Portsmouth City Manager Lydia Pettis-Patton resigned Tuesday, one business day after she placed Police Chief Angela Greene on leave, and four months before she was scheduled to retire. That afternoon, in a special meeting, the Portsmouth City Council confirmed Pettis-Patton’s resignation and voted to fire City Attorney Solomon Ashby.
Both votes passed four to three; White members of the council voted “aye” while Black members voted “nay.” The resignation and termination are the latest in the drama following felony charges filed against Senator Louise Lucas related to a June 10 protest at a Confederate monument.
On Tuesday evening, two separate protests were held in different parts of Portsmouth, according to reporting by WAVY.com.
One group protested the removal of the two city officials, and called for Mayor John Rowe to be fired. Ashby and Pettis-Patton are both black. According to WAVY.com, organizers said, “In a city where those in power have struggled with recognizing the value of Black and Brown people, some in elected office [have] resorted to threatening warrants against the former City Manager and using other egregious tactics to eliminate Portsmouth of its foundation.”
The other group protested the temporary removal of Chief Greene and called for her to be re-instated. Organizer and local lawyer Tim Anderson wrote, “[Greene] didn’t do anything wrong, they suspended her because she charged people that are in power. She comes here and does her job, and the police department loves her. She does her job and now they’re suspending her. It’s unbelievably outrageous, it’s an injustice and it’s a slap in the face to the rule of law.” Anderson is the defendant in a $20 million defamation lawsuit filed by Senator Louise Lucas.
Mayor John Rowe told 13NewsNow that Ashby and Pettis-Patton were removed after poor leadership and decision making. According to Rowe, Ashby said the city could face misdemeanor charges for firing Pettis-Patton. Rowe said Ashby’s advice “[culminated] 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 did not say why the city wanted to fire Pettis-Patton.
On the afternoon of June 10, Greene and Lucas met near the monument. Lucas told Greene that Pettis-Patton had ordered police not to interfere. “You heard Dr. Patton tell me that this is [the protesters’] property, they could go on it.” Lucas said.
Another bystander said, “That’s what Solomon Ashby told us.”
Greene replied, “I’ll give her a call, but I talked to [Patton] like five minutes ago, and no one is allowed onto the property.”
In an email circulated on Facebook, Pettis-Patton said Greene had reported a conflict of interest related to investigating the June 10 protest. After determining there were no conflicts of interest, Greene’s department charged Senator Louise Lucas and several others with felonies related to damaging the monument. According to Vice-Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke, Ashby advised Greene not to investigate the incident. On Friday, Pettis-Patton put Greene on administrative leave.
However, WAVY.com reports that unnamed sources say that the terminations are not linked to those events. The Virginia Star has requested comment from all the members of the City Council and from the city’s public information officer; none of them responded by press time.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Lydia Pettis Patton” by Lydia Pettis Patton. Background Photo “Portsmouth City Council” by Portsmouth City Council.