Charlottesville civics 101
At last week’s tumultuous City Council meeting, many citizens asked questions that suggest Charlottesville’s form of government is not well understood. Here are a few basics.
- City Council: Five elected members choose a mayor and vice-mayor. The mayor is one among equals who represents the city at ribbon cuttings and who sets the agenda for City Council meetings.
- Council-manager form of government: City Council hires a city manager to be CEO and run the city, and almost all of city staff, including the police chief, report to him. Council acts like a board of trustees, setting policy, passing a budget prepared by the city manager, and addressing citizen concerns. City Council can fire the city manager; a single councilor or the mayor cannot.
Why couldn’t City Council refuse to grant the Unite the Right permit?
- The First Amendment protects speech, even if it’s a hateful affront to the values of this city. The city’s attempt to move the rally to McIntire Park was blocked by a federal judge as unconstitutional.
- Mayor Mike Signer has called for the Constitution to be amended to address “intentional mayhem,” such as the violence planned by alt-right attendees.
Why is the statue of General Robert E. Lee still here months after City Council voted to remove it, while other states took down statues immediately after August 12?
- Virginia is a Dillon Rule state. That means that unless the General Assembly says it’s okay to do something,
city and county governments can’t do it.
- And in fact, state law specifically prohibits the removal of war memorials, which to many includes the Lee and Jackson statues. Odds of the General Assembly changing that law to allow localities to do with monuments as they see fit: murky.
- A lawsuit has been filed against Charlottesville for City Council’s vote to dispatch the Lee statue. The issue could be decided in court, but it seems unlikely it will happen at the local circuit court level, where a hearing is scheduled September 1.
Who’s in charge?
In Virginia, it’s pretty much the General Assembly, which grants limited power to localities.
City Council: has the power to hire and fire city manager; acts like a board of trustees; addresses citizen concerns.
City manager: is the top administrator and runs city operations; prepares annual budget. Reports to City Council.
Police chief: runs the day-to-day operations of the police department. Reports to city manager.
“Please provide an explanation.”—Used 16 times in a leaked memo written by Mayor Mike Signer to City Manager Maurice Jones before an August 24 closed-door meeting with City Council
Richard Wilson Preston, 52, was arrested August 26 for allegedly firing a gun on West Market Street during the August 12 Unite the Right rally and is being held in Towson, Maryland. Daniel Patrick Borden, 18, was arrested August 25 for malicious wounding related to a beating in the Market Street Parking Garage of Deandre Harris, and he’s in custody in Cincinnati. Alex Michael Ramos, 33, has been charged with malicious wounding for the same assault. Police are still looking for Ramos.
First, Dreamers set foot from UVA to Richmond August 25 to fight for protection from deportation, and to stand up against the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Three days later, a group of about 100 people, including several clergy members, began their March to Confront White Supremacy from Emancipation Park to D.C.
Sisters sue white supremacists
In a lawsuit seeking $3 million in damages, Tradint and Micah Washington say they were physically and emotionally injured when James Alex Fields Jr. plowed into their Toyota Camry during the August 12 rally, in an act that killed one person and injured many. They have named 28 alt-right defendants, including Jason Kessler and David Duke, in their suit.
MTV gets involved
The popular music television network’s Video Music Awards turned political August 27 when Susan Bro took the stage to present the award for Best Fight Against the System and to announce the creation of a nonprofit for her daughter. The Heather Heyer Foundation will provide scholarships for students interested in social justice. Pastor Robert Lee IV, a direct descendant of General Robert E. Lee, introduced Bro.
By the numbers
Stop and frisks
Civil rights attorney Jeff Fogel released information obtained from a Freedom
of Information Act request with Charlottesville police, which indicates the continuing trend that the majority of those detained by police are black. In the first half of 2017, 72 people out of 102 detainees were African-American.
Percent of people detained that are black
First half of 2017
January 1 to October 13, 2016