Vote to hire ex-police chief as new Portsmouth city manager fails after one council member broke ranks

·4 min read

A vote to replace fired Portsmouth City Manager Angel Jones with the city’s former police chief failed Tuesday evening when a council member broke ranks from an alliance.

Council members met in closed session to discuss Jones’ replacement before publicly voting in the council chambers, which was filled with dozens of residents.

After one member’s failed attempt to postpone the vote, the council ultimately rejected Mark Whitaker’s motion to appoint ex-Police Chief Tonya Chapman as new city manager, thanks to Chris Woodard’s decision to break from Whitaker’s camp and cast the tie-breaking vote against Chapman.

“We want to make sure that we do have all the details before we are continuing to pick a city manager and continuing to go throughout this process. I think that’s the right thing to do,” Woodard said before casting his vote. “I want to make sure that I consider everything when I’m making decisions.”

The four who voted against Chapman: Woodard, Mayor Shannon Glover and council members Bill Moody and Lisa Lucas-Burke.

Chapman resigned in March 2019. The following month, she said her departure was forced and stemmed from her efforts to change a culture that included bias and systemic racism within the department. Chapman was the first Black woman to lead a police department in Virginia.

Some in the audience — who opposed Whitaker’s push to hire Chapman — voiced criticism of council members believed to be in Whitaker’s camp, forcing Glover to call for decorum several times amid boos and insults like “sellout” and “get rid of them.” Woodard was on the receiving end of the criticism, too, until it became clear that he wasn’t voting with Whitaker.

Council member Paul Battle, who voted to hire Chapman, told the audience he wouldn’t tolerate disrespect and that his vote to appoint Chapman was for the betterment of the city.

“Stop feeding into rhetoric,” Battle told the crowd. “I’m trying to make this government work for all of us. And if you decide to vote me out, that’s OK. But just remember one thing: you are a minority and there’s other citizens out here who want this government to work for everybody.”

Lucas-Burke said she asked fellow members during the closed session to delay a new manager appointment until January and leave the decision to a newly elected council after a vetted hiring process.

Council member Bill Moody tried to delay the appointment until January, but Woodard voted against the motion, because he didn’t want to delay the vote that long.

Lucas-Burke clarified that even though “it was tough” voting against Chapman, she was choosing to vote “against this process.”

“It’s not the time for her to come back into this toxic situation,” Lucas-Burke said.

Whitaker called for the special meeting last week, one day after leading the charge to oust Jones after just a year on the job. His motion Tuesday for Chapman’s appointment included a base salary of $200,000.

Glover said he had only learned of the candidate’s name during the closed session discussion. The mayor said he contacted Whitaker last week to ask about the meeting, but his call wasn’t returned.

“We have not followed a process,” Glover said. “And as the elected leader of this city, I will not anymore put the city at risk.”

Moody said the lack of communication and rushed decision to appoint a new manager makes the city appear “dysfunctional.”

“All of that has got to stop,” he said.

Moody said he, Glover and Lucas-Burke were once again blindsided and that reading rumors about the alleged replacement on social media is not how the process should have gone.

Woodard acknowledged the council is lacking communication but again denounced “insinuations” made by the mayor last week that some members are holding closed-door meetings and leaving other members in the dark.

“We are a divided council,” Woodard said

Last week’s vote elevated Mimi Terry from deputy to interim city manager. Glover praised her Tuesday for being a “capable professional” who saw the city through two successful audits, budgets that fully funded schools and for helping the city retain a “stellar” credit rating.

“If there’s anyone beyond Angel Jones who is more deserving of the city manager position, it would be our (interim) city manager,” he said.

Neither Barnes nor Whitaker spoke during the meeting and did not respond to request for comments after Tuesday’s meeting.

Natalie Anderson, natalie.anderson@virginiamedia.com, 757-732-1133.