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City Charter changes: What to expect and when

Here’s what changes could come to Richmond’s charter and when to expect them to go into effect

RICtoday_CityHall_Aerial_StaboMedia

Changes could be coming to City Hall.

Photo by Jeff Hawthorne

Table of Contents

After around seven months of meetings, work sessions, and public hearings, the City Charter Review Commission has sent its final recommendations report to City Council. The nine-member group was tasked with poring over the City Charter of Richmond and recommending changes, from fixing clerical errors and outdated language to changing how Richmond City government is organized.

With the recommendations of the commission now in hand, City Council will be tasked with reviewing the changes and deciding whether or not to take action. Any changes will need to be approved in the form of legislation by the Virginia General Assembly.

We’ll go through the recommendations document and let you know when you might expect to see them come before the General Assembly.

Updates and clarifications

First, some local government 101. Virginia cities get their powers from their charters and from laws passed by the General Assembly. In older cities like Richmond, there tends to be a lot of overlap between the two because the city charter may have been written when state laws were not as robust.

The commission — with the help of a legal analysis by Lynchburg attorney Walter Erwin — recommended updating language, removing unnecessary or outdated provisions, and adding clarity to some sections to make the document more consistent. If you’re following along, these amendments are in Chapter Five, which starts on page 22.

This section wouldn’t fundamentally change how any city departments operate, so the commission recommended bringing it to the General Assembly in time for the 2024 session.

Mayor-Council changes

Also recommended for the 2024 legislative session are a series of proposals which would shift how the Mayor, Chief Administrative Officer, and City Council work together.

The new system — explored in Chapter Six, page 51 — would create a Partnership Model between the mayor and City Council.

The changes would grant the mayor power to appoint and remove department heads, or delegate that authority to the Chief Administrative Officer. However, City Council would have a role in appointing the CAO.

To increase public collaboration between the mayor and City Council, the commission proposed requiring the mayor to attend at least one regular council meeting per month in order to provide government updates and answer questions from councilmembers.

This chapter also recommends increasing the compensation of the Mayor and Council members. The commission notes that this change would make it feasible for more residents to consider running for office.

Council-Manager exploration

In Chapter Seven (page 74), the commission starts to dream a little bigger. It proposes exploring a shift away from the Mayor-Council form, which has been in place since 2004, and towards an Elected Mayor, Council-Manager setup.

This would be a substantial change — which is why the commission recommends a significant period of public outreach (maybe even a citywide referendum), a legal review, collaboration with the school board, and a new commission to manage it all.

The proposed Council-Manager system would have an elected, full-time mayor who presides over a seven-member City Council. The mayor would be elected at-large with ranked choice voting. The council would then collectively hire a City Manager to be the administrative head of city government.

Staggered terms

The commission recommended staggered terms for City Council, whether in the current Mayor-Council structure or in a future Council-Manager government.

However, the commission noted several issues that would require addressing before implementing staggered terms, including a legal analysis, decisions about which seats would be up for elections when, and coordination with the school board.

Citing these points, the commission recommended that City Council create a special committee by October to discuss the issues and come up with answers by November so that the changes can be considered by the General Assembly in 2024.

What to expect

Recommendations for updating language and changes concerning the Partnership Model could go before the General Assembly in 2024, allowing for implementation in 2025.

In terms of larger scale changes, the commission recommended a Friday, Dec. 15 deadline for City Council to create a new commission called the Electoral Transition Commission.