After a closed-door selection process, Charlottesville City Council promotes a deputy city manager to the top job

A man stands at a podium speaking to a room full of people and reporters.

It’s been a rough half decade for keeping Charlottesville’s City Manager job filled. But City Council hopes the long period of instability at the head of local government has ended with its decision to hire Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders for the top position.

Sanders will be the sixth person in six years to hold the title Charlottesville City Manager. He came to Charlottesville two years ago as a deputy city manager, after running Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Mid-City Redevelopment Alliance as Executive Director.

“Moving forward, we need this,” Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook told the assembled crowd at Wednesday’s special City Council session to announce Sanders’ hiring. “And I think that you’re going to provide that stability that we need.”

The process to hire Sanders was far less publicly accessible when compared with the candidates that immediately preceded him in the job, Mayor Snook said. In the past the city had hosted public forums where the various finalists would stand to answer questions from community members. The problem with that method, Snook said, is that it tends to drive off outside candidates who don’t want to be ‘outed’ with their current employers as candidates for a new job.

More about Charlottesville’s city managers

“There was a real concern that if we had that kind of a process, we would not get external candidates. We would not get the best external candidates. So we didn’t do that,” Snook said, noting that the Council had received public input via the comprehensive planning process, the public hiring of the police chief and “hundreds of constituent emails.”

Stability, he said, was the most repeated constituent concern.

That concern was highlighted in the news conference following the announcement of Sanders’ forthcoming appointment. Local reporters asked him more than once about his plans to deal with turbulence that has seemingly been endemic in the role for the last several years, which one reporter described as “public vitriol” aimed at the city’s leaders.

That reporter was borrowing a phrase from former City Manager Chip Boyles who cited “public vitriol” as his reason for leaving the job in 2021. Before him, City Manager Tarron Richardson resigned in September 2020, noting the job “takes a toll” on his way out. Interim manager Marc Woolley managed the shortest possible tenure in the position resigning one day before he was set to start in 2021.

Sanders told the assembled group that he was ready to take on the occasional rough sailing that comes with the job.

“The best way for me to take control and to insulate myself from that is to be the best that I can, take whatever comes and deal with it the best that I can,” he said. “It comes with territory. I’ll do my best to be deliberate. I’m always thinking through things before I act. That’s my goal.”

Sanders noted his first action as manager will be replacing himself with a new deputy city manager before “rolling up his sleeves and getting to work.”

Sanders will be officially named city manager during Council’s next meeting on Monday, July 17 at 6 p.m. Community members can attend the meeting in person at City Hall, at 605 E Main St., or it can be viewed streaming online.