City Council candidates meet at forum

Coverage by Chris Graham
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The four candidates for Waynesboro City Council met today in what will be their only joint appearance in advance of the May 4 city elections.

The candidates forum at the Waynesboro Senior Center put on display the contrasting styles and visions of the candidates for the open Ward C and Ward D seats on the City Council.
 

Free read from AFPTheMagazine.com. Coverage includes a story from Chris Graham, a replay of Chris Graham’s Live Facebook Blog and video of the opening statements and answers to two of the questions posed at the forum of the four candidates.

“My opponent made reference to taxes. On record, she voted for a 23 percent increase and a 6 percent increase on taxes,” said Mike Harris, who is challenging incumbent Lorie Smith in Ward D, and has been trying to make headway with a push for zero-based budgeting that was in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s.

Smith defended her votes on taxes by pointing to her effort to lower the city property-tax rate while on City Council from the 78 cents per $100 assessed value that it was at when she took office in 2006 to the current 70-cent rate.

“My priority in this budget is to be responsive to protecting your core services – your water, your sewer, your trash pickup, fire and police responses – to make sure that the tax dollars that you’re paying are being managed very efficiently and appropriately in a time when city revenues are very much on the decline,” Smith said.

The Harris-Smith duo provided the bulk of the highlights of the hour-long forum. Harris elicited loud groans from the estimated 95 people in attendance when he suggested in response to a question about City Council’s reputation for not being able to get things done that it was because of Smith’s lack of leadership that things haven’t been getting done.

Smith later took a dig at Harris on the zero-based budgeting scheme that he has made a centerpiece of his campaign. “We know how much a fan belt on a garbage truck costs. You can’t get much more zero-based budget than that,” Smith said in her closing remarks.

Ward C candidates Jeff Freeman and Robert Johnson both showed themselves to be the political newcomers that they are. Freeman struck a chord with the audience in his closing remarks with his proposal to have City Council members rotate through a monthly schedule of town-hall meetings that would give city residents the opportunity to share ideas on how to best proceed with public policy with elected officials in a less formal and less stressful setting than the Monday-night Council meetings.

Johnson showed a solid command of issues affecting seniors in Waynesboro and was able to work in a campaign catchphrase to the question regarding the city’s reputation on not seeing projects through to completion. “We need less faction and more action,” Johnson said of the political discord between the Council’s conservative and progressive factions.
 

Facebook Live Blog

Here is a replay of my Live Blog from the forum.

– The first kneecap of the event comes from Mike Harris. Harris characterizes Lorie Smith’s push to lower the tax rate as voting for an effective tax increase.
– Core services are being cut, those that are being delivered aren’t being delivered as effectively, and Mike Harris is quibbling over cuts and hikes.
– Harris read his opening statement.
– Jeff Freeman and Robert Johnson are performing better than I would have predicted. Both are rising to the occasion.
– Lorie Smith fires back at Harris and his idea that Waynesboro adopt a zero-based budgeting approach.
– The idea is OK on the surface. Ultimately those governing bodies that have tried this approach have found that it actually costs
– That said, the thinking behind it reflects an attempt to think outside the box.
– I wish we had all at-large elections.
– Great turnout. I am estimating 95 people.
– Audible groans to another kneecap from Mike Harris aimed at Lorie Smith. Harris blames Smith for projects not getting done.
– Harris is running as an acolyte to the current City Council majority that has failed to heed the wishes of the citizens on the 2007 referenda.
– And he blames Lorie Smith?
– I much prefer being on this side of a candidates forum. Though I have to say that I have been getting the itch to answer questions. Not to mention try to get this city moving forward.
– Alas …
– As I do with most debates, I’ll go ahead and declare this a draw.
– Harris defends zero-based budgeting by saying it worked for Texas Instruments in the 1960s. Great. Texas Instruments is a business. Government is not a business.
– If a business decides that it isn’t making money with one of its divisions, it can close that division. Government doesn’t have that same flexibility.
– If government decides that public schools, for example, aren’t profitable, well, too bad.
– But good for Texas Instruments.A private business. Back in the 1960s.
– Jeff Freeman keeps referring to how he will be serving “you people.” I’m not fond of that term.
– Freeman closed with a suggestion that Council members rotate holding town-hall forums every month. I like that idea.
– Three of the four candidates are touting how they’re natives of the area. I am, too, and it doesn’t matter to me one bit whether you’re from here or you’re a come-here.
– The highlight of the forum was a quote from Lorie Smith’s closing statement. “We know how much a fan belt on a garbage truck costs. You can’t get much more zero-based budget than that.”
 

Video-Opening Statements

 

 

  
Video-Budget Issues

 
Video-Economic Development

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