Council to revise spending policy to enhance clarity next month

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Charlottesville City Council to hold session addressing credit card turmoilCharlottesville mayor asserts she wasn’t told her spending was unauthorized

Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker will face no charges for her credit card use, officials announced Monday evening.

Walker earlier this month said that the city’s commonwealth’s attorney’s office was investigating her city credit card use and asserted that she had not been told her spending was potentially unauthorized. 

In a Feb. 22 letter from Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania to City Manager Chip Boyles, Platania said there would be no charges because changes have not been implemented to the city’s policy that would have made the card usage unlawful. 

In his letter, Platania reiterated previously expressed concern about the “lack of consistency and clarity around the City’s credit card policy.”

“If on one day card use or an expenditure is approved and on the next, without any notice or training, that same usage is considered potentially criminal, individuals will rightfully complain the policy is being unfairly monitored and enforced,” he wrote. 

Last revised in 2018, the policy indicated approval for purchases fell to department heads. In shared screenshots, Walker noted an instance from late January where a member of the finance department assisted her with a transaction to purchase gift cards for area residents — part of the spending that was recently in question. 

At their most recent meeting, city councilors set March 23 as the date for a work session where they can overhaul their spending policy for more clarity. In speaking with Charlottesville Tomorrow, some councilors stated support for adjusting the parameters for spending approvals so councilors would have accountability together for expenditures. 

Earlier this month, Walker released a memo from Acting City Attorney Lisa Robertson that questioned whether some of the mayor’s credit card use could be considered “authorized spending.” The mayor’s Facebook Live post on the matter and subsequent discussions in comment threads indicated she had no knowledge her spending may have been out of bounds and raised discussion among the council of how to revise and clarify its spending policies.

A constructive conversation, Platania says in his letter, was part of what Robertson’s memo aimed to accomplish. 

He wrote that Robertson suggested an internal memo could “serve as a conversation starter.” 

However, rather than the conversation being contained to City Hall staff and councilors, in sharing the memo, Walker invited the public into the procedures — it was a topic of discussion at the latest council meeting. 

Platania reiterated that his office will not take action unless the city rewrites, clarifies and re-trains employees on its spending and credit card policy. 

“When there has been no clear education or training on what constitutes misuse or misappropriation, despite repeated requests, this office will not allow itself to be involved with sorting out what appears to be mismanagement and disorganization in City government,” Platania said in the letter. 

The letter comes to Boyles on his second official week as city manager — a position he technically is holding on an interim basis for at least the next year to stabilize local government. In recent years, Charlottesville has seen turnover of staff within City Hall to include multiple official and interim managers and currently has several vacant leadership positions, such as all deputy city managers and the director of Neighborhood Development Services. 

Amidst the  “leadership crisis,” the City Council held closed meetings to select Boyles to hold down the fort. With the goals to fill vacant positions and bridge more cohesion between the council and staff, Boyles will spend the next year aiding situations in his executive role. 

According to Brian Wheeler, a spokesperson for the City, Boyles has shared Platania’s letter with the City Council. He adds that Boyles and Robertson will work with the council to prepare recommendations and best practices ahead of the work session. Wheeler added that Boyles is also in a separate process of conducting review of the current policy for City Hall employees and that proposed updates have also been recommended by the city attorney’s office. 

Wheeler added that Boyles “concurs with the Commonwealth’s and City Attorneys that these updates are overdue and a matter of priority for his administration.”