Unauthorized commission: Council candidate says city will pay for portrait

John Hall. Photo by Eze Amos John Hall. Photo by Eze Amos

John Hall has run for City Council before. He’s also been banned from City Hall back in the early aughts because of behavior that caused then-city manager Gary O’Connell concern, such as showing up at City Council wrapped in foil, according to former councilor Rob Schilling.

Hall plans to launch another run for council February 1, but he’s run into a problem with the city again after asking an artist to paint a portrait of Heather Heyer and Susan Bro to hang in council chambers—and telling her the city would pay for the painting, he said in an email he shared with C-VILLE Weekly.

Interim City Manager Mike Murphy said it was “highly inappropriate” for Hall to imply to artist Kelly Oakes that he had the authority to commission a painting and Murphy asked him to cease doing so in an email to Hall. “If you continue to portray yourself in person or in writing as an agent of the City Council authorized to expend city funds, I will refer your actions to the commonwealth’s attorney for possible prosecution pursuant to the Virginia Governmental Frauds Act,” says Murphy.

Oakes, who now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, says that when Hall sent her the request, “I kind of knew it wasn’t true.” She says she painted Hall for a show she did about a year ago when she was doing portraits of people who were clients of the Haven. “A lot of people are ignored because they’re mentally ill,” she says. “I knew he had no right to do that, but I knew his heart was in the right place.”

C-VILLE was not able to immediately reach Hall. In 2017, he told this reporter he’d been diagnosed as bipolar.

And in another development, Hall planned to announce his run for council February 1 with a rally and ringing of a Liberty Bell replica at the Ridge Street fire station, followed by a post-rally reception at the Omni, according to an email he sent to local media.

Scott Morgan, associate director of sales at the Omni, replies that “under no circumstances” did he agree to host a reception at the Omni, and writes in bold, “Again, the Omni is not a location for any rally or post reception on February 1st.”

At Hall’s rally at the fire station, he addressed the situation, and said he would not be having his follow-up event at the Omni. “Some things are said verbally, and then when the pressure’s put on, they back down,” he said.

He also addressed the portrait of Heyer and Bro that he wants to commission, and said if he is elected, and he is able to commission it, taxpayers will pay for it.

And he shared some other plans for if he’s elected. He wants to encourage local students to study trades at CATEC, improve infrastructure, and replace a “dangerous gas line” near The Corner. In an earlier interview with C-VILLE, he said he’d like to replace the trees on the Downtown Mall with dogwoods, which wouldn’t hold as much ice and snow, because if someone were to walk under the existing trees as ice was falling, they “could be killed,” Hall said.

At his rally, which he said promoted “peace, togetherness, and union,” he rang the Liberty Bell replica once in honor of the First Amendment. And he ended his speech with a quote he attributed to Jimi Hendrix: “When the power of love overcomes the power of hate, the world will know peace.”

The Charlottesville Fire Department referred a call asking if its station was hosting Hall’s rally to city spokesman Brian Wheeler, who provides a January 25 letter from Murphy to Hall, in which Murphy denied Hall’s request to hold a rally there because the fire station property is not available for use by the general public. Wheeler notes that there is a public sidewalk in the area.

Updated 10:43am with the Omni response.

Updated 11:40am with the city’s response about using the fire station for campaign rallies.

Updated 1:30pm February 1 with information from Hall’s campaign announcement.