Charlottesville NDS Seeking Leadership and Vision

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentSee the source image

Charlottesville’s aspirations to be a “World Class” city require a significant paradigm shift in Neighborhood Development Services (NDS).  The department desperately needs a new, customer service focused philosophy, accountability, and an innovative spirit of cooperation seeking to work with applicants to build the city the Comprehensive Plan envisions.

We have been encouraged that City leadership has recognized the need for such a change.  We saw the first evidence in late January as The Daily Progress Nolan Stout reported:

Charlottesville City Manager Tarron Richardson has reorganized the Department of Neighborhood Development Services and plans to demote its administrative lead, though his salary will not be reduced.

On Jan. 31, Richardson sent an email to all employees announcing the reorganization of the department to have two deputy directors below its director.

Director Alexander Ikefuna has held his post since 2015, but will become deputy director for zoning when a new director is hired, the email says. His salary as director is $139,526 and will remain the same in his new position.

According to Richardson, the national search for a “A DYNAMIC,INNOVATIVE AND PROGRESSIVE LEADER IN PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT” has been sidelined by COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Free Enterprise Forum did learn this week, 25 applications were received that met the minimum qualifications stated in the Job Description.

We have our own top seven qualifications for new NDS leadership:  Vision, Critical Thinking, Curiosity, Impatience, Servant Leadership, Private Sector Experience, and Evangelical Empathy.

1. Vision.  The ability to articulate a departmental vision that goes beyond the nuts and bolts of processes and ordinances and sees the future of the city.

People are more inclined to be drawn in if their leader has a compelling vision. Great leaders help people get in touch with their own aspirations and then will help them forge those aspirations into a personal vision.

                                                      – John Kotter

2. Critical Thinking.  The analytical skills to problem solve and implement process improvements that retain citizen confidence, transparency yet do not hinder development approvals.

3. Curiosity.  The mental skills to continually question the benefits and costs of existing procedures and protocols.  Always looking for the new, best way to accomplish City goals.

4. Impatience.  Government is not required to move slowly.  In development projects, time equates to increased cost.  Identifying and implementing time saving practices can positively impact housing affordability.

5. Servant Leadership. The ability and desire to anticipate, recognize and meet others’ needs, sometimes even before those needs are articulated. Service-oriented people focus on providing satisfaction and making themselves available to others. has a good explanation of Servant Leadership

Robert K. Greenleaf first coined the phrase “servant leadership” in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as a Leader.” However, it’s an approach that people have used for centuries.

As a servant leader, you’re a “servant first” – you focus on the needs of others, especially team members, before you consider your own. You acknowledge other people’s perspectives, give them the support they need to meet their work and personal goals, involve them in decisions where appropriate, and build a sense of community within your team. This leads to higher engagement, more trust, and stronger relationships with team members and other stakeholders. It can also lead to increased innovation.

6. Private Sector/Entrepreneurial Experience The understanding of how markets and financials work is critically important to comprehending how NDS approvals impact business operations.

7. Evangelical Empathy – The ability to empathize with customers’ challenges and promote such interaction by staff. When employees practice empathy for customers (applicants and citizens) in every aspect of their work, they are a part of an organization built on meaningful relationships that stand the test of time.

In 2015, we cosigned a letter with the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) calling out the import in the hiring of a new NDS Director.

Economic sustainability, planning for and maintaining adequate urban infrastructure, wise stewardship
of natural resources, and active neighborhood engagement are all important City goals that do not have
to be mutually exclusive,
and much of the City’s success over the last decade is directly related to
striking a fair balance between them. The Neighborhood Development Services department is certainly
one in which that balance is particularly important, and the director clearly plays a major role in that
regard. Emphasis added-nw

We stand by these words today, perhaps now more than ever.

While recognizing the COVID-19 reality restricts in person visits, the Free Enterprise Forum hopes the City is utilizing virtual interviews to winnow the applicants down to the final candidates.  Then, they can be positioned to take the next step in the NDS paradigm shift when restrictions are lifted.

At that time, we hope they will seek stakeholders to participate in the interview process.  We also hope the City will proceed with a sense of urgency – because the need is both real and immediate.


Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website


Photo Credit: John Kotter,,

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