The City of Charlottesville operates under a Council-Manager form of government. Charlottesville voters elect a five member Council to serve at large as the City’s legislative and governing body. The members serve four year terms, and they select one Councilor to serve as Mayor and one as Vice Mayor for two years. Municipal elections are held in November in odd-numbered years. The terms of Council members are staggered so that three are elected in one year and two are elected two years later. If a vacancy occurs, Council elects a new member to serve out the unexpired term. 
- 1 Current Membership
- 2 Council-Manager Form of Government
- 3 Duties and powers
- 4 Duties & Powers
- 5 Organization
- 6 Committee assignments
- 7 Budget & levy of taxes
- 8 Meetings
- 9 Structure
- 10 Former Members
- 11 UVA liaison
- 12 Non-city issues
- 13 Past councils
- 14 External links
- 15 References
Sena Magill (D), Vice-president (vice-mayor), Member Since January 2020; Next Election: November 7, 2023
Lloyd Snook (D), Member Since January 2020; Next Election: November 7, 2023
Michael Payne (D), Member Since January 2020; Next Election: November 7, 2023
Nikuyah Walker (I), President (mayor), Member since January 2018; Next Election: November 2, 2021
Heather Hill (D), Member Since January 2018; Next Election: November 2, 2021
- City council (and school board) elections are non-partisan. Nikuyah Walker, a city employee, ran as an independent in the 2017 election.
Council-Manager Form of Government
Originating in 1908 in Staunton, Virginia, the Council-Manager plan has become the most widely accepted system of local government in the United States. The City of Charlottesville has operated under the Council-Manager plan since September 1, 1946. Under this form, the Charlottesville City Council is elected at-large. The Council then appoints a professional manager to handle the day-to-day affairs of the city.
- The plan is modeled after the American corporation, with its shareholders (voters), board of directors (City Council) and Chief Executive Officer (City Manager). Of the 38 cities in the Commonweath of Virginia, the City of Richmond is the only city operating under the Mayor-Council form of government. However, it is used by a majority of towns in Virginia, inlcuding the Town of Scottesville.
- The Commonwealth of Virginia has 38 cities and 191 towns, giving the state a total of 229 municipalities. These municipalities, like their counterparts in other states, were established essentially to provide urban services to densely populated areas in need of such. Virginia cities, however, are distinct from cities in other states in that they are independent governmental entities. No county authority or taxing power extends within the boundaries of a Virginia city.
Mayor & Vice Mayor
The Council elects one of its members as the presiding officer (generally known as the Mayor), whose position is primarily ceremonial in nature. The Mayor serves as the official head of the city and generally has the same legislative power and duties as other council members. The Mayor presides over meetings, calls special meetings, makes some appointments to advisory boards and serves as the ceremonial head of government. The Vice Mayor substitutes whenever the Mayor is not available.
See also: former mayors.
Duties and powers
City Council appoints the City Manager, the Director of Finance, the City Assessor, the Clerk of the Council and members of major policy-making Boards and Commissions. Council makes policy in the areas of:
- City Planning and Finances
- Human Development
- Public Safety and Justice
- Public Utilities
Council makes policy in the areas of:
- City Planning and Finances
- Human Development
- Public Safety and Justice
- Public Utilities
City Council has specific powers to:
- Adopt a Budget
- Borrow Money
- Collect Revenues
- Issue Bonds
- Levy Taxes
- Make Appropriations
- Pass Ordinances
- Provide for the Payment of Public Debts
Duties & Powers
Council guides policy decisions concerning city planning and finances, human development, public safety and justice, public utilities, and transportation.
Council has the power to pass ordinances, levy taxes, collect revenues, adopt a budget, make appropriations, issue bonds, borrow money, and provide for the payment of public debts.
As the legislative body, the City Council is responsible for adopting all ordinances and resolutions, approving the annual operating and capital budgets, setting all tax rates, approving the City's multi-year Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), setting all user fees, making land use and zoning decisions, and establishing long range plans and policies.
The City Council is guided by the current City of Charlottesville Charter and numerous amendments, as adopted and approved by the Virginia General Assembly; and by its own rules of procedure, resolutions and ordinances. The council hires a city manager, a and a city finance director. The City Council establishes the City's public policy through resolutions and ordinances, approves proposed programs, and controls the funding of these programs. The city manager's job is to implement and oversee policies crafted by city council.
