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Charlottesville City Council postpones approving collective bargaining ordinance

Council members also voted to begin all meetings at 4:00 p.m.

<p>City Manager Michael Rogers believes Council must take time to analyze the requirements needed to implement collective bargaining and impacts on the city before making a decision.</p>

City Manager Michael Rogers believes Council must take time to analyze the requirements needed to implement collective bargaining and impacts on the city before making a decision.

The Charlottesville City Council rejected passing a collective bargaining ordinance originally proposed in October for the second time at a meeting Tuesday, citing a need for more time to study the issue at hand. The Council also approved all consent agenda items, as well as a development plan to build a three-story apartment complex on Preston Pl.

If approved, the collective bargaining ordinance would have recognized the Amalgamated Transit Union — the largest labor union representing transit workers — as the bargaining agent for Charlottesville Area Transit employees. Bargaining agents are organizations that represent the interests of a group or workers in negotiations with local government.

Collective bargaining is the process through which a group of laborers — in this instance, city transit workers — join a labor union which then represents the workers’ interests in negotiations with the locality over issues such as pay, time off and worker’s compensation.

Until May 2021, Virginia did not allow public-sector collective bargaining, but the code of Virginia now allows localities to decide for themselves if they should allow collective bargaining.

The Council received a proposed ordinance from the ATU in October, which Mayor Lloyd Snook said that they would not adopt but would take into consideration when drafting the ordinance.

City Manager Michael Rogers and City Attorney Lisa Robertson submitted a motion not to adopt the collective bargaining agreement proposed in 2021, saying the City would need further time to develop a specified agreement. Only Alexandria and Loudoun County have implemented such public-sector collective bargaining ordinances. The state of Virginia has not provided a model ordinance, which is a generalized ordinance template that localities can base their own local ordinances off of.

“We need some time here to put the infrastructure in place so that we can step out on our best foot to move forward with a collective bargaining infrastructure that will be beneficial to our employees, their representation and to the city,” Rogers said during the meeting.   

Ultimately, councilors approved a resolution confirming that the Council will work towards the creation of an official collective bargaining ordinance. 

Rogers said it will take 30 to 45 days to select an outside consultant to develop the collective bargaining ordinance, and the City Manager’s office hopes to have a framework developed in 90 days. The appropriation of $625,000 for the city manager to hire contractual services to conduct an investigation into the feasibility of collective bargaining in Charlottesville will be voted on in the consent agenda during the next Council meeting.

The Council also heard arguments for and against approving the construction of a development plan to build a three-story apartment building on 605 Preston Place near Rugby Road. The project was approved by the Board of Architectural Review in October, but many homeowners opposed the development, including eight neighbors who signed a letter in November to appeal the BAR’s decision to approve the construction. The homeowners feel that the new building is not in harmony with neighboring structures. 

The city code allows any aggrieved party to appeal a BAR decision to the City Council to issue a final decision on whether or not to shut down the project. After the aggrieved party appeals the decision to the City Council, the City Preservation Planner, BAR chair and those opposed have the opportunity to present arguments related to the matter. 

Jeff Warner, the City of Charlottesville’s presentation design manager, presented the original proposal for the project. Warner said that the proposed development would be located adjacent to Wyndhurst — a historic house built in the 1800s — but maintained that the house would remain visible to those approaching from the east. 

Warner emphasized the importance of flexibility in planning the new development as City leadership hears concerns from the community and appellants. 

“The design guidelines are intended to be flexible, flexible enough to both respect historic properties and to embrace future new designs,” Warner said. 

The Council ultimately decided to approve a certificate of appropriateness — a form submitted to the BAR ensuring the project design is consistent with city standards — and therefore uphold the BAR’s initial decision to approve the construction. 

Next, the Council voted to adopt a new meeting schedule establishing a 4 p.m. pre-meeting before both meetings each month, a change from the previous standard of hosting a pre-meeting to hear reports from community or city organizations only once a month. Ultimately, the change was unanimously approved.

Finally, Council members voted to approve the consent agenda, which consists of non-controversial agenda items that do not require additional deliberation before approval. 

The agenda consisted of an amendment to reduce the speed limit of 5th Street SW from 45 mph to 40 mph, appropriation of $209,444 for the Runaway Emergency Shelter Grant — which would support services that provide emergency shelter and counseling to kids in crisis — and a minor amendment to the 2021-2022 Community Development Block Grant Action Plan to allow the Charlottesville Community Investment Collaborative to implement a contingency plan for spending of their allotted CDBG funding. The new contingency plan would increase the scope of the CIC’s CDBG by adding two new programs to assist community members start small businesses. 

The meeting also included a report presented by Marta Keane, chair of the Charlottesville Area Alliance. The priority of CAA is to create an age-friendly community in the realms of housing, transportation and social engagement. Keane said Charlottesville has a growing population of seniors age 60 or older — making up around 20 percent of the population in 2020 — and expressed the importance of creating an age-friendly community.

“It’s not just about how we need to help [seniors] or support them, it’s also about what they contribute back to the community.” Keane said. “I think sometimes we forget that there is a wealth of wisdom [in senior citizens] and we want to make sure that we don’t fall into ageism.”

Brian Menard, former chair of the Tree Commission, issued an annual report regarding the state of the forest surrounding Charlottesville, reporting declines in tree canopy coverage. Charles Hartgrove, director of the Virginia Institute of Government at the University — a part of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service — then delivered a final presentation regarding strategic planning advice for the Council in the spring.

Hartgrove discussed the Weldon Cooper Center’s recently developed 2020-25 strategic plan, which was designed to create a framework for the steps necessary to realize the vision of flourishing communities led by informed leaders. The plan intends to engage the University in making Virginia a model for public service and governance. It includes goals to extend the University's impact on public service through student job opportunities and research and engage local government leaders and stakeholders to apply research towards building “empowered and equitable communities.” 

To do so, the institute provides professional development assistance to local governments both within and outside of Virginia. The institute plans to work with the City Council on professional development and strategic planning. Mayor Lloyd Snook said he was looking forward to working with the Institute. 

“I look forward to working with you all to help us figure out how we need to be working better,” Snook said. 

In the final moments of the meeting before closing public matters, Councilor Brian Pinkston said he would like to see more clarity regarding the formulation of a climate action plan and Councilor Michael Payne brought up his belief that recent affordable housing initiatives require clarification and consideration by the Council.

“Even letting people know where it is and what are the current hangups or some past [hangups] and some discussion of what the recent history is.” Pinkston said.  “I think we owe it to the community.”

The next full Council meeting will be March 7 at 4:00 p.m. and can be accessed via livestream.