Long-time Purcellville Town Manager Robert Lohr announced his retirement effective July 1 during an emotionally charged Town Council meeting April 25.
“I can assure you that this has been a difficult decision, but one I’m blessed to have a loving wife and children that encourage me to take this leap of faith to the next chapter of my life, like I did when I came here 25 years ago,” Lohr said during the meeting.
One of the longest-tenured town managers in the region, Lohr oversaw Purcellville’s growth from a relatively isolated town of a few hundred to a growing economic hub of western Loudoun County that now has more than 9,000 residents and counting. He has seen the town’s revenue build to more than $20 million annually and has assisted Purcellville’s growing business sector and financial management practices while maintaining a AAA bond rating.
Lohr, who worked as town manager for 24 years, announces his retirement after several closed-session meetings by the council to discuss personnel performance evaluations. Instant speculation arose in the town that it was about Lohr’s future with it, and council member Doug McCollum all but confirmed that during an address at the April 25 meeting.
“At the council’s April 11 closed session, I made several provocative statements to help members of the Town Council understand the road they were on. Little did I know that the majority of the town council had already decided to separate the Town Manager from his position as a negotiated buy out,” McCollum said.
“I heard the town manager indicate repeatedly at the April 11 closed session that he had ideas for addressing issues raised in the evaluation,” McCollum added. “None of those council members who had critical evaluations extended him the courtesy of hearing those ideas.”
More than 50 Purcellville residents packed Town Hall for the meeting, and several accused the Council of forcing Lohr out. When asked by a speaker during public comment to stand up if they still supported Lohr, only McCollum and Chris Bledsoe did so in the seven-person body. They received a loud ovation from the crowd.
“When the chips were down in any number of emergencies in our history, there’s been no better person to have at the helm than Rob Lohr,” Bledsoe said. “Today’s a sad day for Purcellville with the announcement of his retirement, perhaps only to be surpassed by July 1, the day of his leaving our service.”
“Will the town continue to thrive and succeed without Rob? We surly will,” Bledsoe said. “But I believe it will be somewhat more difficult without the expertise and guidance that comes with someone who has sheppared Purcellville through some of our most tumultuous times.”
Purcellville Business Association President Tim Doozen was among the large group of speakers to decry the board’s actions.
“Even if you were by some miracle able to find someone who could come close to fulfilling the competency of Rob Lohr – though that person would have to be quite naive and unaware of what’s going on in our town to take such a position – even if you were able to do so, it doesn’t reverse the fact that this is just an unbelievable tragedy to let someone like Rob Lohr go prematurely,” Doozen said.
The council, citing privacy laws on personnel matters, didn’t disclose any details on Lohr’s resignation, but the council and its town manager “negotiated a good deal,” said Mayor Kwasi Fraser. All seven voiced their appreciation for Lohr’s past efforts during the meeting.
Several council members defended the council from the accusations by the citizen speakers, saying Lohr had built a strong foundation and Purcellville would stay strong going forward. Others denied that they had forced Lohr out, and that the town manager is himself looking forward to his next chapter in life.
“He’s made it really clear, without divulging very much, that he has things he’s heading for. It will be a big hole and he will be missed here,” Council Member Kelli Grim said. “I’m not going to violate the confidences that were held in that room. No one is supposed to repeat what happened in that room and if they repeat things that aren’t true, that’s their issue.”