The past and future of home rule in Virginia

Virginia state flag

The past and future of home rule in Virginia

Thursday, November 19, 2020
10:00AM - 12:15PM (EST)
Event Details

Virginia is currently one of the few states that has not adopted statutory or constitutional home rule for its local governments. Because Virginia follows Dillon's Rule, cities, counties, and towns need authorization from the General Assembly to enact almost any policy. This event examines the history and consequences of the legal framework that currently defines local government authority in the Commonwealth.

This event is co-sponsored by Local Solutions Support Center and the University of Virginia's Democracy Initiative


10:00 – 10:05 a.m.

Welcome: William J. Antholis, Director and CEO, Miller Center

10:05 – 11:05 a.m.

PANEL 1: The state we’re in: Home rule, structural racism, and Dillon’s Rule in Virginia

This panel will examine the basic structure of local authority and inter-governmental relations in the Commonwealth, how close historically Virginia has come to adopting home rule, and relationship between Dillon’s Rule and the history of localism in the South.

Moderator: Audrey McFarlane, Associate Dean of Faculty Research and Development, Dean Julius Isaacson Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law


  • Richard Schragger, Perre Bowen Professor of Law, Martha Lubin Karsh & Bruce A. Karsh Bicentennial Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law
  • Daniel Farbman, Assistant Professor of Law, Boston College Law School
  • David Toscano, Former Minority Leader, Virginia House of Delegates; former Mayor of Charlottesville

11:05 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.

PANEL 2: Limitations for Virginia municipalities: Emergency powers, public health, and economic recovery in COVID-19

Mayors of cities from across the Commonwealth will share their experiences governing under Dillon’s Rule, especially during a public-health crisis. 

Moderator: Larry Roberts, Director, The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership


  • Leslie Hager-Smith, Mayor of Blacksburg
  • Levar Stoney, Mayor of Richmond
  • Justin Wilson, Mayor of Alexandria

12:05 – 12:15 p.m.

Closing remarks: William J. Antholis, Director and CEO, Miller Center

Thursday, November 19, 2020
10:00AM - 12:15PM (EST)
Online webinar
Bill Antholis headshot

William Antholis

William Antholis serves as director and CEO of the Miller Center. Immediately prior, he was managing director at The Brookings Institution, and from 1995 to 1999 he served in government. At the White House, he was director of international economic affairs on the staff of the National Security Council and National Economic Council, where he served as the chief staff person for the G8 Summits in 1997 and 1998. Antholis is the author of Inside Out India and China: Local Politics Go Global and, with Strobe Talbot,Fast Forward: Ethics and Politics in the Age of Global Warming.

Audrey McFarlane headshot

Audrey McFarlane

Audrey McFarlane is associate dean of Faculty Research and Development, Dean Julius Isaacson Professor of Law at University of Baltimore School of Law. Her scholarship examines the ways in which economic development is not a neutral policy that government can advance without addressing significant structural issues related to race, class, and geography. Professor McFarlane has also written on a range of topics including how norms of property law contribute to recurrent foreclosure crises and theoretical justifications for community participation in economic development. She joined the University of Baltimore School of Law faculty after clerking for the Hon. A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and working as an associate at the Washington D.C. law firm of Wilmer Cutler and Pickering.

Richard Schragger headshot

Richard C. Schragger

Richard Schragger is a Miller Center faculty senior fellow and the Perre Bowen Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. His scholarship focuses on the intersection of constitutional law and local government law, federalism, urban policy, and the constitutional and economic status of cities. He also writes about law and religion. He has authored articles on the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses, the role of cities in a federal system, local recognition of same-sex marriage, takings law and economic development, and the history of the anti-chain store movement.

Daniel Farbman headshot

Daniel Farbman

Daniel Farbman joined the Boston College Law faculty as an assistant professor of Law in 2017. He teaches and writes in the areas of local government law, legal history, constitutional law, the legal profession, civil rights, and property. His work focuses on the legal history of radical reform movements in public law. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2007, he was a clerk for Judge Margaret Morrow on the Central District of California in Los Angeles before beginning a Skadden Fellowship at Advancement Project in Washington, D.C. At Advancement Project he worked with community organizers around the country on grassroots efforts to fight racial injustice in public education with a particular focus on the school to prison pipeline. After leaving practice, Dan pursued a PhD in American Studies at Harvard. For three years prior to joining Boston College, he was a Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.

