Lena Seville first came to Charlottesville more than a decade ago when she transferred to UVA from Virginia Tech to study environmental science and the application of environmental thinking to planning and design. She said she grew to love the community and stayed, and for the last several years, she’s been a full-time activist and volunteer. Now, she wants to apply that experience and ethos as a member of City Council.
Seville, 46, became the third candidate to enter the Democratic primary race last weekend, and can point to her involvement in a broad range of civic issues. She is vice-president of the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association. She’s president of the Transit Riders of Charlottesville and vice-chair of the Charlottesville Area Transit advisory board. She serves on the Belmont Bridge Steering Committee, the city’s Tree Commission and on the Task Force on Disproportionate Minority Contact in the Juvenile Justice System, which was set up to examine racial disparities in how children are affected by police interaction.
Her service has reinforced her understanding that getting people involved in local government is important to the health of the community, she said.
“What really matters to me is citizen participation and transparent government,” Seville said. “There are other things that are important to me, but I think all of them are affected by whether the citizens are helping to make the decisions. We have lots of great, smart, creative people here. We need to use that and take advantage of it.”
She said she saw the importance of resident input while observing the drawn-out process of designing the structure to replace the Belmont Bridge. “There were things that were missing because the design was too far removed from the people who were using it,” she said.
Seville said that if elected, she’d work to make it easier for local residents to get involved. “There are people who want to help, but sometimes there are a lot of barriers to participation,” she said. “People have jobs, they have lives, they have children, elderly parents, hobbies, vacations. I think there’s a lot of ways people could be brought in to help work on projects that they’re interested in.”
She also wants to see better communication between city staff and the public—something she’s highlighted as one of many neighborhood association heads who publicly slammed the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services last month in a letter to City Council claiming the department was “out of touch” with residents. Opportunities for public participation need to be better advertised, said Seville.
“It makes it hard for people to participate if they can’t even observe the process,” she said.
Seville also cites social justice issues as important to her platform. She said she’s encouraged to see a focus on relational policing anchoring the ongoing conversation about public safety in Charlottesville, but she wants to see more focus on documenting how officers interact with residents on a day-to-day basis.
“We have the data about formal interactions, but a lot of times, the problems we see…start out as informal interactions,” she said. “That’s exactly the kind of thing that can create a good or bad relationship. Collecting that data is important.”
On that and other issues, Seville said she can’t claim she has the answer now. But by serving on Council, she hopes to tap into the city’s collective expertise to find solutions. It’s an extension of what she already does as a volunteer, she said: “I’m doing what I love and I’m helping people.”
“We have lots of great, smart, creative people here,” said Lena Seville. “We need to use that and take advantage of it.”