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Portsmouth mayor says city needs more 'good leaders' to work together

Portsmouth City Council will meet Thursday for a special meeting to discuss the contract of the newly appointed city manager, Tonya Chapman.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A special meeting is scheduled for Thursday for Portsmouth city leaders to discuss the contract of newly appointed City Manager Tonya Chapman.

Chapman, the city's former police chief, is expected to start her new role on June 22. 

Her appointment comes after a month of drama and contention in the City of Portsmouth, following the surprise firing of Chapman’s predecessor Angel Jones last month. 

RELATED: Portsmouth City Council appoints new city manager during tense meeting

"We owe that to the citizens of Portsmouth to vet all the candidates and understand what we are doing in terms of hiring the new CEO of the City of Portsmouth," Mayor Shannon Glover said. "That process was not followed; so, therefore, we are already starting off on the wrong foot." 

With a 4-3 vote Tuesday, Vice Mayor De'Andre Barnes and Councilmembers Dr. Mark Whitaker, Paul Battle and Christopher Woodard pushed Chapman's appointment forward — after a similar motion to hire her failed two weeks ago.

In both instances, Whitaker introduced the motion for Chapman's appointment, while Glover, Lisa Lucas-Burke and Bill Moody voted against the hire. 

With Chapman's hire, several of the council members are not on the same page about the next steps.

Glover said there are trust issues on the Dias.

“Moving forward requires willingness to share information and work collaboratively so that we can all work in the best interests of the citizens of Portsmouth," Glover said. "I just don’t know how we all do that collaboratively and collectively at this moment.”  

RELATED: Ousted Portsmouth city manager speaks out after sudden termination

On Tuesday, Whitaker told reporters he has no hostility toward anyone in council leadership and that he "could work with any of them up there." 

During an interview, Whitaker referred to "issues" he wanted to bring to light, regarding the former city manager.

"There was over a four-month period of concern," he said.

He said he plans to read a statement during the next city council meeting, but wouldn't elaborate citing legal concerns.

"You’ll never have everybody 100% agree with you," said Whitaker Tuesday night. "My only concern is we make sure the truth is put out and that we put out the correct information, and not a bunch of demagoguery and getting people riled up and excited.” 

In 2019, Chapman, then Portsmouth police chief, claimed city leaders forced her to resign.

RELATED: Former Portsmouth Police chief claims she was forced to resign

“I think that poses a different concern because she was over the department at one time, and we don’t know the extent of what transpired that caused her to resign, which could lead to other issues," said Glover.  

Whitaker said he is excited for Chapman’s return to city leadership and said she is not the "normal, cookie-cutter choice" for the position. 

Per the motion Tuesday, Chapman's salary will be $200,000 annually. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, Glover said he had not spoken with Chapman about her new role.

The drama surrounding Portsmouth City Council has even caught national attention since the firing of the Jones sparked spirited remarks by some elected officials during a May council meeting.

Since then, members of the Portsmouth community announced they are seeking to recall Whitaker and Barnes.  Both men responded to news of the efforts and acknowledged citizens' constitutional rights while sharing their own concerns. 

RELATED: Group of Portsmouth citizens calls for recall of De'Andre Barnes, Mark Whitaker

And in November, three of the seats, currently held by Moody, Woodard and Battle, will be up for election. 

Moving forward, Glover said the City of Portsmouth needs more "good leaders." 

"Good leaders understand that you have to work together collaboratively, set the vision and then put the vision in motion by working on those things that the citizens and you believe are important to moving our community forward," he said.

The special closed-door session to discuss Chapman's contract is scheduled for Thursday, June 16, at 5 p.m. Members of the community can sign up for public comment which will happen at 6 p.m. at Portsmouth City Hall. 

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