‘Leaked’ Memo from Charlottesville Mayor Blames City Manager

A nine-page internal memo written on Wednesday by Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer on the city’s preparations for the August 12 Emancipation Park rally that erupted into violence was “leaked” to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where it formed the basis of a lengthy story on Saturday.

The memo, which can be viewed here, stated in its headline that it is a “privileged and confidential personnel matter.” It is dated Wednesday, August 23, and is addressed to City Manager Maurice Jones from the Charlottesville City Council.

The purpose of memo and its leaking appears to be the deflection of blame for the events of August 12 from Signer and the Charlottesville City Council to City Manager Maurice Jones and Police Chief Al Thomas. Yet the memo itself clearly shows there is plenty of blame to be shared by Signer and the City Council as well.

The memo points a finger at City Manager Jones, noting, “The preparations for August 12 were akin to the preparations for a hurricane. All hands were, or should have been, on deck”:

You were scheduled for a family vacation in Canada the prior week. You delayed leaving for you vacation by several days for preparations for August 12 and were available by phone the entire time you were away. Nevertheless, the fact that you were out of the office for several days, delegating duties to Assistant City Manager Mike Murphy during this critical time, created a problem for planning and accountability. Please provide an explanation for how you handled these critical issues during this critical time [Emphasis in original].

But the memo also blows a hole in the argument in a federal court by attorneys for the City of Charlottesville, who attempted to defend the City’s decision on August 7 to revoke the permit granted to “Unite the Right” rally organizer Jason Kessler for an event in Emancipation Park on August 12 on the grounds that the alternative rally location approved by the City–McIntyre Park, which is one mile away, would be safer.

The memo continued:

Understanding through attorney-client privileged communications from the Council’s office that the rally could not outright be canceled, Council developed a clear will that the rally be relocated to a larger location remote from the Downtown Mall like McIntire Park weeks before August 12.  Mayor Signer had a meeting with you [City Manager Jones] on July 13 where he expressed Council’s will that the relocation occur.

The City of Charlottesville had approved Kessler’s permit to hold the August 12 rally at Emancipation Park one month earlier, on June 17, but on July 8, a legally permitted rally of 50 KKK members at Justice Park in downtown Charlottesville was met with 1,000 counter-protesters who became so unruly the Charlottesville City Police Department used tear gas to disperse the counter-protesters, soon declared “unlawful assembly,” and arrested 22 of them.

Sources tell Breitbart News that Police Chief Al Thomas was “stung by public criticism” he received for how the Charlottesville Police handled the 1,000 counter-protesters at the July 8 KKK rally. Though law enforcement sources say the city’s use of tear gas, the declaration of “unlawful assembly,” and the arrest of 22 counter-protesters were “text book perfect,” residents of Charlottesville, whom sources describe as “the most far-left city in Virginia,” vocally communicated their disapproval in public settings throughout July.

“Yet there was no movement forward,” the memo says of Mayor Signer’s July 13 meeting with City Manager Jones concerning “Council’s will that the [“Unite the Right” rally on August 12] relocation occur.”

“In a conversation with Mayor Signer on Friday, July 21, [Police] Chief Thomas told Mayor Signer that the move to McIntire would indeed be ‘marginally’ safer,” the memo continued:

Yet there was no initiative in the following weeks from the City Manager’s office to move the rally to McIntire. Mayor Signer also conveyed this desire in written communication to the City Attorney’s office. Yet nothing happened regarding the relocation of the rally until well after Council held a closed session with staff on Wednesday August 2. Chief Thomas repeatedly said during the closed session that the delay in the relocation decision was crucial to his hesitation about it. He said that had he known “six weeks ago” about a new location that the planning would have been much easier. Please provide an explanation for the delay and for your actions and decisions during this period regarding the matter [Emphasis in the original].

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer’s memo fails to mention another key fact that played a critical role in the violent events of August 12.

As Breitbart News reported Friday:

The City of Charlottesville granted University of Virginia professor Walt Heinecke a permit on July 31 that authorized separate counter protest events on August 12 at two city parks that flank Emancipation Park — McGuffy Park, one block to the west, and Justice Park, two blocks to the east. Unlike the Emancipation Park “Unite the Right” rally permit, which had been granted on June 17, and was scheduled to run from only noon to 5:00 p.m, the permit granted to Heinecke ran from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Heinecke’s public suggestions made on July 18 when he applied for his permit about how the City of Charlottesville should respond to the August 12 “Unite the Right” rally appear to have been adopted shortly thereafter as the policy of the city.

Curry Prof. Walt Heinecke applied for two permits from the Charlottesville Department of Parks and Recreation Thursday, asking to reserve McGuffey and Justice Parks to protest the Unite the Right rally Aug. 12.

“We saw what happened after the Klan left [their legally permitted rally at Justice Park on July 8], and the police moved quickly to declare that an unlawful assembly,” Heinecke told the Cavalier Daily on July 18.

“I learned something being at that protest and that rally about the police discretion to declare any group of three or more an unlawful assembly in terms of shutting it down,” Heinecke added.

