Charlottesville’s new interim city manager, Marc Woolley, introduced himself to the city in a virtual conference Friday afternoon.
Woolley, 52, will begin officially Dec. 1.
He will be immediately confronted with a couple looming deadlines. The city’s overdue updated comprehensive plan has finally passed through the Planning Commission and is before the Council to approve. (The plan, which must be updated every five years per state law, was due in 2018.) Then, the city’s budget for fiscal year 2023 must be finalized in March.
“I see my role in this transitory phase, and I use that word on purpose because this is not necessarily a transition,” said Woolley, who is also an attorney. “I believe the transition will occur when the new city manager is appointed. But right now there are two issues that need to be taken care of: the budget and the comprehensive plan. From then, it’s really laying the foundation for the next city manager to be able to come in.”
Council has said it will begin a formal search for a permanent city manager in April. Woolley said he intends to apply.
As interim, his salary will be $205,000 per year.
Woolley comes to Charlottesville from Harrisburg, Penn., where he served as business administrator under that city’s mayor, Eric Papenfuse, since 2017.
“That position was essentially ‘city manager’ in quotes,” Woolley said.
Harrisburg’s government is structured with a “strong mayor,” who is elected independently from other city council members and serves as the administrative head of the city. Woolley reported directly to Mayor Papenfuse, and was his top aide, overseeing the city’s departments of Finance and Procurement, Information Technology, Human Resources, Communications, Risk Management, and Tax Collection.
Charlottesville’s system of government is different. It does not have a “strong mayor.” The mayor here is a city councilor who is chosen by the other councilors to essentially be the council’s president. The city manager serves as the administrative head of the government.
Woolley is taking the interim city manager position amid intense upheaval in city hall. He will be the sixth person to lead the city in less than five years. The most recent city manager, Chip Boyles, announced his resignation last month, saying that the “public vitriol” over his decision to fire the city’s former police chief, RaShall Brackney, had “begun to negatively affect my personal health [and] well-being.”
Former City Manager Tarron Richardson similarly said that the job “takes a toll on you, mentally and physically,” when he resigned after serving just over a year in the position.
“That’s unfortunate for those particular persons and what they experienced,” Woolley said, in response to questions about how he felt about taking a role that so many others have quit.
“But, I’ve been in very high stress environments since I graduated from law school,” he said. “And I try to have a nice balance, and that balance includes spending time with my family, my son, daughter and my wife. And also I train German Shepherds. I’m not being flippant, it’s really important to have other interests.”
During public comment, a handful of community members questioned Woolley about his views on creating more affordable housing in Charlottesville and asked him how he would manage the city’s police department.
To both questions, Woolley said he would need to learn more about the particular situation and needs in Charlottesville before giving an opinion.
“I understand that you may not have been fully informed about everything to do with the firing of Chief Brackney following her efforts to reform the Charlottesville Police Department,” said Charlottesville resident Lyndele Von Schill. “However, I would like to hear about your experience with and commitment to the dismantling of racist practices in areas of government including, arguably especially, areas of law enforcement.”
Woolley responded, “In terms of dismantling racism or dealing with … racist policies or disenfranchisement, there are a number of instances in my career where I’ve really hit these head on, most notably in housing.”
When he was General Counsel for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, he said it was one of the most segregated “big cities” in America. But during his time there, he helped the organization dismantle high-rise public housing structures and move the predominantly Black individuals who lived there into duplexes built into the predominantly white surrounding neighborhoods.
“In terms of racist policies with police officers, there’s just a moment in time now in our country and in many communities where they’re reevaluating the role of police and how they police in communities,” Woolley said.
In Harrisburg, an issue the city faced was that the police department largely comprised white officers, he said. The city, however, is predominantly Black.
During Woolley’s time as Harrisburg’s business administrator, the city required its officers to undergo more training, and also required its new recruits to undergo psychological evaluations before they could be hired.
“So, hopefully, they would be able to police a community that didn’t look like them,” Woolley said.
Councilor Lloyd Snook said he is confident that Woolley’s past experience will enable him to help guide Charlottesville through this time of upheaval.
“Marc Woolley has a long record of helping governments in times of transition,” Snook said in a statement.
Woolley echoed this sentiment, saying he has often taken positions in areas and organizations that are experiencing transition. He added that he enjoys working with residents and stakeholders who are passionate because “that means they care.”
“I’m here not to upset the apple cart, unless it is called for, but I don’t see that as my main charge,” he said.
Woolley’s resignation from his Harrisburg position caused a bit of a stir this week. Woolley gave notice to Mayor Papenfuse on Monday, indicating that his last day would be Nov. 15, without citing the reason for his departure, according to an article in PennLive.
“If you are going to resign — without even speaking to me — at a time when your city desperately needs you, your last day will be Monday, November 1,” Papenfuse wrote in an email to Woolley, PennLive reported. “Please have your office cleaned out by then and all keys and devices returned to HR by 2 p.m. that day.”
Woolley resigned the day before an election in which Papenfuse was running as a write-in candidate for a third term as mayor. He did not win.
Woolley was initially a finalist for one of Charlottesville’s deputy city manager positions, Charlottesville Mayor Nikayuh Walker said. But, when Boyles left suddenly in October, the Council decided Woolley would be a good fit to lead the city.