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Group forms to recall all members of Charlottesville City Council

RISE Charlottesville claims City Council’s focus on social issues diverts attention from more pressing matters

RISE Charlottesville held its first news conference Oct. 26, announcing an effort to distribute petitions to recall all five members of the Charlottesville City Council. The group’s founders claim that the Council has been overtaken by “groupthink” and members are neglecting their duties by focusing on social issues. 

The group is launching recall petitions for all five members of the Council — Mayor Mike Signer, Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, Kristin Szakos, Kathy Galvin and Bob Fenwick. 

The three-member group was founded by Pat Spicer Napoleon — a retired schoolteacher and Charlottesville native — and Richard Lloyd, a native of Albemarle County and former vice-chair of the Albemarle County Republican Committee. Matthew Hardin, a candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney in Greene County, is the group’s legal advisor. 

Napoleon and Lloyd claim that while they had qualms with the Council in the past, the decision to formally create a group calling for the recall of its members was made in August. They said it was Signer’s proclamation to declare Charlottesville the “Capital of the Resistance,” in January, as well as the Council’s decision to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from public parks, that made the city a target for extremist groups. 

“The thing that really sent me into … Action was that the mayor put out a dog whistle,” Lloyd said. “His dog whistle was ‘Charlottesville is the Center of the Resistance.’” 

Lloyd said he correlates this declaration of resistance with the rise of “hate groups” to the Charlottesville area.

“The dog whistle brought in all of these very active, I call them hate groups,” Lloyd said. “When you bring in that many people into town that are of that persuasion, then you are bound to have some kind of problems.”

Napoleon also attributed the unrest in Charlottesville in August to the actions of the Council. 

“My quality of life has been changed because of this,” Napoleon said. “They’re not owning up to their responsibility for causing the disruption.”

Lloyd argued that the Council had ignored the advice of the Blue Ribbon Commission, a group that the Council created in May 2016 to devise a solution to the issue of the statues that was in line with the opinions of Charlottesville residents. Although the commission recommended recontextualizing the statues of Lee and Jackson last December, the Council voted to remove them altogether. 

“They have more important duties,” Lloyd said. “The city’s business is not being addressed because they’re … ignoring their own commission — the Blue Ribbon Commission.”

To Napoleon and Lloyd, the issue of the statues is just one of a number of incidents in which they said the Council has not reflected the will of Charlottesville residents. Napoleon emphasized that RISE Charlottesville is “not about the statues,” but rather a broader lack of accountability on the part of city councilors. 

“[City Council hasn’t] given us a voice,” Napoleon said. “And [the statues] are just one symptom of City Council being one sided, and they have favored their pet groups. They have made their own decisions, and they’re not listening or even asking my opinion.” 

Napoleon added that three letters she has sent to the Council in the past year and a half have gone unanswered. 

Although Lloyd is a former vice chair of the Albemarle County Republican Committee, he and Napoleon said that RISE Charlottesville is nonpartisan and that discontent with the Council exists across the political spectrum. 

“It’s important to know that we’re nonpartisan,” Lloyd said. “In fact, I think we’re going to get more support from the Democrats than Republicans.” 

Lloyd also said that the group is not endorsing any candidates to replace sitting city councilors. 

“We have no candidates, no agenda to put somebody [in particular] on the Council,” Lloyd said. “We just want to clear the deck.”

Matthew Hardin, RISE Charlottesville’s legal advisor,  is currently preparing the “legal language” of the recall petitions, which will be ready in the coming days, Lloyd said. 

According to Lloyd, the group hopes to train known and respected members of the Charlottesville community as petition carriers in order to ensure the validity of petitions. 

“When [the petition carriers] say they have witnessed every signature, you’ll know that they are not going to compromise their position in the community,” Lloyd said.

Only voters registered in Charlottesville will be eligible to sign the recall petitions. 

If the petitions receive the required amount of signatures — 1,580 for each councilor’s recall petition, according to Virginia law that 10 percent of the Charlottesville voter turnout in 2015 must sign — a judge will decide whether there is a case for recall. 

RISE Charlottesville aims to launch recall petitions for each of the five current members of City Council, even though two councilors, Kristin Szakos and Bob Fenwick, are not running for reelection in this November’s election. 

Napoleon and Lloyd said this is necessary to prevent Szakos and Fenwick from being appointed interim councilors in the case of a recall of other members, and to hold them accountable for their actions. 

“The people who are contacting me … They’re saying ‘I want to sign the two that are leaving, because I want to hold them accountable for what happened on Aug. 12,’” Napoleon said. 

Szakos stood behind the actions of the Council, stating that the city “has been very actively working for a more inclusive society.”

“Although I don’t in any way feel happy that we had an armed invasion of our city, I’d say that if Nazis hate what we’re doing then that’s not a reason to stop doing it,” she said. 

Fenwick said he believes the responsibility for the violence lies with the August protest’s organizers and the perpetrators of violence. 

“I thought it was Jason Kessler's (the organizer of the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally) name on the permit and his name on the insurance policy until the insurance company canceled the policy,” Fenwick said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “I thought it was James Fields that deliberately drove the car into the group of counter protesters and I thought it was the KKK wizard who tried to gun down Corey Long, the young man who lit the can of hair spray.” 

However, Fenwick said he believes Signer’s January statement declaring Charlottesville to be “the Capital of the Resistance” was “ill advised,” and that it was “made without conferring with the other councilors and one of the reasons we censured Signer almost two months ago.”

“Personal ambition and bad judgement are a toxic mix,” Fenwick said. 

Signer defended his statements, stating that the January press conference in which they were announced was “called to protest the announcement of a Muslim ban and focused exclusively on immigration and political refugees.”

“The event was attended by hundreds and was a peaceful and loving celebration of religious tolerance in a community with a major office of the International Rescue Committee,” Signer said in an email statement. “To connect it to 8/12 is preposterous and reeks of partisanship and political opportunism."

Jason Kessler, who organized the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally, led the last effort to recall a member of City Council — Wes Bellamy.The case was dismissed by a judge after falling short by about 1,000 signatures. 

Napoleon said RISE Charlottesville is not associated with Kessler’s effort.

“We don’t want anything to do with that type of a thing,” Napoleon said. 

Bellamy and Galvin did not respond to requests for comment.