Charlottesville City Manager Fires Back at Mayor as Finger Pointing Blame Game Intensifies

Anti-fascist counter-protesters wait outside Emancipation Park to hurl insults as white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the 'alt-right' are forced out after the 'Unite the Right' rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-fascist protesters and police the rally was declared an …
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Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones fired back at Mayor Mike Signer, whose August 23 confidential internal memo highly critical of Jones’ handling of the August 12 Emancipation Park rally was “leaked” to the Richmond Times-Dispatch to form the basis of a lead story on Saturday.

Charlottesville operates under a city manager form of government. Five members of the City Council are elected by the voters. The Council in turn elects one of its members to serve as Mayor for a term of two years. The primary responsibility of the Mayor is to preside over City Council meetings. The City Council hires the City Manager, who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the city. The Police Chief reports to the City Manager.

In a memo released to the press on Sunday August 26, Jones addressed sixteen specific criticisms made by Signer in his “leaked” August 23 memo.

In their mutual attempts to fix blame on each other for the civil unrest that day that resulted in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and two members of the Virginia State Police when their helicopter crashed, both Jones and Signer failed to address some of the more important facts. In particular, both failed to address the central role Governor Terry McAuliffe played in orchestrating the response of the Virginia State Police and the City of Charlottesville to the events of the day.

Jones, who was present in the Command Center on the sixth floor of the Wells Fargo building along with Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran and Superintendent of Virginia State Police Steven Flaherty on the morning of August 12, completely fails to mention who, specifically, gave the order to declare “unlawful assembly” at Emancipation Park at 11:22 am when Moran says Gov. McAuliffe, whom he was speaking with on the phone at the time, “made the decision . . . to shut it down.”

In his “leaked” memo, Signer criticized Jones for being on vacation in Canada with his family the week preceding the August 12 rally. Jones noted, however, “I was in constant communications with City officials while I was out of the office.”

Jones also disputed Signer’s claim that it was “the will of the Council” on July 13 that the “Unite the Right” rally scheduled for August 12, for which Charlottesville resident Jason Kessler had obtained a permit from the city on June 17, should be moved from Emancipation Park, which is in downtown Charlotte, to McIntire Park, a location about one mile away.

“The City Attorney and Deputy City Attorney made it clear on several occasions that they felt requiring the applicant [Kessler] to move the rally to McIntire Park on the basis of violence would be difficult if challenged,” Jones wrote.

“In addition, the Mayor told the City Manager during this time period that a legal expert he consulted with told him there was a one in three chance of winning if a decision to move the rally from Emancipation Park was challenged,” he noted.

“To state ‘there was no movement forward’ on the issue of relocating to McIntire Park was simply false,” Jones added:

The Council never took formal action on its desire to move the location of the rally. After consulting with staff I made my decision [on August 7] to approve the permit for McIntire based on public safety concerns. Despite the best efforts of our legal team and outside counsel, the City lost our case in court because the judge ruled [on August 11] the decision to move the rally was not content neutral. He used several social media postings from the Council to prove his point.

Jones omits several key points from his discussion, and makes at least one misrepresentation.

First, he refers to Kessler as an applicant. At the time Jones was reviewing whether to move the rally from Emancipation Park to McIntire Park, Jones was not an applicant, he was an approved permit holder. Second, Jones did not approve the Kessler’s permit request on August 7. Instead, he revoked Kessler’s permit for the August 12 event at Emancipation Park, and issued a new permit to Kessler for McIntire Park on August 12.

Jones also fails to note that on July 31 the City of Charlottesville–presumably through his decision as city manager– issued a permit to University of Virginia professor Walt Heinecke to hold a counter protest at two locations on August 12 that immediately flank Emancipation Park –McGuffy Park one block to the west, and Justice Park two blocks to the east. That permit was issued from 9 a.m. in the morning –three hours prior to the noon start time for the Emancipation Park rally–and extended to 7 p.m. –two hours after the end time of the Emancipation Park rally.

In his decision issued on August 11 enjoining the City of Charlottesville from revoking Kessler’s permit for Emancipation Park, U.S. District Judge Glen E. Conrad also noted that the issuance of that permit to counteprotesters on July 31 combined with the city’s decision not to revoke that permit as well was another indication the revocation decision was not content neutral.

Jones also portrayed Signer as a petulant second-guesser obsessed with media coverage of his own conduct on August 12.

“In the nearly 16 years I’ve been involved with local government I’ve never had a Councilor request to review documents related to security plans for events including visits by Presidents Obama and Bush and the Dalai Lama,” Jones wrote:

I may be mistaken but as far as I can tell we did not receive a request from any of the Councilors to review the written security plans for the August 12th event. Aside from Mayor Signer, no Councilor requested entrance into the Command Center that weekend. Our concern about having the Mayor in the command center was wer were in a relatively small space with more people than we had on July 8th. At one point, the Mayor came to the command center and was asked to wait on the 8th floor of that building, and that I would come up in a moment to update him and the Powell/Tate (public relations) team on the situation. The Mayor stated that nothing was happening on the 8th floor and apparently left the building.

Jones also claimed that while he was in the midst of dealing with the events of August 12, Mayor Signer threatened to fire him.

“On two separate occasions during the height of the crisis, the Mayor threatened my job and that of the police chief because of our concerns about allowing him to be part of the command center. He said, ‘You work for me’, and I replied that “I worked for the City Council,’ ” Jones wrote.

The back and forth of finger pointing and blaming continued between Jones and Signer after Jones’ memo was made public.

“Mr. Jones does work for City Council-and for the citizens of Charlottesville. It saddens me that he would release confidential closed session material in a blame game,” Signer told the Daily Progress in a text message

Breitbart News has reported extensively on the violent events and civil unrest that took place in Charlottesville on August 12, including this article that provides a timeline of events.