Continuing its efforts to reestablish a sense of normalcy in Town Hall, the Purcellville Town Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to select a veteran local government administrator to serve as interim town manager.
The council voted to appoint John Anzivino to the part-time position, replacing Alex Vanegas, who was placed on administrative leave Nov. 21 pending an investigation into his conduct since taking the post in July.
Anzivino has more than 25 years of experience in state and local government. He served as town manager of Warrenton for more than 12 years, county administrator for four years in Caroline County, and for six years in Amelia County. He authored chapters in the Virginia Municipal League Handbook for Mayors and Council Members and the Virginia Association of Counties Handbook for County Supervisors. He is also a past president of the Virginia Association of County Administrators.
Anzivino will lead the town staff through late February or March, when a permanent town manager is expected to be hired. There is a Jan. 12 deadline for candidates to submit applications. The council has earmarked $30,000 for the interim position, although Councilwoman Karen Jimmerson noted that money was already budgeted for the unfilled position, so it would not entirely be an additional expense.
The Town Council selected Anzivino to provide “guidance and stability to ensure continued operational success,” according to a staff report.
Tuesday’s action follows a special meeting last week when the council voted 6-0-1 to retain the Wilson Elser law firm to investigate a series of allegations of staff misconduct that had the interim town manager and the police chief placed on administrative leave. The council also set aside $80,000 to cover the cost of that work.
Anzivino was selected after two rounds of phone interviews conducted by members of town staff, the mayor and all but one Town Council member. Three retired, executive-level municipal managers were initially identified after Mayor Kwasi Fraser directed the town staff to reach out to multiple people for the job. Vice Mayor Nedim Ogelman and Jimmerson last Friday interviewed the three over the phone before recommending two for other town council members to interview. The remaining council members conducted phone interviews Monday in teams of two. Fraser interviewed the candidates separately. Only Councilman Ted Greenly was unable to schedule an interview.
The council is seeking a replacement for long-time Town Manager Robert W. Lohr Jr., who retired in June amid friction with the council.
The council’s decision to tap Vanegas, the Public Works director, to serve as interim town manager led to the departure of longtime Assistant Town Manager Danny Davis, who took a private sector job as president of a senior living community in Ashburn. When Vanegas was placed on leave for alleged misconduct, leadership of the town staff fell to Director of Administration Hooper McCann, who urged the council to move quickly to find an experienced administrator to step in.
Anzivino could be in the interim role for only a few weeks. According to Councilman Ryan Cool, who was appointed in September to help members of town staff lead the search for a permanent town manager, the selection could come soon after the Jan. 12 application deadline. But Jimmerson said a realistic expectation to get a permanent town manager on board is early March. Fraser also is hoping for a quick hire.
“The goal is by the end of January we should have a new town manager,” he said.
Jimmerson said that, because the Virginia Retirement System prohibits retirees from working 40 hours or more while continuing to collect on their retirement payments, Anzivino would work a little less. She also said Anzivino wasn’t interested in working fulltime.
“Thirty-two hours per week seemed like a balance,” she said.
Jimmerson said Anzivino has experience working with management recruiting for towns and is willing to assist the town with the search. Councilman Doug McCollum noted Anzivino’s experience conducting operational audits, which are high on the council’s priority list.
A team from Wilson Elser will conduct an audit of the town’s investigation that originally led to the firing of Police Chief Cynthia McAlister. The integrity of that investigation was called into question three weeks ago, when allegations surfaced that Interim Town Manager Alex Vanegas had an improper personal relationship with the human resources specialist hired to lead that probe. Questions were raised about the consultant’s qualifications because of her criminal history that included felony convictions of fraud and forgery.
Following those allegations, McAlister was reinstated to her position as police chief but continued on leave. Vanegas was placed on administrative leave, as well. Retired Chesterfield County Police Chief Thierry Dupuis also will lead the audit of the McAlister investigation. He is a board member and former president of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.
Wilson Elser will also investigate a subsequent complaint filed by Vanegas alleging sexual harassment by Town Attorney Sally Hankins. Hankins has denied that allegation.
According to a staff report, the law firm also will investigate “other complaints made by Town staff members against Town Attorney Sally Hankins.”
Members of the council majority that preferred Wilson Elser cited its Tysons Corner location, lower rates, experience working with municipalities, lack of affiliation with the county government and its electronic discovery capabilities.
“That’s a relevant issue at play,” Councilman Chris Bledsoe said. “I think that’s going to be critical.”
Councilman Doug McCollum abstained from the vote because he was in favor of contracting with the Jackson Lewis law firm, which has been used by the county government for this type of work and was recommended by county staff.
Wilson Elser has proposed to begin the investigations with an initial team of three attorneys who, according to a Dec. 6 letter to the town, have extensive experience investigating instances of sexual harassment and discrimination, leading investigations of government agencies and using electronic discovery.
Council also voted to amend the town budget to transfer $80,000 from reserves and set it aside to pay the law firm and Dupuis for their services. The town’s budget amendment shows that $15,000 will go toward the McAlister investigation audit, $50,000 toward the other three investigations and $15,000 toward county support.
Wilson Elser indicated it would charge the town up to $40,250 for all four investigations, while Dupuis charges $125 per hour plus expenses.
Newly appointed Councilman Ted Greenly was the only council member to mention the investigations’ financial impact on residents. “As a taxpayer, I want this done right,” he said.
“This mayor and Town Council acknowledge to our citizens that we own these issues and take full responsibility for resolving them in a timely and appropriate manner,” Fraser said. “In the meanwhile, our staff and management team continue to deliver excellent service to the community as per usual.”
Fraser said the media has “over-amplified” the issues in town over the past few weeks.
“I know a lot is said in the media, but as I stated to someone, ‘down goes Fraser’ sells more ads than the truth and the facts,” he said. “I’m committed to the truth and facts.”
Town leaders have indicated they want the investigations to wrap up by Jan. 31.