PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Protesters gathered at Portsmouth City Hall on Thursday after City Council appointed — and then quickly unappointed — former council member Danny Meeks as city manager last week.

The protest started at noon and featured both people against and in support of Meeks.

The group against Meeks’ appoinment has started a petition, demanding the council hire the most qualified candidate and not Meeks, who never even initially applied for the position.

“I’m asking City Council to move from being unprincipled to principled… to move from arrogantly short-circuiting a process to humbly supporting a proven process,” said President of Fairlead in Portsmouth, Fred Pasquine.

Meanwhile, demonstrators backing Meeks chanted his name, saying they are ready for a change.

“The last city managers for the last 30, 40 years, they’ve been qualified, and we have gotten nowhere… You can’t deny he’s a good businessman,” said Portsmouth resident Germain Green.

The issue centered on Meeks and the city manager position began publicly during a Jan. 12 City Council meeting.

During that meeting, Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes and council members Paul Battle and Bill Moody joined newly-appointed Councilman Christopher Woodard in voting for Meeks. The council then came back out of a closed session and unanimously voted against the appointment. It happened without any official city manager action being listed on the agenda.

Mayor Shannon Glover along with council members Lucas-Burke and Mark Whitaker voted against appointing Meeks in the initial vote, with Glover saying it would be “the worst situation for the City of Portsmouth.”

One of the four “yes” votes for Meeks was Councilman Bill Moody, who said he believed Meeks’ business knowledge would benefit the city. Meeks has owned several businesses including Empire Services, Inc. His wife owns Finks Inc. Towing, Body Repairs and Sales in Portsmouth.

Meeks never went to college, and doesn’t meet the educational requirements — a bachelor’s degree in a related field — listed for the job position.

The application sent out by GovHRUS, the headhunter the city paid more than $22,500 to conduct a nationwide search for city manager states, “Candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree in public administration, business administration, urban planning or related field along with at least 7 years’ experience in a senior executive position in a municipal or closely comparable operation, similar to the City of Portsmouth.”

More than 70 people had applied by the end of November 2020.

However, during that Jan. 12 meeting, the council did vote to reopen the application process and make the deadline to apply for the city manager position Jan. 20. The move allowed for Meeks to apply if he wanted to.

Protesters say the extension was made for Meeks and they presume he will be appointed after all when council meets again Tuesday, Jan. 26.

On Thursday, Meeks told WAVY’s Aesia Toliver he had officially applied for the Portsmouth city manager job — and has already been interviewed for it.  

Portsmouth city Councilwoman Lisa Lucas-Burke told 10 On Your Side that no interviews have been conducted yet. She says they are set to start interviewing candidates on Monday.

Petition details

The protesters are calling on City Council to vote against a potential future appointment for Meeks.

“This council vote not only defies the will of Portsmouth voters, but also violates the sacred responsibility of elected officials to serve the best interests of their constituents and impartially discharge the duties of their office,” the petition written by Max Greenhood states.

Meeks, who served on city council from 2013 to 2016, recently lost a bid for mayor to Mayor Shannon Glover. Former city manager, Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton, retired at the end of 2020.