It was an unprecedented year for the city, but also one in which we saw a major shift among people in positions of power. Some heads rolled, some quietly retired, and the list of local leaders is almost unrecognizable from this time last summer.
Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas abruptly resigned in December, making way for Chief RaShall Brackney, who took her oath in June. Thomas wasn’t the most popular guy in town after Tim Heaphy released his independent review of the summer of hate, which alleged that Thomas deleted texts, used a personal email to skirt FOIA, and told law enforcement when white supremacists and counterprotesters went to war in the streets to “let them fight a little,” because it would make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly.
That wasn’t the only law enforcement shake-up. After nearly 15 years as Virginia State Police superintendent, Colonel Steve Flaherty retired in December, and was succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Gary Settle. At the University of Virginia, Police Chief Michael Gibson also retired this summer, and new Chief Tommye Sutton was sworn in August 1, the same day as new UVA President Jim Ryan.
Ryan took the reins from Teresa Sullivan, who was highly criticized for having prior knowledge that white supremacists planned to march across Grounds last August 11, not warning students, and initially denying that she was privy to any of it. She had plans to leave before last summer, and on her way out, Ryan said he admires that she stayed focused on what really mattered to the university. “These were turbulent times and I think she demonstrated remarkable courage,” he said. Nevertheless, the Beta Bridge was decorated with the words, “Nazis love T. Sully” as she left.
The university also appointed Gloria Graham as its first-ever vice president of safety and security after emboldened neo-Nazis in white polos and khakis encircled and beat several students with their torches.
Poor planning for the weekend of the Unite the Right rally also fell on the head of City Manager Maurice Jones, and City Council decided not to renew his contract on May 25. Jones took a job as town manager for Chapel Hill, and in came former assistant city manager Mike Murphy, who will serve in the interim—but not without a fight from Mayor Nikuyah Walker, who challenged the first person offered the job.
Walker wasn’t mayor, or even on City Council, last summer. She replaced then-mayor Mike Signer, whose leadership came under fire when it emerged that he threatened to fire Jones and Thomas during the height of the August 12 violence. He was also suspected of leaking emails and was publicly reprimanded by his fellow councilors. Vice-Mayor Heather Hill also joined the ranks in the November council election—Kristin Szakos did not run for re-election and Bob Fenwick got the boot in the June primary.
City Attorney Craig Brown said goodbye, and was replaced by John Blair, who most recently served as deputy county attorney in Albemarle.
And last but not least, city spokesperson Miriam Dickler stepped down as Charlottesville’s director of communications in January, and former Charlottesville Tomorrow executive director Brian Wheeler filled her shoes.