In a Facebook post announcing her withdrawal from the November City Council election Wednesday, Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker cited the behavior of her fellow councilors at Tuesday night’s council meeting as part of the reason she wants to move on.
“The racism that was on display last night at the council meeting and during our closed session was the final straw,” Walker wrote.
Throughout the meeting, Walker voiced her frustration with other councilors’ unwillingness to discuss the reasoning for Police Chief RaShall Brackney’s recent termination. But councilors said they were advised by city staff in closed session not to discuss the topic because it was a personnel issue.
In her Facebook post, Walker called out all four councilors by name.
“Michael [Payne] couldn’t bring himself to defend a Black [woman]. Sena [Magill], blindly following whiteness as she has done since January 1, 2020. Heather [Hill] and Lloyd [Snook] have been consistent advocates of white is right, white power and the power of whiteness,” Walker wrote.
Walker did not respond to a request for comment.
Magill told The Daily Progress she hopes the community did not interpret her behavior the way Walker did.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. I’m never ever going to tell anyone how to feel. I wish my actions weren’t interpreted that way. I do care about all the citizens here, and I do want to make this a more equitable city. I’m sorry if the recent City Council meeting and recent decisions by the city government made people feel like I don’t believe that,” Magill said.
“But I do firmly believe the city manager, the deputy city managers and the council do want to work towards reducing the impact generations of systemic racism have had in our policies. And I do believe that race has to be looked at with every single issue,” Magill said. “There are times when I’ve disagreed with the mayor on things. I don’t believe that I have a better understanding of racism in America by any means. I do my best to listen, and I do my best to make decisions on the knowledge that I have.”
Hill shared her thoughts on Walker’s post in a statement to The Progress.
“Over the course of my time on council, I have come to understand, and to accept, that some are looking for even a whisper of validation for the person they have created of me in their minds. The last five years have also made me acutely aware of the person that reflects back at me in the mirror and the privilege that reflection carries,” Hill wrote in an email Thursday. “But I also know the heart of that person that I see, and I believe many others see, and that continues to be my compass.”
Hill previously confirmed in an interview that councilors had talked about having a public discussion in their closed session held prior to the meeting. Hill said city staff advised councilors that they should not discuss Brackney’s termination publicly because it would compromise the confidentiality of other personnel.
Magill echoed these concerns.
“Our job as a City Council was to hire the city manager. We tell the city manager what direction we want things to be going in, and then we allow the manager to implement that,” she said. “I try to focus on policies … I cannot get into the mix of individual personnel issues.”
Magill said Brackney is the only one who can legally speak about what happened, and said she believes City Manager Chip Boyles’ reasoning for terminating Brackney’s contract.
“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.
“I have no reason to doubt [Boyles’] managerial decisions. I don’t need to know about it. I don’t need to know the details and I don’t know a lot of details and I frankly shouldn’t,” she said.
Hill also suggested during Tuesday’s meeting that Brackney’s termination was not related to the survey.
“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 … these are personnel discussions and I’m really sensitive to how much we will discuss publicly at this time without really understanding what the scope of that discussion would be,” Hill said.
Snook and Payne did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Walker said in her post that she would go on a Facebook Live video to further discuss the situation, but as of press time she had not done so.
City spokesman Brian Wheeler declined to confirm whether Boyles stated Brackney’s termination was unrelated to the results of the Police Benevolent Association survey or whether Brackney is the only person who can speak publicly about her termination.
“This is a personnel matter that the city manager has discussed with City Council. We are not going to comment further on what was discussed in a closed meeting,” Wheeler said in an email.
Wheeler did confirm last week that Brackney’s termination was considered not-for-cause, as outlined in the employment contract Brackney signed when she was hired in 2018.