Will the next search for City Manager be as transparent as the last?
"I’m very confident that the full city manager search process will involve significant public input...but there remains inherent uncertainty."
Former City Manager Tarron Richardson's hiring in 2019 was a historic departure from the way City Managers in Charlottesville were hired. Indeed, for over 70 years Charlottesville city managers had typically been white men chosen from the ranks of city government who went on to serve for years. For example, Gary O'Connell, who, in addition to being city manager for 15 years, was assistant city manager for 14 years under Cole Hendricks, who served for 25 years. Even our first African-American city manager, Maurice Jones, who was selected in 2011, had served as assistant city manager under O'Connell.
In the aftermath of the Unite the Right rally in 2017, the city took a different approach to hiring a city manager, contracting with an outside consulting firm to screen applicants, 37 in all, in a rigorous, year-long process that included stakeholder group meetings, a community survey, and public interviews of all three finalists. Sadly, Richardson resigned 16 months later after months of internal and public criticism, and little support from City Council, saying that "he was hampered by city officials who didn’t respect where their authority ended and his began.” A few months later, a consulting firm deemed our city government too dysfunctional to conduct a search for his replacement, and indeed since then, the city has been unable to hire a permanent City Manager.
Just recently, the city hired a new interim city manager, and the plan is to hire a permanent city manager later this year. But will the hiring process be as transparent as it was for our last permanent city manager?
"Dunno," says Mayor Lloyd Snook. "It will certainly be more public than the process for naming an Interim, but how much of the rest of the 2019 process we copy is not clear to me -- in part, because I didn't live through it and so I have no basis for assessing what was valuable and what was not."
As for Councilor Michael Payne, he hopes to have a "full, transparent public search process for the permanent city manager that will include extensive public input.” However, he admits there's no specific plan yet. And while Payne says he's had verbal commitments from his fellow Councilors about conducting such a search process, given that the City is at least six months away from that process occurring, he says "it's not possible to say wether it would follow the last full city manager search process in the exact same way."
"I trust the verbal commitments from other councilors," Payne says, "and I’m very confident that the full city manager search process will involve significant public input — and be very different from the process used to hire interim city managers — but there remains inherent uncertainty."
Councilors Juandiego Wade, Sena Magill, and Brian Pinkston did not respond before this article was posted.
From news accounts, five City Councilors saw a need for only 3.5 hours (1 hr and 10 minutes on average for each candidate) to interview the three candidates. Does it really seem that involving the public as it did with Richardson will produce any better results? Parents often spend more than 1 hr and 10 minutes to interview a potential child care provider. After serving two years on Council, it is clear to me that Snook, Magill and Payne are incapable of performing some of the most fundamental duties of Council and should step down to let a judge call for a special election to replace them. They have very unrealistic expectations for the current hire to accomplish in a six month term so it is clear they do not understand the job of City Manager.