PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — An effort to appoint a familiar face as Portsmouth’s new city manager failed Tuesday night with a split vote.
In a special meeting, Portsmouth City Council — with a 4-3 vote — denied Councilman Mark Whitaker’s motion to appoint former Police Chief Tonya Chapman as the new city manager.
Chapman, whose tenure with the city was fraught with challenges and controversy, resigned as chief in 2019.
Deputy City Manager Mimi Terri will now continue to serve as interim city manager for the foreseeable future.
A majority of City Council fired previous City Manager Angel Jones last week, after just 13 months on the job.
It sparked off another chapter in the saga of Portsmouth politics.
Jones was fired by a 4-3 City Council vote on May 24. Whitaker made the motion, and Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes, Councilman Paul Battle, and Councilman Christopher Woodard joined him in terminating the contract.
Mayor Shannon Glover, Councilwoman Lisa Lucas-Burke and Councilman Bill Moody all voted against the firing.
None of those voting to terminate Jones spoke about their reasoning for doing so in the May 24 meeting. However, by phone afterward, Barnes — who also voted against Jones’ initial appointment — said he hadn’t seen enough action from Jones to combat the number of shootings and violence in the city.
Jones confirmed last week Whitaker summoned her to New Bethel Baptist Church, where Whitaker is an assistant pastor, and told her he had four votes to fire her if she didn’t resign.
After not returning multiple requests for comment, Whitaker told a 10 On Your Side reporter Tuesday he wouldn’t be answering questions about a “personal matter.”
Whitaker started off Tuesday’s special meeting by moving the City Council appoint Chapman to be the city’s next manager starting June 10, with a salary of $200,000 a year, with Mayor Glover and Terri negotiating her contract.
Glover immediately made clear he wouldn’t do that. Glover said Whitaker’s intent to have Chapman appointed wasn’t known to him until it was formally proposed in council chambers Tuesday night.
“We are an elected body. All seven of us. There is no this council or us council. Because we were elected it is incumbent upon all of us to put the best leader and leaders in place to move our city forward,” Glover said.
Glover said no process of qualified background check was conducted on Chapman.
“l called the personal committee, Dr. Whitaker on Thursday last week, to ask him about this appointment. He did not return my phone call,” Glover said. “I suspect Ms. Chapman is a wonderful lady … but I will not support a candidate who has not vetted, who has not gone through the proper hiring process.”
Many residents who filled chambers cheered following his remarks. However, the largest cheers came when Woodard indicated he thinks the process should be deferred.
“Don’t clap for me now. I just want to do the right thing,” Woodard said.
Woodard initially voted against a substitute motion from Moody to defer a appointment on a new city manager until January, saying he would rather reassess in June. Killing the substitute by a 4-3 vote, with Whitaker, Barnes and Battle also voting against.
He voted with Glover, Lucas-Burke and Moody to defeat Chapman’s appointment.
Chapman served as chief of police in Portsmouth. She resigned from the Portsmouth Police Department in March 2019 after three years with the force.
However, in an interview with 10 On Your Side in April 2019, Chapman said she was forced to resign because some well-connected police officers in the department had lost confidence in her. She contended she faced racism while leading the department.
Controversy followed her as she was appointed chair of the Virginia Parole Board. She was relieved of her duties by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.) on his first day in office.
Chapman could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Lucas-Burke felt the move to hire Chapman was intended to sway her vote.
“While it was tough for me to say no to my Delta sister Tonya Chapman, I believe she made a great chief of police and I was deeply hurt when she released. Right now, I don’t think it is the time for her to come back into this toxic situation,” Lucas-Burke said. “I don’t want to put Tonya Chapman in another situation where she will be fired again from a position because she is not doing what somebody wants her to do.”
Whitaker ignored 10 On Your Side’s request for comment following the meeting on why he chose to nominate Chapman.
Woodard said following the meeting he has never met Chapman himself, but wouldn’t say if that would keep him from appointing her.
“We have an application process so we don’t meet these people. We have an application process. We go from there,” Woodard said.
No job application process has been launched since Jones was terminated. Instead, Woodard said City Council has Chapman’s application from the last time applications were accepted in late 2020 and early 2021.
Moody said she never made the list of finalists at that time. Moody, Glover and Lucas-Burke are calling for a new formal search process to begin.
Glover has also publicly called for accountability for the four City Council members who voted to fire Jones.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Glover told 10 On Your Side’s Regina Mobley he approached the Portsmouth magistrate to file a complaint against two members of City Council. He said they have violated sections of the city charter. One section bans council members from interfering with city functions, the other concerns monetary payments to members of City Council.
Glover would not name the accused, but he told 10 On Your Side he is confident the facts will support the issuance of two misdemeanor summons.
“I am privy to information that lets me know that two of the members of our City Council did, in fact, get involved in the day-to-day operations and part of that involvement was used as the reason, I believe, to terminate our city manager, Angel Jones,” Glover said, adding he has solid evidence there was interference.
Glover would not offer additional comments during the interview regarding allegations of the improper acceptance of funds.
Because the case involves Portsmouth officials, Glover said the Portsmouth magistrate turned over the matter to the Norfolk magistrate.
As of Tuesday evening, 10 On Your Side has not been able to determine whether the Norfolk magistrate has decided to advance the case.
Residents of Portsmouth have begun their own effort to recall Whitaker and Barnes. During the meeting, residents were circulating petitions that state the pair should be voted out of office for misusing the office and eroding public trust.
If 30% of the voters who cast their ballots in the last race for governor sign on, a date can be set for a special election to remove the two office council members and elect two new council members to fill out their term.
Terms for Woodard and Battle are already up at the end of the year.
Moody also announced he was reversing his decision to not to seek a seventh term in office because of “recent affairs.”
“We got four members who want to lead our city in the wrong direction. They are embarrassing our city,” Moody said. “They are painting our city through their actions as dysfunctional. That has to stop.”