Charlottesville Leaders Hold Closed Meeting to Discuss Aug. 12 Events
Charlottesville City Council spent hours behind closed doors Thursday hashing over what happened last weekend, and who should be held accountable for what went wrong.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Charlottesville City Council spent more than two hours behind closed doors Thursday hashing over what happened last weekend, and who should be held accountable for what went wrong.
"We talked about what was going on this summer, both July 8th and August 12th and that is where we're leaving it," said councilor Kathy Galvin, referencing the earlier rally held by the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan at Justice Park on July 8.
Mayor Mike Signer said City Council is trying to answer some hard questions that were brought to them during the overrun their public meeting on Monday, August 21.
"We definitely have to empathize and understand why people are so passionate and upset by how things transpired. We have to acknowledge that. We have to provide people with the opportunity to express themselves," said Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy after Thursday's meeting.
The private meeting also cast a shadow over the employment status of both the Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas and City Manager Maurice Jones. Signer posted a lengthy statement on his Facebook page before the meeting, which appeared at times to place blame on Thomas and Jones:
On Monday, we saw a public crying out for answers. In our City Manager form of government—a system that goes back to the Progressive era, and which every city and county in Virginia other than Richmond has—the Mayor and Council unfortunately cannot provide many of those answers. The Police Chief reports to the City Manager, who has total operational authority over operations like the ones on August 12. The Mayor and Council have no operational role.
Also included in Signer's statement is a claim that law enforcement intentionally kept him in the dark about police plans, and that Chief Thomas told the mayor to "stay out of my way":
During a briefing on the Thursday before August 12 with the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, and the City Manager, when I asked the Police Chief what I could do to be helpful during that day as Mayor, he answered, “Stay out of my way.” Despite repeated requests, I was not allowed into the City’s Command Center (run by City staff) and was instead asked to be in the Emergency Operations Center (where fire, rescue, and other stakeholders were monitoring the situation).
Signer and Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy later stressed to reporters that nobody was being fired Thursday. Some councilors said they were not prepared for the chaos that happened that Saturday, and that no single person is to blame.
"We're not looking to place blame, quote unquote, on anyone. I think it's important that Mayor Signer, myself, we all agree that there were some mistakes made and there's room for improvement on all fronts," Bellamy said.
Bellamy and Galvin both said "we're sorry," and that City Council needs to be held accountable for mistakes made that Saturday.
The mayor's Facebook post appeared to have caught members of City Council by surprise.
Signer offered no comment on his statement, but said, "I think we've all spoken in our own ways about our concerns, about what we want to have happen moving forward, so the most important thing going forward is that we, council, speaks with one voice, that we act collectively."
Councilors and those inside City Hall are wondering when that will actually happen based off the latest social media post from the mayor.
In his Facebook post, Signer also said there are serious questions about the city's handling of security, communications and governance.
City Manager Jones has appointed a community task force to review of all that happened in Charlottesville on August 12. The review is expected to up to three months.
The task force will run a town hall at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts center at Charlottesville High School from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, August 27.