Chapman controversy: Portsmouth mayor claims he had nothing to do with chief’s departure


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A debate that has divided the city of Portsmouth is not going away anytime soon.

The mayor is talking about the resignation of the Police Chief Tonya Chapman last week, and the mounting questions ever since. 

That’s especially true after the former chief herself said that she was pushed out.

10 On Your Side asked Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe whether he had anything to do with the removal of the police chief from her office.

He immediately responded, “No.”

No one has been more outspoken about what has happened than State Senator Louise Lucas, who made her thoughts known at Tuesday’s council meeting.

MORE: Mayor says majority of council is ‘satisfied’ with city manager’s performance

“Everybody knows what happened. Dr. Patton didn’t come to this decision on her own. She was pushed by people to do it. I expected her to have more integrity than that.”

Lucas is absolutely convinced Mayor John Rowe forced the City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis-Patton to get rid of Chapman. 

Rowe says Senator Lucas is wrong.

“She doesn’t know the city manager, and she doesn’t know me, because I can tell you straight up we have a strong professional city manager who would not take direction from the city council in this regard whether it is me or any of my six other colleagues.” 

To that thought Senator Lucas reminded reporters, “I don’t believe the mayor or the city manager. Did you hear what I said? I meant what I said … I don’t believe them.” 

To that Mayor Rowe responded, “I do think the resignation was handled properly, yes, and it followed the exact requirements of the state law.”

We asked Rowe: has anything been said to him about Chapman’s performance or the loss of support in her office from some people? 

His quick response, “No.”

In her letter to the citizens of Portsmouth, Chapman writes: “I have never witnessed the degree of bias and acts of systemic racism, discriminatory practices and abuse of authority in all of my almost 30 year career … some did not like taking direction from an African American female.”

Mayor Rowe is sure racism had nothing to do with Chapman’s removal from office.

“Look, we have the first African American city manager and the first African American woman police chief, and there is an allegation of racism,” Rowe says with skepticism. “There is irony there.”

It has also been suggested that in her letter to the citizens of Portsmouth, Chapman refers to the Fraternal Order of Police, “members of a highly influential fraternal organization … tried to generate a vote of no confidence.”

Mayor Rowe’s critics think the FOP came to him to force the city manager’s hand. He thinks that’s ludicrous. 

We asked Mayor Rowe whether the FOP ever came to him to get rid of Tonya Chapman.

“No … I don’t even know who the leadership is on the FOP.”

Calls to the FOP were not returned.

As for the firing, Councilman Shannon Glover is concerned that wrong was done.

“We are the laughingstock of the region, state and nation. For the record, I do not believe this matter was handled properly,” he said to great applause at the city council meeting. 

We asked Rowe if he agrees with the laughingstock descriptive.

“No, I don’t agree and it breaks my heart that this is in the news.”

There’s been talk of bringing up a “no confidence” vote on the city manager, but it is clear that as of now those council members don’t have the votes to carry that through. 

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