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Community members castigate Charlottesville city officials at town hall

Hundreds of Charlottesville, Va., community members vented aloud at a town hall on Sunday and questioned the response of city officials to the Aug. 12 white nationalist rally.

To cheers from the crowd, almost every speaker for more than three hours excoriated the police planning and execution, cited a lack of city communication, and some even forcefully demanded for the complete resignation of the city's leaders.

Several city leaders including Mayor Mike Signer, Deputy Mayor Wes Bellamy, City Manager Maurice Jones and Charlottesville Police Department Chief Al Thomas sat in the seats among the community members and listened even as many called them out by name.

Charlottesville citizen Jim Baker addressed the city officials directly and said, "We deserve answers why our citizens were brutalized." Baker asked, "Is this the best you can do?"

charlottesville public forum
Charlottesville Chief of Police Al Thomas (L) and Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones listen to speakers during a public forum hosted by the Department of Justice Community Relations Service after a rally by far-right demonstrators led to the death of a counter protester in Charlottesville, Va., on Sun., Aug. 27, 2017. Reuters

No city officials addressed the town hall attendees on Sunday, however, behind closed doors, some of these city officials are demanding explanations from each other related to key decisions made on Aug. 12, the day that ended with three dead and dozens injured.

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The private and lingering worries of several city officials regarding the actions and inactions of the city during the rally were detailed in a "confidential memo" sent Thursday by Mayor Mike Signer to a small group of city officials. The Daily Progress first obtained the memo and its authenticity was confirmed to CBS News by a Charlottesville city official presented with the memo.

Many of the sentiments addressed in the memo echo the questions asked by community members at the town hall.  

Included in the memo was an email sent by City Council member Kristin Szakos on August 20 to City Manager Maurice Jones and Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas that said she watched a National Geographic documentary about the "Unite the Right" rally and noted the "blocks of city streets overrun with fighting" and the marches of "armed, violent extremists, without a police officer in sight."

Szakos asked in the email a question that many have asked her own city council: "Where were the police?"

While Szakos' email in the memo states that she "trusts" the judgment of Jones and Chief Thomas, the email also contains a troubling account:  "I have heard reports of people begging police to intervene, and being met by "Palace Guard" stares and inaction," the memo states, "Were they told to do this?"

Text messages between Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer and Chief Thomas that debated where Signer should be located throughout the rally day were also included in this memo.

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After the rally was declared an "unlawful assembly," Signer wrote in the memo that he headed to the command center location where Chief Thomas was located. When he arrived to the building, Signer said in the memo that he was not even allowed on the same floor as Thomas and the command center, so he texted the police chief and the following back-and-forth text message conversation occurred:

Signer: "You have barred me from the center. We are not together. I don't know what's happening. We are not unified. We can't say no comment or it has to wait. I'm at city hall."

The memo states that Chief Thomas texted back:

"Mr. Mayor, we are not disorganized. This is a hyper fluid situation. We need to let this play out. And the media can wait for an hour or so."

According to the memo, Mayor Signer responded:

"Elected officials like me can't be barred from necessary information and how to talk about it. That's disorganized ..." the mayor wrote.

Additionally, this memo mentions that a local synagogue, located directly next to the white nationalist rally, requested the city provide extra police support outside the synagogue during the rally.

Once the park filled with white nationalists shouting "Jews will not replace us!" and neo-Nazis waving swastika-emblazoned flags, the memo notes that after Mayor Signer read threatening tweets directed at this synagogue, the mayor made a series of calls that was supposed to initiate the National Guard to launch and protect the synagogue.

However in the weeks since the rally, city officials still have "no direct confirmation" that the National Guard ever arrived to protect the synagogue, according to the memo.

A look at those who were involved in a public forum in Charlottesville on Sun., Aug. 27, 2017. Bo Erickson/CBS News

One of the few speakers that thanked the city officials for their presence at the town hall was Karim Giniena, a Canadian citizen who is currently a doctoral student at the University of Virginia based in Charlottesville.

Giniena told CBS News that while he understands the community members are angry, he believes Charlottesville community members should not immediately "lay blame" at the hands of the city officials.

Over the next months, former United States Attorney Tim Heaphy will conduct an independent and external review of the city's actions on Aug. 12.

Through this review, Giniena said "Justice will take its course."

"Tonight I heard the enormous amount of pain and fear and the fear turning into anger," Charlottesville City Councilmember Kathy Galvin told CBS News after the town hall.

"I feel humbled and I feel determined to get to the bottom to what happened," Galvin stated.

Debby Smith told CBS News that her "hope" for the the town hall was "to figure out how I can get involved to make things better in Charlottesville."

On her way out of the town hall, Smith remarked "I hold out hope."

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