David Toscano headshot

David Toscano

David Toscano served seven terms in the Virginia House of Delegates representing the 57th District, which includes all of Charlottesville and parts of Albemarle County. First elected in 2005, he held the seat once occupied by Thomas Jefferson in the House of Burgesses. Toscano served as the Democratic Leader in the House of Delegates from 2011 through 2018. As a state legislator, his priorities included education, renewable energy, and the environment. He fought for Medicaid expansion for years, and advocated for affordable access to health care, reproductive rights, expanded services for the disabled and poor, and reforms to Virginia’s adoption and foster care laws. For his work in the House of Delegates, David was recognized by the Virginia League of Conservation Voters as a “Legislative Hero” in environmental matters, and held 100% ratings from NARAL-Virginia and the Virginia Education Association. He served on the Charlottesville City Council from 1990 to 2002 and as Mayor from 1994 to 1996. 

Larry Roberts headshot

Larry Roberts

Larry Roberts is the director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Roberts has worked in government and politics and was a successful lawyer in private practice for more than 20 years, including partnerships with the Skadden Arps and Davis Wright Tremaine international law firms and, most recently, as a partner at Venable LLP. He was president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and was the founding chair of a charitable foundation that has distributed millions of dollars in college scholarships and contributions to organizations serving those in need. Virginia Law Weekly named him as one of its 2017 Virginia Leaders in the Law, and he won three Federal Communications Bar Association Distinguished Service Awards as well as Venable's 2017 Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year award. Roberts’ government service includes positions as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine and Chief of Staff to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

Leslie Hager-Smith

Leslie Hager-Smith

A native of Cincinnati, Leslie Hager-Smith is the mayor of Blacksburg, VA, which she has called home since 1982. Her interest in town governance took root during her years as a reporter and columnist for the Roanoke Times. Hager-Smith's government work has focused on economic and community development. She lent her hand to creating a business incentives program for downtown revitalization; matching grants for façade improvements; and town-wide apartment recycling. Hager-Smith also introduced community recycling of CFLs and electronics at downtown businesses. She co-founded Blacksburg’s Summer Solstice Fest and originated the 16 Frogs Watershed Initiative, a public arts tribute with an environmental consciousness. She is a founding member of Sustainable Blacksburg and an energetic advocate for trails and bikeway connections in the region. Hager-Smith initiated council action on legalizing Accessory Apartments in homes that are owner-occupied. This allows homeowners to age in place with a caretaker on site. Hager-Smith has served three terms as Vice Mayor, and was elected Mayor in 2017. 

Levar Stoney headshot

Levar Stoney

Levar Stoney is the mayor of Richmond, VA. He was raised by his grandmother and his father, a custodian. A product of Virginia public schools, he grew up on free and reduced lunch and was the first in his family to earn a high school diploma and went on to graduate from James Madison University. After serving as a Governor's Fellow in then-Governor Mark Warner's office, he became the first African American Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the youngest member of Governor Terry McAuliffe's cabinet. As Secretary, he led the largest office of the Governor's cabinet and was the driving force behind transforming the process that restores civil and voting rights. Under his leadership, Virginia restored more rights than any other state in the country. Stoney has served as Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Virginia and as the Deputy Campaign Manager for Governor McAuliffe's successful gubernatorial campaign. He is a 2006 alumnus of the Minority Political Leadership Institute and serves on a number of civic and community boards including the VCU Massey Cancer Center Advisory Board; Great Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP), a college- access organization; NextUp, an after-school program network; and the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation 2019 Commemoration.

Justin Wilson headshot

Justin Wilson

Justin Wilson was elected mayor of Alexandria, VA, in November of 2018. He represents the city regionally on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Board of Directors. He leads the City-Schools Subcommittee, the ARHA Redevelopment Committee, the Quality of Life Committee, Legislative Subcommittee, the Audit Committee, the Employee Pension/Compensation Committee, the Potomac Yard Metro Implementation Advisory Group and the Combined Sewer Outfall Project Review Team Workgroup. Before becoming mayor, Wilson served 8 years on the City Council and his leadership led to new investments in schools, transportation and environmental infrastructure. He has worked to expand early childhood education, address growing student enrollment, accelerate economic growth, advance climate policy as well as protecting and expanding housing affordability. Prior to his election to the City Council, he served as the chair of the Alexandria Transit Company Board of Directors and was twice elected president of the Del Ray Citizens Association. He was an appointee of Governor Mark Warner to the state’s Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and later to the Board of Juvenile Justice—a position he was re-appointed to by Governor Tim Kaine.