“Heinecke also wrote the City Council requesting it revoke the permit for the Unite the Right rally,” the Cavalier Daily reported on July 18:

“I wrote them an email and urged them to either cancel the permit based on safety and cost or if not, I thought that they should move it to a more secure location,” Heinecke said. “Barring that, I urged them to get with the police department and ensure that there was a space for lawful assembly was provided to protesters so we didn’t repeat the mistakes of after the Klan rally.”

On August 2, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer to plan the police response to the August 12 “Unite the Right” rally in the city’s Emancipation Park.

“According to Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran, McAuliffe took the unusual step of relaying several specific recommendations to Signer, including the possibility of restricting weapons, requiring rally attendees to meet at one location to be bused in for the event, and shortening the duration of the five-hour permit,” the Times-Dispatch reported, adding:

“Throughout this process there were conversations between Colonel (W. Steven) Flaherty and Charlottesville,” Moran said in an interview this week, referring to the state police superintendent. “There came a time that the state police had recommendations to us. And they shared them with me and then we shared them with the governor so that he could communicate those recommendations with the mayor of Charlottesville.”

In an interview, Signer confirmed that he received advice from the governor, but said he did not receive any written recommendations.

“He’s a friend and I know he was trying to help us,” Signer said.

On August 11, U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad granted rally organizer Kessler motion for preliminary injuctive relief and enjoined the City of Charlottesville “from revoking the permit to conduct a demonstration at Emancipation Park on August 12, 2017.” The ACLU of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute represented Kessler in that matter.

The memo offered a number of other criticisms of City Manager Jones and Police Chief Thomas, as the Times-Dispatch reported, including:

* “[T]he apparent unwillingness of officers to directly intervene during overt assaults captured in many videos.”

* [A]n officer was not assigned to guard the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue a block away from the rallying point for the white nationalist demonstrators who shouted anti-Semitic slogans and displayed Nazi symbols. . . there were no reports of attacks on the synagogue.

* The memo criticizes the scarcity of media briefings and public information during preparations and during the rally itself, saying that “during a day of incredibly tragic events, the City was silent.”

* The council memo also faulted the police chief for not appearing at public meetings during the string of white pride events in Charlottesville this summer.

Mayor Signer concluded his nine-page memo doubling down on his finger-pointing and trying to pin the blame for the August 12 debacle on City Manager Jones.

“The morning of August 12, Mayor Signer sent a text to you and Chief Thomas with the following: ‘Given last night I need to be on site so we are on one page.’ You responded, ‘We still think it’s best to have you at Zehmer,'” the memo said.

As Breitbart News reported, Signer’s reference to being “on site” refers to the Command Center that day located on the sixth floor of the Wells Fargo building in downtown Charlottesville nearby Emancipation Park. Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, Superintendent of Virginia State Police Steven Flaherty, and City Manager Maurice Jones were all located in that Command Center on the morning of August 12, but Mayor Signer was not there.

It was from that command center that Moran received the direct order over the phone from Gov. McAuliffe at 11:22 a.m. to shut the Emancipation Park rally down. McAuliffe “made the decision … to shut it down” in that phone call, Moran told Richmond talk radio host Jeff Katz on Monday, August 14.

“After the unlawful assembly was declared, Mayor Signer texted you [City Manager Jones], ‘I need to come up at Wells Fargo. Won’t be in the way but I need to be here,'” the memo said.

As Breitbart News reported, the City of Charlottesville Police Department tweeted and posted on Facebook at 11:35 a.m. that “unlawful assembly has been declared at the Emancipation Park rally.”

“You [City Manager Jones] responded, ‘I’m concerned about your safety getting here,'” the memo continued:

Mayor Signer headed to Wells Fargo anyway. He was not allowed up to the 6th floor, where the command center was. He was escorted instead to the 8th floor, where there was a lone staffer observing events through the window. Mayor Signer sent you a text which read, in relevant part, “[Police Chief] Al [Thomas] works for you. You have barred me from the center. We are not together. I don’t know what’s happening. We are not unified. We can’t say no comment or it has to wait. I’m at city hall.”

You [City Manager Jones] responded, ‘Mr. Mayor, we are not disorganized, This is a hyper fluid situation. We need to let this play out. And the media can wait for an hour or so.’ Mayor Signer responded, “Elected officials like me can’t be barred from necessary information and how to talk about it. That’s disorganized. I’m heading to zehmer now.” Please provide an explanation for these decisions and events [Emphasis in the original].

On Friday, the City of Charlottesville announced that it has hired a longtime Democratic partisan and attorney, Tim Heaphy, to head up an “independent investigation” of the events of August 12: “The city announced Friday that Tim Heaphy, former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, will evaluate how the city prepared for and responded to a May torch-light rally, a KKK event in July and the Aug. 12 ‘Unite the Right’ rally.”

Heaphy was appointed to the U.S. attorney post during Attorney General Eric Holder’s term in the Obama administration and was recommended by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

In 2017, he endorsed far-left radical Tom Perez to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

He has expressed concern over the “ideological agenda” of current Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“My fear is that the new department is not as mindful of those resource constraints and seems to want to pursue a more ideological agenda, and I think that could be both ineffective and costly,” Heaphy told Morning Journal after the U.S. Senate confirmed Sessions.

Sources told Breitbart News that Heaphy is considered a likely candidate for the 2021 Democratic nomination for state attorney general in Virginia.


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