City manager resigns under political pressure

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

The new ultraconservative majority on Waynesboro City Council hasn’t been seated yet, but it is already effectively in charge down at City Hall.

Backroom maneuvering instigated by city-council members Frank Lucente and Tim Williams and Councilman-elect Bruce Allen has pushed city manager Doug Walker to step down from his post effective June 30.

Walker reportedly decided to offer his resignation late last week in a move that had been in the works dating back to the week of the May 6 city elections, when Williams met with Walker to ask him to step down before the new council majority took its seats on July 1.

That request was also made in a subsequent meeting with Lucente and a phone call that took place earlier today with Allen.

City council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to accept Walker’s resignation – with Mayor Tom Reynolds joining Lucente and Williams in the majority. Vice Mayor Nancy Dowdy and Councilwoman Lorie Smith voted no on the matter.

Walker had served as city manager since January 2003. He came to Waynesboro after having served previously as the assistant county administrator in Spotsylvania County.

“This community’s voice has been heard through our recent election. The new council’s voice is being heard through this decision. It is obvious that I do not support the decision to have Mr. Walker leave,” Smith said before the vote, which came after a lengthy closed session at the end of Tuesday’s regular city-council business meeting.

“I do stand ready to assist our city staff in what’s going to be a very, very difficult transition, and to provide Mr. Walker with any assistance that he needs to move on in a graceful manner and with the integrity that he relies on day to day. And also to stay true to the very principles that I will work from, while working with the new council in representing my constituency to the very best of my ability,” Smith said.

No timetable has been set for naming a replacement for Walker. Neither Williams, who is being talked about as the likely successor to Reynolds in the job of mayor, nor Lucente offered comment on the resignation of Walker or the process for hiring a replacement during the council business meeting. Allen was not in attendance at the meeting.

Reynolds, who himself will be leaving city government on June 30, after retiring from city politics following eight years on city council, the last four as mayor, called his vote to accept Walker’s resignation was “the toughest thing I’m going to have to do.”

“Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to fall on my sword for Doug Walker. As much as I don’t want to accept his resignation, I must, so that Doug can leave with the dignity and respect that he’s earned in the six years that he served Waynesboro so admirably,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds later raised issue with the way the move to force Walker out was handled by the new majority, criticizing Allen for going along with Lucente and Williams on the ouster without having taken the opportunity to talk with Walker “about anything.”

“How can you make an informed decision if you don’t even talk to the person that you have an issue with?” Reynolds asked rhetorically.

Dowdy couched her criticism in a quote that she cited from Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James MacGregor Burns. “Many acts heralded or bemoaned as instances of leadership – acts or oratory, manipulation, sheer self-advancement, brute coercion – are not such. Much of what commonly passes as leadership – conspicuous position-taking without followers or follow-through, posturing on various public stages, manipulation without general purpose, authoritarianism – is no more leadership than the behavior of small boys marching in front of a parade, who continue to strut along Main Street after the procession has turned down a side street toward the fairgrounds.”

“Mr. Walker has served Waynesboro above and beyond and deserves much better than he is receiving,” Dowdy said. “I would like to thank him for his outstanding service. I am honored to know such an upstanding individual and wish him the best. Waynesboro is much better for having known him and his family. I in no way support this action or Mr. Walker’s resignation, as I do not feel it is in Waynesboro’s best interest.”

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