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Lawrence departs as Chase City manager

South Boston News
Lawrence / June 05, 2019

On Thursday, Angela Lawrence submitted her resignation to Town Council, which members accepted “with regret.” Her last day in the office will be July 3. She’s been on the job for just over 2-1/2 years.

Lawrence said she has accepted a similar position in northwest Virginia.

In an email to town employees, Lawrence wrote, “I so appreciate all that you have done for this community and all that you are willing to do. I was looking forward to working with each of you well into the future, but instead I will just watch for great things from afar … I wish you all the very best as you work toward the betterment of this community and the region. If I can ever be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out.”

One local resident, Alden Fahringer, expressed regret upon hearing the news, telling Lawrence, “I want to say that you have worked so hard for Chase City and with such integrity. I have always been so impressed with everything you have done.” He also called out others in the town — not by name — who he said treated Lawrence in a manner that both horrified and angered him.

“Nobody who serves the way you do deserves that,” said Fahringer.

Mayor Eddie Bratton also shared his sorrow with Lawrence’s departure, calling her “the best town manager [Chase City] has ever had.” He, too, expressed frustration with those in the community “who state that if you are not from our town, you have no standing in the community.”

Bratton noted the many steps Lawrence took to involve herself in town life while also working to further Chase City’s best interests and economic growth.

“Ms. Lawrence has done nothing but try to make herself a part of our community in professional ways and through the established organizations such as MacCallum More and Chase City First Events II,” stated Bratton. “Additionally, she joined the Woman’s Club of Chase City, the Mecklenburg YMCA serving on the Board of Directors, attended as many local activities as possible within our town and reaching out to other towns and organizations where potential benefit was perceived.

Lawrence’s brief tenure with Chase City has not been without controversy. Early on, some town employees publicly shared their displeasure when they learned that due to their position they would no longer be allowed to accumulate comp time — a practice that the prior town manager allowed despite it being contrary to the town code and town policy. Earlier this year, several residents and business owners shared their anger with Lawrence after she terminated, with the support of Council, the town’s supervisor of public works, Jeff Gurley.

He has filed a grievance contesting his termination, which is set to be heard on Wednesday.

At least one local business owner accused Lawrence of intentionally rewriting the town code so she could hire and fire town employees, usurping what had been Council’s responsibility.

Lawrence stayed out of that fray, choosing instead to focus on moving the town forward. “Since coming to Chase City, in addition to my day-to-day management responsibilities, I have worked diligently to get the Town up to date on code, policies, and practices while also working with citizens, business owners and community groups to develop new programs and initiatives that would hopefully have a positive impact on economic growth and quality of life.”

Lawrence was hired in November 2018. She took over the position held for three decades by Rickey Reese until his sudden death in June of that year. Before coming to Chase City, Lawrence held a variety of executive-level positions including a brief stint as Mayor of Ashland. She also served as the executive director for the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation in Richmond, executive director for the National Parkinson Foundation Heartland Chapter in Leawood, Kansas and as executive director of Gilda’s Club Kansas City, a support group for children and adults diagnosed with cancer.

Bratton defended the choice by Council to hire someone not from the area to serve as town manager following the death of Reese. He said, “it is very nearly an absolute that in order to have leadership that holds no allegiances to any group within the town, we have to hire a competent individual from beyond our town limits.

“Combine that with the need for hiring someone who has achieved sufficient education and practical experience to be able to keep our town operating within the rules of good conduct,” said Bratton. “The probability of finding such within our population is extremely remote.”

Lawrence said it will be difficult for her to leave Chase City because she met many people who are the reason that she loved her job. “I especially appreciate those that have dedicated their time to make a positive impact on the Town and appreciate them welcoming me and my ideas, so that we could work together productively.”

She said her parting wish is that the residents of Chase City “will continue to work together for the betterment of [the town] and that they will welcome new people and new ideas to the community.”

Plans for how to proceed in the face of Lawrence’s departure are still being worked out, according to Bratton. “The plans for how the job will be filled in the short term and long term are still being determined so there is no specific action yet by the members of the Town Council.”

He called the task of finding her replacement “daunting” because of the skills she brought to the table, her determination to do the right thing and because “Angela Lawrence has shown us what a Town Manager can be and she has done so in a relatively short time. Her impact will be remembered.”

“We, in the Town of Chase City, who actually care about our town, are going to miss her guidance and determination to succeed,” Bratton concluded.

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