Chris Graham: Not the wisest political move, Mr. Mayor

If I were advising Waynesboro Mayor Frank Lucente, either his City Council wouldn’t be meeting Friday morning to discuss discipline for one of its members who dared to criticize his leadership style before the recent Council elections, or I’d be his former political adviser.

The move, to say the least, is not wise, in that it basically confirms the substance of what City Councilman Mike Harris had had to say about Lucente and his approach to city government in his now-infamous (in these parts, anyway) letter to local newspapers.

In the letter, Harris took aim at Lucente for his handling of the $3.5 million land deal that saw the city buy property from a former Lucente campaign donor, calling the deal a “secret deal” and disparaging Lucente more generally for his handling of city-government matters.

Lucente won re-election to his at-large seat on City Council in the May 1 elections with 52 percent of the vote, not exactly a resounding reaffirmation from the electorate, given that Lucente had won re-election in 2008 with more than 60 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Ticketmate Tim Williams won in Ward A by a much-narrower 23-vote margin, but ostensibly Williams is in league with Lucente on the special Friday-morning meeting along with Vice Mayor Bruce Allen.

That the meeting will begin briefly as an open meeting before turning into a closed session is what will confirm Harris’ critiques of Lucente in his pre-election letter. And that’s what I would have said to Lucente as his adviser if I would have been asked to weigh in on the matter. For all the talk post-election about wanting to reach out to voters who had pushed for a different direction in the tightly-contested city elections, it’s clear that the new City Council will get off to much the same start as the City Council seated in 2008 after Lucente, Williams and Allen swept to victory in that election cycle and then cleaned house in City Hall, pushing then-City Manager Doug Walker out the door at the beginning of a forced exodus of department heads that set city government back several months.

That is to say, for all the talk before the election that Lucente, Williams and Allen were presenting an alternative vision to what their challengers were promoting about moving Waynesboro forward, it’s apparent from the calling of this special Friday-morning meeting that what they’re really all about is power – pure, raw and unadulterated.

That’s the messsage that they’re sending, anyway.

God forbid they actually vote to censure Harris and fellow Councilman Jeff Freeman, who backed what Harris said in his letter in comments to local media reporting on the release of the letter.

If anything more than an uncomfortable closed-door discussion takes place Friday morning, all hell will break loose in City Hall, and it may soon be time for city voters to begin thinking about what they can do to recall the entire group to start over from scratch.

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