Concerns Surround Town Manager Review in Purcellville

The rumor mill in Purcellville is running at high speed this week ahead of a planned Town Council session to continue a performance review of long-time Town Manager Robert W. Lohr Jr.

The council held a three-hour closed session last Tuesday and then called for a special meeting tonight to continue the conversation.

The closed-door talks have prompted a wave of concern that the region’s longest serving municipal manager could be forced out by a council now led by a majority of members who have been staunchly critical of former Mayor Robert Lazaro and actions taken by the town’s leadership over the past decade.

Lohr has served as Purcellville’s town manager since 1993. Prior to that he served as town manager in New Market for seven years. His current contract expires in 2018.

Neither Lohr nor council members have made public comments about the nature of the performance review talks.

The Town Council has experienced a complete turnover in less than three years. Vice Mayor Karen Jimmerson and Council Doug McCollum, first elected in 2014, are the longest serving members. Four new members—Kelli Grim, Chris Bledsoe, Nedim Ogelman and Ryan Cool—took office nine months ago. Mayor Kwasi Fraser is serving his second two-year term.

The new council majority has been highly critical of past council actions—the blame for everything from perception of high utility and tax rates to unwanted new development. It has been trying to wade through some of those issues during its first budget review—mainly looking for ways to raise money by selling or leasing town properties and by shifting the balance among the town’s general government and utility funds.

Tensions increased in recent weeks after Grim publicly alleged she had been threatened by a town staff member. At her request, the council met in closed session twice with Lohr and Town Attorney Sally Hankins. After those talks ended with no formal action, Grim requested that the State Police conduct an impartial investigation, but no other council member supported her motion.

Also last month, the council requested a survey of town employees to garner other cost-saving suggestions and to learn more about their concerns. While the responses did raise some managerial criticisms—the need to improve communication among departments was a repeated suggestion—they also highlighted concerns about Town Council demands, perhaps meddling, that added to employees’ stress and workload without much public benefit. Low staff morale was cited in several comments.

With little known about the status or tone of the council’s talks with Lohr, many of his supporters are planning to attend tonight’s council meeting at 7 p.m. with the hope of making some comments before the close-session talks begin.

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