Charlottesville City Manager Chip Boyles elaborated on his decision to fire Police Chief RaShall Brackney in an op-ed in The Daily Progress on Saturday, stating that in hindsight, he would have tried to work with Brackney first and include City Council in the process, but that time was of the essence. These are the first comments from Boyles about the decision outside city press releases.
“In hindsight, I would have engaged the City Council more directly in my deliberations and worked in partnership with Chief Brackney to develop an improvement plan. Fact is, I just did not have the luxury of time. I found the moment critical to act and felt the larger community would respect my intentions to guide our police department to a stable and evolving law enforcement outfit capable of making all residents safe, respected, and proud,” Boyles wrote.
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In the op-ed, Boyles says the decision was “not easy” and cites feeling the need to make a quick decision.
On Sept. 1, Boyles exercised his right to terminate Brackney’s employment contract upon 90 days’ notice. Brackney, who was hired by the city in June 2018, will be on paid administrative leave until Nov. 30. In a city statement released that day, Boyles said he was “looking for a new leadership direction in the department.”
Boyles states in the op-ed that the results of an internal survey and a survey conducted by the Virginia Police Benevolent Association influenced his decision.
“Despite successes in modernizing the department, recent public statements made by the Virginia Police Benevolent Association brought to the public’s attention two officer surveys assessing officers’ opinions of the current state of leadership in the department. These surveys revealed substantial concerns of trust and confidence in the leadership,” Boyles wrote.
“I found these concerns troubling, especially when factoring in the known strained relationships across government, community, religious and regional stakeholder groups. These relationships are critically important; and when internal and external strife are present, it is imperative to act.”
This information seems to contradict assertions by some city councilors that Boyles said the surveys were unrelated to Brackney’s termination.
In an interview last week with The Progress, Councilor Sena Magill said Boyles told councilors there were factors separate from the surveys that resulted in the decision.
“I do believe the city manager when he says the [Police Benevolent Association] survey didn’t have anything to do with this decision and that there were other factors. And I’m not going to put him in a position to try to talk about something that we really shouldn’t be talking about. There are a lot of laws regarding personnel. And I’m not a lawyer,” Magill said.
Councilor Heather Hill also has suggested the surveys were not related to Brackney’s dismissal.
“I certainly hear those concerns and see how the public can see it that way, but I certainly have confidence that those things were not directly linked, and that there are a broader range” of issues, Hill said during the Sept. 7 City Council meeting.
Boyles suggests in the op-ed that he chose to fire Brackney in order to prevent other department leaders from resigning.
“... as your city manager, I took decisive action to prevent key leadership positions — which were in jeopardy of becoming vacant — from erupting into deeper divides within the department,” Boyles wrote.
Boyles commended Brackney for her work toward racial equity, but said leadership was a concern.
“While great strides were made during Chief Brackney’s time with the department in areas of racial equity and addressing officer conduct, many of these changes came about at the expense of leadership mistrust among many of the officers we depend on to protect and serve our city. A well-functioning modern police force requires confidence, proactive communications and leadership to meet the demands and commitment to equitable policing.” Boyles wrote.
“I took what I consider a calculated risk to hit the reset button quickly so we could find the next chief, who could not only build atop the contributions led by Chief Brackney but also establish strong community bonds to support our 21st-century policing priorities in Charlottesville.”
At the Sept. 7 council meeting, Boyles did not address Brackney’s firing when it was brought up by Mayor Nikuyah Walker. Walker withdrew from the City Council election the following day, partly citing the behavior of Boyles and her fellow councilors during the meeting.
Walker was critical of Boyles’ decision and apologized for Brackney’s firing on behalf of the city during the meeting.
“ … To take what doesn’t seem like much information and terminate [Brackney] in this very public way … that is shameful,” Walker said.
Walker also called out Boyles and councilors for their unwillingness to discuss the issue during the meeting.
Councilors Hill, Magill and Lloyd Snook all have publicly stated they were advised in closed session not to speak publicly about the decision because it is a private personnel matter and there could be legal repercussions. Last week, city spokesman Brian Wheeler said he and Boyles could not confirm or comment on this or other matters discussed within closed session.
Dozens of community members spoke against the decision during the meeting, asking for greater transparency from Boyles and councilors.
Boyles will have the chance to address questions Walker asked during the meeting about Brackney’s dismissal during the City Manager’s Response to Councilors portion of Monday’s council meeting.
Boyles could not be reached for additional comment by press time.