One sign of a healthy economy is when local government adds new positions, and Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones has several in his proposed $179 million budget for fiscal year 2019, including 2.5 full-time positions to help city councilors with policy and communications.
That $225,000 allocation adds a new research and policy employee and gives City Council its own flack, as well as makes Clerk of Council Paige Rice’s part-time assistant a full-timer.
“They’re concerned,” says Jones. “They felt they needed more support on the research side and on issues coming from constituents.”
The communications person would work closely with new city spokesman Brian Wheeler, says Jones. At their January retreat, councilors discussed whether the spokesperson would speak for council as a whole or for individual councilors, which could certainly get dicey on issues upon which councilors don’t agree. Jones says they decided a spokesperson could speak for them after votes had been made.
The city had a media flap last summer when then-mayor Mike Signer in a leaked memo called out former spokesperson Miriam Dickler for not working with the crisis communications firm Powell/Tate that council hired to help with the August 12 Unite the Right rally—although the flap was more about the leaked memo than Dickler’s crisis communications skills.
Councilor Kathy Galvin did not respond to a request from C-VILLE Weekly, but she told the Daily Progress that she had some concerns about hiring a communications staffer and whether individual councilors might monopolize that person’s time and further divide City Council at a time it really needs a cohesive message.
She also said some councilors work up to 40 hours a week doing their own research on top of their regular jobs.
Other new hires in Jones’ budget include $72,000 for a minority business developer coordinator. That position would be housed in the economic development department, and would increase city procurement from small, women- and minority-owned businesses. The coordinator would “go out and help actively grow” and identify such vendors, says Jones.
UVA professor Walt Heinecke has called for the city to allocate $100,000 to hire an attorney in the Office of Human Rights to replace the one he says the city “pushed out” in 2015. Jones’ proposal is more modest: It budgets $38,000 to convert an existing position from part-time to full-time.
With the city’s $2 million skate park getting under way, the budget includes $116,000 for two full-time employees to support the park.
Not all city departments are hiring. Public works will save $282,000 by not filling five vacant positions—four maintenance and one auto mechanic. That comes at a time when the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville has called for more maintenance on the Downtown Mall. In a January letter to Jones and City Council, DBAC chair Joan Fenton pointed out that while the city budget had increased 17 percent over the past four years, spending on the mall’s maintenance had declined 20 percent.
Jones says those positions are currently vacant. “We think we can get by for a year and see how that’s going. If we need them, then we’ll come back to them.”
City staff will get a 3 percent cost of living increase, compared to their peers in the county, who are getting 2 percent.
And councilors themselves will get a $4,000 raise July 1, upping their salaries to $18,000 and the mayor’s to $20,000.