Leaked City Council memo reveals concerns with management of white nationalist Aug. 12 rally

"The preparations for August 12 were akin to the preparations for a hurricane," the memo leaked to The Daily Progress and Richmond Times-Dispatch read. "All hands were, or should have been, on deck."

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City Manager Maurice Jones speaking at a press conference Aug. 12. 

Tim Dodson | Cavalier Daily

According to a confidential document leaked to The Daily Progress and Richmond Times-Dispatch and published by both papers Friday, members of the Charlottesville City Council have raised concerns about the city’s management of the white nationalist rallies that took place July 8 and Aug. 12.

The document requested to discuss personnel matters with City Manager Maurice Jones in an “immediate closed session,” which took place Thursday. The nine-page memo, dated Aug. 23, detailed several issues councilors took with the city’s handling of the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally, including a perceived lack of preparation. 

“The preparations for August 12 were akin to the preparations for a hurricane,” the memo read. “All hands were, or should have been, on deck.”

The rally drew hundreds of white nationalists who said they were protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue and ultimately left three dead and dozens injured.

According to the document, City Council repeatedly asked Jones to relocate the rally, from July 13 onwards. In a closed meeting on Aug. 2, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas allegedly said he was hesitant about moving locations because the delay complicated planning.

“Please provide an explanation for the delay and for your actions and decisions during this period regarding this matter,” the memo read.

City Council asked for explanations for other alleged issues relating to the rally, including inaction by the police, failure by the city communications department to keep the public apprised of the rally and insufficient police guarding of Congregation Beth Israel synagogue and public housing sites.

“Charlottesville has a thriving Jewish population and one of the oldest synagogues in the South,” the document read. “Yet despite repeated inquiries and assurances to Mayor Signer and synagogue leadership, the Congregation did not receive the level of protection they required.”

In a response to the leaked memo, Jones addressed each of the complaints. The Daily Progress has published a copy of Jones’ response online. 

Jones claimed Mayor Mike Signer threatened to fire him and Thomas as a result of the issues. 

“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,” Jones wrote. “He said, ‘You work for me’, and I replied that ‘I worked for the City Council.’” 

The Aug. 23 memo claimed Signer was not allowed into the command center. 

Jones also said Thomas and his team are creating an “after action report” to address the events and response of July 8 and Aug. 12. 

“He and his command team had little time to do a comprehensive report on July 8th while simultaneously preparing for August 12th,” Jones wrote. “In addition we have hired outside counsel to conduct an independent review of the City's preparations and response.”

The city selected Tim Heaphy, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, to lead an external review of the city’s response to the May 13, July 8 and Aug. 12 rallies.

A group of white nationalists held a torchlit rally in Emancipation Park May 13.  

About 50 members of the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Justice Park July 8, which was met by a thousand counter-protesters. 

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