(will be announced in January 2020)
Budget & levy of taxes
The Council oversees an annual city budget. As outlined in the City Charter, the council has the duty to prepare a budget containing a complete itemized and classified plan of all proposed expenditures and all estimated revenues and borrowing for the ensuing appropriation year. Independent cities in Virginia are authorized to issue general obligation bonds so long as total general indebtedness does not exceed ten percent of assessed value of taxable real property; no referendum required. There is no amount limitation imposed regarding revenue bonds. (Virginia Constitution, Article VII, §10)
Responsibilities of City Council
Among the duties and responsibilities of the the City Council:
- Choose from within, by simple majority vote, a council president (Mayor) and vice-president (Vice-mayor).
- Appoint a City Manager, a City Attorney, a City Clerk of Council and a City Finance Director.
- Prepared a budget containing a complete itemized and classified plan of all proposed expenditures and all estimated revenues and borrowing for the ensuing appropriation year.
- Pass all by-laws, rules and ordinances, not repugnant to the Constitution and laws of the State.
- Any and all additions and amendments to the Charlottesville City Code.
- Creation of council-appointed Boards and Commissions.
Responsibilities of the council president
- Continue in office two years.
- Preside over meetings, call special meetings, make some appointments to advisory boards and serve as the ceremonial head of government. The Vice Mayor substitutes whenever the Mayor is unavailable.
While the Mayor has no more power than any other Councilor, the position carries with it the ability to set the agenda. That means the Mayor can control how the meeting flows.
Council holds public meetings on the first and third Monday of each month. If one of those dates falls on a holiday, Council will meet on the Tuesday following the holiday. Meetings are held in City Council Chambers in City Hall and are televised on Cable Channel 10, as well as streamed online.
Council occasionally holds additional work sessions in CitySpace.
Since 2018, regular meetings of City Council begin at 6:30 PM in City Council Chambers. They begin with the pledge of allegiance, followed by any awards, recognitions or announcements that need to be made. Then, Council will invite the public up to speak during for up to three minutes on any item that is not on the agenda. Depending on who has been Mayor, this period either last until everyone had their chance to speak or until 7:35 PM. Up until February 2016, councilors had the opportunity to respond to comments. New rules made after that (and since rescinded) prevented them from doing so and others changes were made as well.  These changes were cited by many as leading to tension in City Council Chambers.
At the beginning of 2018, they expressed interest in changing rules for meetings. 
Next, the Council will consider the consent agenda, which is a list of resolutions and ordinances that Council has agreed in advance to approve. Beginning in 2003, Council moved this section to the front of the agenda rather than at the conclusion of the meeting. Any item pulled from the agenda, however, will be deferred until after all regular items have been heard.
After the consent agenda is passed, Council will hear any number of resolutions, ordinances or reports. Public hearings are required for certain items to move forward.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the public is offered one more chance to make a public comment. Then, Councilors are asked if they have any other business they'd like to bring up. After that business has been discussed, the Mayor will call for Council to adjourn.
Council frequently holds strategic retreats to address the City Council vision. While no votes are taken at these meetings, staff acts on priorities identified at these meetings.
- September 1990 retreat at Omni Hotel in Richmond 
- February 2016 retreat, Morven Farm (carried over to NDS conference room)
Changes to meeting procedure
Council made several changes to their meeting procedures following a January 2018 retreat at Morven. Council meetings were to begin at 6:30 p.m. with a dedicated public comment period known as Community Matters. The changes were also encouraged to make meetings less formal than they had been under the previous mayor. Other proposed changes were documented in a February 5, 2018 staff report. 
At the February 2016 retreat, a majority of Councilors agreed to make changes to the way meetings were to be conducted. They included a stricter adherence to Robert's Rules of Order, moving work sessions to the second Monday meeting of each month, imposing time limits on discussions, and limiting City Councilor comments to three minutes.  However, the biggest controversy centered around a decision to use a lottery system to choose speakers at Council's first public period.  Council voted 4-1 on February 16, 2016 to enact the new changes with Bob Fenwick voting no.  The new procedures went into effect beginning with the March 7 meeting. 
Since 2010, Council also holds occasional town hall meetings in the community.
The current configuration of a 5-member City Council has been in place since the 1920's according to City Attorney Craig Brown. Before then there were 12 alderman and a Mayor.  Other attempts have been made to change the system.
In 1960, State senator Edward O. McCue Jr. introduced a bill that would change the city charter to require a ward system with four districts and one at-large. Citizens would still elect all of the councilors, but those elected by wards must be residents of that district. The move was not popular with the city council at the time.  Delegate Harold M. Burrows filed another bill that would require the mayor to be elected by the public. That bill was also panned by City Councilors because they had not been consulted.  The issue came up during the Democratic Primary for City Council. Candidates and sitting councilors protested and said any charter change should itself require a referendum. 
A group called the Citizens Committee to Study Council Changes had reviewed possible changes to how City Council was elected.
