The community is calling for more accountability at Charlottesville City Hall, and people are sparking a conversation about changing city leadership.
City Councilor Wes Bellamy is calling on the city to explore a government structure known as a “strong mayor” system, after a citizen brought the concept up at City Council's meeting on Monday, June 4.
Under this system, a mayor would be voted on by the public instead of decided upon by those on City Council.
Bellamy is very much in favor of exploring a move to mimic Richmond's government structure - the only city in the commonwealth under a strong mayor system - but Delegate David Toscano is hesitant.
“I often wonder, what makes Richmond better than Charlottesville? I don’t think that they are, and I don’t believe that they should be the only city in which they have this form of government,” says Bellamy. “Why can’t we do the same?”
Bellamy says community members are questioning why the city’s mayor does not hold executive power.
“It's a style of government that people in our community want, and at the very minimum I think we need to have the discussion about it and have the community talk about it,” says Bellamy.
He says this change could lead to more transparency and accountability.
“If we truly want to move forward as a community and as a city in terms of doing things differently, we need to explore the strong mayor option,” says Bellamy.
However, Delegate Toscano – who was once the mayor of Charlottesville - remains apprehensive on the idea.
“I think this is something you just can’t do on the fly, you really have to think about it,” says Toscano.
Toscano, who’s the Virginia House’s minority leader, says a two-thirds vote of approval from the General Assembly is required to change the city's charter.
“The reason why a lot of these structures were set up, they were reactions to the big-time city mayors where there were levels of corruption and the politics used to ooze into the managerial functions of the city, and when the politics ooze into the managerial functions you get corruption,” says Toscano.
Toscano cautions against the change, saying that especially now with City Manager Maurice Jones heading out the door, it just does not make sense.
“I think it might be a bad time to make a structural change, because if you’re trying to recruit a city manager and that person doesn’t know what structure of government is going to look like a year from now, they might be less likely to be interested,” says Toscano.
Bellamy disagrees with this assessment.
“I think now it the best time,” says Bellamy. “I think Mr. Jones has done a good job in the service in which he’s provided to our community, but now I do think if we’re looking to move in a different direction, why do we have to do the same thing? Now is the opportunity for us to do something different.”
Both Bellamy and Toscano agree a lot of public input is needed before any decision moves forward.
At this point, three other councilors - Mike Signer, Kathy Galvin, and Heather Hill - say it’s something to discuss further.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker has yet to comment on the proposal.
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