VIRGINIA BEACH — Members of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference wrote in a letter to Mayor Bobby Dyer, “In the words of the late Fannie Lou Hammer, we and many in our great city are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
The letter, dated Aug. 12, calls for the immediate firing of Dave Hansen, the city manager who’s been in the position since 2016.
“We have watched Mr. Hansen’s behavior, comments, and lack of leadership over the last three years,” they wrote. “In any other reputable organization or major corporation managing billions of dollars, a fraction of Mr. Hansen’s actions would have been ample justification for termination.”
The letter cited some of Hansen’s public flubs including calling African-American students who attended College Beach Weekend “thugs,” and decided on writing a public letter after what they see as his most recent failure — “allowing city employees to be fired and arrested for speaking up and addressing” the toxic environment in city departments.
Gary McCollum, a minister with the VBIMC, said the driving force was hearing former and current city employees talk about their work environment in listening sessions with Hillard Heintze, the Chicago-based firm contracting to investigate the May 31 mass shooting.
“When we see employees who are afraid to speak up because of fear of retribution and people who say ‘nothing is going to come out of the investigation because they just sweep everything under the rug,'” he said. “When we see that pain and anguish our prayer is we see something happen with this because those employees are providing services to the citizens and if the employees are not being managed and led properly, the citizens are not getting the quality of services they deserve.”
Dyer said he’s definitely willing to sit and talk to the organization about their concerns now — “I think we need to have some dialogue.”
“I have a good working relationship with the VBIMC and appreciate what they’re doing in the community — I’d like to go deeper to find the root causes and address their concerns,” the mayor said.
McCollum said the decision to write the letter wasn’t taken lightly and came only after “a significant amount of prayer and consideration” when nothing changed after past meetings and conversations with Hansen and other members of the City Council.
“This is not personal and because of our faith we love everybody, we love Mr. Hansen, but we do not feel Mr. Hansen continuing to serve in that role will be in the best interest of the city employees and the citizens of Virginia Beach,” he said
McCollum referenced the biblical story of “the good Samaritan” when a priest and a Levite walked by someone in need but the good Samaritan stopped and “took risks to help.”
“That’s what we as ministers and people of faith are called to do,” he said. “We are called to make sure that those who are hurting, being marginalized, ignored, or are left without a voice have a voice and we can’t just ‘walk on by.'”
The goal of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference after their letter is for the city to “move swiftly and immediately” in terminating Hansen.
“A city of this size, with this budget, and of this magnitude as the largest city in Virginia deserves great leadership and great management in that role,” McCollum said.