The NAACP proposed switching to a system with four wards and three at-large representatives and the idea went to a non-binding advisory referendum on November 3, 1981. The measure was approved by six out of the eight wards but soon after, members of Council began to seek a second referendum. Sherman White of the NAACP as well as others questioned the need for a second referendum. Many were concerned that night that the item was not included on the sample ballot distributed by the Charlottesville Democratic Party. Councilor John Conover suggested that a two-thirds majority in favor of the change should be required and called for a second referendum. 
A majority of Councilors felt the results of the first referendum were inconclusive and so they voted on March 1, 1982 to hold a second one. 
The second referendum was held on May 4, 1982. The question was:
Shall the form of City Council be changed from the present Council of five members elected by the voters of the entire city to a Council composed of seven members, with four members elected from our four separate wards and three members elected by the voters of the entire city?
There were 3,382 "no" votes and 2,453 yes votes. 
In 2004, an Election Task Force was appointed to study changing council elections to November from May. Councilor Rob Schilling had wanted to try to expand the scope to also include expansion to a ward system, but was voted down 4-1.  Schilling said a system of four members elected by ward and 3 elected at-large would be representative of the city.
Charlottesville switched from May to November City Council elections in 2007. Councilors elected in May 2004 have shortened terms that end December 2007 (instead of June 2008). Councilors elected in May 2006 have shortened terms that end in December 2009 (instead of June 2010).
The first new Councilors to be elected in November were Holly Edwards and Satyendra Huja; incumbent David E. Brown, first elected May 4, 2004, was re-elected. see also: 2007 election. Julian Taliaferro and Dave Norris were the last new Councilors elected in May to serve on the City Council.
Following the events of the summer of 2017, some people new to the political system began to question how the city was governed. As part of that discussion, Charlottesville Tomorrow and the League of Women Voters of the Charlottesville Area held panel discussions in February 2018 to educate people about the possibilities. 
One day before announcing a decision to withdraw from the 2021 election, Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the position of city manager is too powerful and should be elected. Walker was vehemently opposed to the firing of Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall M. Brackney.  
- Main article: List of City Councilors
The UVA Student Council selects one person to serve as liaison to the City Council, a practice that began in 2004. However, the position has been vacant since the first appointee graduated. Maeve Curtain was appointed to the position in January 2015. 
At times, Council has been asked to weigh in on issues that are outside of their scope. For instance, a public hearing opposing the Patriot Act was held on July 21, 2003. 
1922 and after (at-large)
Since 1922, the City of Charlottesville has operated under a Council-Manager form of government as granted by the Code of Virginia. Under the current City Charter, from within council, by simple majority vote, the President (called mayor) and the Vice-president (called vice-mayor) of the Council were elected at the first regular meeting of the new term. The City Manager, among the City Officers appointed by the Council, acts as the Chief Executive Officer. The City Manager is responsible for day-to-day operations, as well as carrying out policy decisions made by the City Council.
With the 1922 election, the composition of the council went from a three member (commission) to the current five member City Council. Council members serve four-year terms and are elected on a staggered basis with two council seats filled at one election and the other three council seats filled at another election two years later. The Mayor and Vice-mayor are appointed bi-annually by the Council from among the five Council Members.
The current form of government has been in place since July 1, 1950, when the City of Charlottesville changed from the modified city manager form of government to the straight city manager form. Since the 1922 election, all Council members have been elected "at-large", with no district residency (ward) requirement. Since the 1928 election, the council has consisted of 5-members, Elections are staggered: 3 in year before presidential election, 2 in year after presidential election.
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- Web. Charlottesville City Council meeting minutes, .pdf, Council Chambers, City of Charlottesville, November 16, 1981.
- Web. Charlottesville City Council meeting minutes, .pdf, Council Chambers, City of Charlottesville, March 1, 1982.
- Web. Letter from Booker Reaves to Circuit Court Clerk regarding advisoryr referendum, Booker Reaves, Letter, Charlottesville Electoral Board, May 6, 1982, retrieved October 12, 2017.
- Web. Poor and ignored? Schilling makes the case, Lisa Provence, The Hook, Better Publications LLC, March 18, 2014, retrieved February 3, 2015. Print. March 18, 2014 , 311, .
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Charlottesville City Council (2018-2019), January 2018
Charlottesville City Council (2020-2021) First City Council "Virtual" Meeting, April 20, 2020.
|Charlottesville City Council, 2014|
|Members||Bob Fenwick | Kathy Galvin | Satyendra Huja | Dede Smith | Kristin Szakos|
|See also||List of City Councilors | Recent City Council elections|
See also: Charter of the City of Charlottesville