on the DTM are so close together, the staggered arrangement of trees, the wide bricked walkway, and other design elements, a walk down the DTM feels shorter than it actually is.

Likewise, Preston Avenue from McIntire Road to the Dairy Market building isn't that much longer, but bad design elements - big trees in the median, narrow, treeless sidewalks not buffered from the street by either a planting strip or parked cars - make it a desolate urban walking trek.

Quote of the Week

“There have been times where I’ve found the police to be very helpful, [and] there have been times when things have gone horribly wrong. But I feel like when I’m in a crisis, I shouldn’t have to play Russian roulette with how they are going to show up.” - mental health advocate Myra Anderson on law enforcement's role in responding to mental health calls for service. You can also read more about this subject from The DTM.

A Family Business

C-Ville Weekly has a story about Matt Long's Charlottesville Cannabis Club on the Downtown Mall, along with a reprise of an even better story about his dad, Allen Long, that appeared in the very first issue of The Hook. "In the 1970s, Charlottesville native and Western Albemarle High School graduate Allen Long smuggled a million pounds of pot into the country. Allen flew rickety planes into the Colombian brush to pick up product. He nearly found himself on the wrong end of a Cuban-American smuggler’s gun. He made $25 million. He was the subject of a 2002 bestselling book, Smokescreen: A True Adventure, by Robert Sabbag."