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Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe says city council fired city attorney over "unbalanced" advice, communication

Rowe says former City Attorney Solomon Ashby told city council members they could not fire City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton. Pettis Patton resigned Monday.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe says a majority of City Council "lost confidence" in City Attorney Solomon Ashby and City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton due to poor communication and bad leadership decisions.

Pettis Patton resigned Monday morning. City council members voted 4 to 3 to fire Ashby in a special session Monday.

RELATED: Portsmouth city manager resigns amid controversy over Confederate monument protest charges

Rowe said the "last straw" for Ashby was an email the City Attorney sent to City Council members, suggesting they could face a misdemeanor charge if they chose to fire Pettis Patton.

"It's what we thought was not very balanced and good advice, and that shakes your confidence," Rowe said. "Culminating in an opinion that you can’t fire the city manager, that the city manager is bulletproof, and that just does not hold up.”

Rowe said per the city charter, council has the ability to hire and fire employees, including the City Manager and City Attorney.

He said race did not affect the 4-3 votes to approve Pettis Patton's resignation and fire Ashby. The votes to officially remove the two Black city leaders were split along racial lines, with Black council members Paul Battle, Shannon Glover and Lisa Lucas-Burke voting against the motions, and White council members Nathan Clark, Bill Moody, Elizabeth Psimas and Mayor Rowe supporting them.

"Race had nothing to do with this, and retaliation had nothing to do with it," Rowe said.

The outgoing Portsmouth Mayor said a majority of City Council members felt they weren't included in "big decisions" made by Pettis Patton and Ashby, including the recent hiring of a law firm during a federal investigation of the city.

Ashby was not immediately available to comment on his termination.

The leadership changes come three months after a June 10 protest at the Portsmouth Confederate Monument, where one man was seriously hurt.

Three weeks ago, Portsmouth Police charged 19 people in connection to the monument damage. State Senator Louise Lucas was among the people arrested.

On Friday, the city placed Police Chief Angela Greene on Administrative Leave, pending an investigation of her job performance, actions, and behavior.

Ashby will be replaced by Burle Stromberg, a deputy city attorney who will serve in the interim.

LaVoris Pace will serve as interim city manager.

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