By C. SUAREZ ROJAS | Richmond Times-Dispatch
RICHMOND — Charlottesville has invested $250,000 to help Maurice Jones move to the city and earn a master’s degree after selecting him as city manager in 2010.
As Jones prepares to become the manager of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, after he was ousted in May — the latest in a string of departures from city government — more than $80,000 the city loaned him is forgiven.
Jones had repaid around $32,000 on a $113,000 loan to help fund a down payment on a new home in Charlottesville and pay the mortgage on a house in Albemarle County that he was struggling to sell after being named City Manager in December 2010.
On Monday, Mayor Nikuyah Walker announced that under the terms of his contract, Jones would not be required to repay the remaining $80,667. The contract erases Jones’ debt because his expulsion from the city was not for a specific cause.
Jones is the latest senior city official to quit after the Unite the Right rally last August. It started with white supremacists openly fighting downtown with counter-protesters as authorities looked on and ended with one dead and others injured after a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters. protesters.
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Since then, the police chief, city attorney, and communications director have all resigned or retired.
Robert Blair, a public administration expert at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said he had never seen a locality give its leaders loans to help them buy a house or pay off a mortgage. Blair has worked with local governments and the International City County Management Association throughout his career.
“It may be a practice in some states, but in my years studying municipal management, I haven’t heard of such a provision in an employment contract,” Blair said.
Virginia Municipal League and Virginia Association of Counties officials said they were unable to answer questions about the contract.
Councilor Heather Hill said she would still be willing to consider special benefits to retain a qualified executive for the position of city manager.
“While some of these decisions have preceded me, when I look at investments, some pay off and some don’t,” Hill, who was elected in November, said of Jones and the benefits he has had. received. “What is important is to accept when an investment does not provide the expected returns and to invest elsewhere.”
Some observers in Charlottesville have questioned Jones’ qualifications when he was first appointed to the position, citing his lack of professional management experience prior to becoming assistant city manager in 2008. Jones previously worked as a broadcast journalist, director of communications for the city, and a staff member at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
Kristin Szakos, the council member who nominated Jones, said she and other community members who reviewed candidates for city manager then felt Jones was the best person for the job.
“He didn’t have the same credentials as some applicants, but credentials don’t necessarily make you a better manager,” she said.
“It was a concern that he had a degree, which is why we decided to pay for him to get his master’s degree.”
Szakos said she thinks the city will “lose” some of her investment, but hesitated when asked if she disagreed with the council’s decision not to renew her contract.
“As a former adviser, I don’t think they need me to question their decisions,” she said. “I don’t think those investments were wasted. Now that [Jones] goes somewhere else, he will be a good manager there.
Jones received $137,000 in tuition reimbursement for an MBA program at UVa’s Darden School of Business, according to financial records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Additionally, Walker said the deal gives Jones an additional six months of pay and compensation for accrued vacation beginning July 31.
City officials said Jones would receive a lump sum payment of $115,000. His salary for the fiscal year that began July 1 was $197,000.
City officials have been mum on specifics of why they decided not to extend Jones’ contract, but signs of a strained relationship between Jones and elected officials have surfaced on occasion. like after last year’s deadly rally.
Jones clashed with the mayor after a leaked memo revealed that the city council had blamed him and other city officials after the rally.
Jones later refuted the council’s claims and revealed that former mayor Mike Signer threatened to fire him and former police chief Al Thomas at the “peak of the crisis” because the two officials banned the mayor to enter a command center.
Walker said publicly last month that the next city manager should treat “the board-management relationship as a team.”
In recent weeks, other elected officials have said there have been frustrations with the way Jones has been running City Hall and holding staff accountable to the public.
The council voted last month to offer the job to a new candidate, but backed down after Walker said on Twitter that the public “may have to protest” the decision. A deputy city manager is in charge as the city’s search continues.
Jones declined several interview requests before his last day with the city. Asked in person last month outside his office about the multiple requests he had failed to respond to, he declined an interview, saying he wanted to focus exclusively on “the future”.
Jones came under fire early in his tenure as city manager for not living within city limits, a common requirement for such a position.
Living in nearby Albemarle at the time, Jones said the weak housing market made it difficult for him to complete the move. The value of his house had dropped by about $80,000 in five years.
The council changed his contract to give him more time to move. A deal with Jones allowed him up to $90,000 down payment on a new home in Charlottesville. He also allowed an interest-free loan to help pay the mortgage on the Albemarle house he was selling.
According to property records, Jones bought her former home in Albemarle for $393,276 in 2006 and sold it for $342,000 in 2014.
The house Jones bought with the city’s help has doubled in value, another potential financial windfall for Jones as he prepares to leave town. Jones bought the home in the city’s Greenbrier neighborhood for $243,000 in 2012. City tax records now value it at $547,700.
It appears that Jones was preparing for the board’s decision before the announcement was made. Applications for the Chapel Hill position were only accepted until mid-April, city officials confirmed, a month before Charlottesville decided to part ways with Jones.
Had he accepted the job in North Carolina before the city council decided to fire him, Jones would still be responsible for the balance of the $80,000 loan.
Under the terms of his new contract, Jones begins work on August 20 and must establish his residence in Chapel Hill within six months. He will pay up to $15,000 for moving expenses and $6,000 for “short-term living expenses” during his first six months on the job. But the city won’t sign a loan for a down payment on his new home.