With ongoing local elections for three Charlottesville City Council seats and three Albemarle County Board of Supervisors seats up for grabs, both the city and the county continue efforts to work collaboratively and think regionally. Over the summer, the city of Charlottesville filled its vacant city manager position with Tarron Richardson, the former city manager of DeSoto, Texas, and a Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus with government experience in Richmond. Albemarle County Executive Jeff Richardson, a North Carolina native, has been in his role since late 2017 and has previous experience as deputy city manager of Asheville and county manager of Cleveland County in North Carolina. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Moving from one meeting to another, Charlottesville City Manager Tarron Richardson answered some texts on his phone while we settled into the conference table in the fluorescent lighting of his office on the second floor of City Hall. Plaques, photos and newspaper clippings of his time spent working positions in Richmond City Hall and his time as city manager of DeSoto, Texas, adorn the offices bookshelves. A large television screen displays CNN on mute as the ticker spells out daily news.
Charlotte Rene Woods: So, many discussions are focused on the plan for downtown and the Strategic Investment Area. Is there a clear plan? Does the city have a clear vision for what it wants from downtown development?
Tarron Richardson: I think that continues to unfold as we deal with affordable housing and the way that we want our downtown to look in the future. I think there’s still a lot of discussions to be had within the community, as well as with the City Council, about achieving that particular goal.
CRW: What do you think you can do to help increase affordable housing in Charlottesville? In what ways would you work with City Council, nonprofits and developers and get a bit of a synergy going?
TR: I think that’s a collective discussion that is being had and needs to continue until we find the right solution to be able to reach that goal, ultimately. I just don’t think it’s one solution. I think it’s multiple options that we could look at in more conversations that need to go on to put a concrete plan in place.
CRW: What do you think are some solutions or proposals that you have off the top of your head or some things that are already in discussion that you would like to see prodded at a little further?
TR: I guess, for me, I would like to have that discussion with developers. I would like to have a discussion with our residents within the community and talk about what they really want in their various neighborhoods … [and] then talk to developers about their desires and needs in terms of being able to make affordable housing a reality.
CRW: So, you’ve been present at a lot of community events when you’re not in Council Chambers. What are you hearing from community members on what they need from city staff and from you as city manager?
TR: I think, overall, … the community … [wants] a city manager who will listen and who will respond to their desired requests. And then, internally, just look at fixing some of the things that the employees wanted to be fixed for a number of years, in terms of being able to get better salaries and different things of that nature. And, once again, a community wanting someone that will listen to their concerns and be able to address them.
CRW: The director of [Neighborhood Development Services, Alex Ikefuna] once referred to the city’s zoning ordinance as, quote, “a wastebasket of errors.” What are some zoning changes that you think the city needs to see, and how would you support both NDS and City Council in that?
TR: I think that will be addressed through the zoning ordinance that we’re working through now, and I think that the collaboration between NDS and the City Council will get better once that matter is implemented — the zoning ordinance is implemented, the Comprehensive Plan is implemented.
CRW: Do you have any updates on the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance?
TR: It’s going through the [request for proposal] process now. Once … it concludes, we’ll be able to better have discussions about who is the selected firm that will be helping us with that.
CRW: Do you have any updates on vacant staff positions that might have been filled since you’ve come? I know a lot of that was waiting for you to come in.
TR: Yes, there were a few. But the key ones were [Charlottesville Area Transit], we just hired a director for that; the [Information Technology] director; we hired for that; and also, we are in the final stages of hiring for a new [Human Resources] director. And also, we had some internal vacancies throughout the city that we needed to fill, and it’s not directors.
CRW: You have experience dealing with race and equity issues in other cities. What do you think are some key issues that are in Charlottesville that will help us move forward as a city with one shared vision, and how do you plan to be a leader in those discussions?
TR: I think we need to talk about equity in all areas. We’re talking about compensation. We’re talking about putting people in various places throughout the city to create that diversity that we always talk about. There’s various areas we can talk about diversity and those things like that. There’s so many different facets you can cover. You can talk about contracts. You can talk about development in certain areas, so there’s not a specific area that you can talk about. With that as I said before, I like to talk to the community in terms of what’s going to be put in their communities; … the same way with the employees when you talk about the different things they need in terms of equity throughout the city.
CRW: I’m also curious with the city and the county, what do you think are some key areas you’d like to see both City Council and Board of Supervisors collaborating with or communicating more on? And what ways do you think you can help with that?
TR: Well, I think we do a great job with that in terms of our joint city-county meetings. There’s a litany of various topics that we talk about, and we have joint collaboration on a lot of different projects. It could be transportation. It could be capital improvement projects. The list goes on. But I think if we continue to have our open lines of communication, I think it will be a great city-county collaboration. Jeff Richardson, we work together on a whole lot of different things and talking about different strategies and plans that we look at in terms of being the leadership of the county and the city. We just met yesterday to talk about our last joint meeting and how we’re planning to implement as well as create plans to try to carry out the deliverables — we’ll carry out the things that the county and the council also wanted in terms of moving both forward in a collective manner.
CRW: What are some specifics that you guys talked about? Are there any announcements coming up on the horizon?
TR: No announcements coming up on the horizon. Like I said before, it was just a recap of everything that we talked about at our last city-county joint meeting and just being able to put our heads together and talk about how we are going to move those items forward.
CRW: So overall, as you’ve been here since the summer and now fall is starting, how has it been for you settling in? In what ways is Charlottesville similar or different to DeSoto or your time in Richmond?
TR: I think it all has similar characteristics. I really enjoyed being here. I enjoy working with the residents throughout the community to hear their concerns and talk about what ways we can address those concerns. I enjoy our workforce because we have a lot of good people working for the city. There’s more to come. Adjusting for the area, before I was in Richmond, so for adjustment, that wasn’t a major issue. I just love being back on the East Coast. [chuckles] But Charlottesville has a lot of amenities. I enjoy the Downtown Mall because it gives me a chance to really walk out of City Hall and really engage and communicate with the public. Then its close proximity to different things in the area that I can get to as I walk through the community and talk to residents throughout the entire city.
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