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Getting the politics out

City Councilwoman Lorie Smith wants to see Waynesboro take a big step toward “getting the politics out” of street-closure requests related to Downtown Waynesboro events, and there was some movement in Smith’s direction at Monday night’s Council meeting.
“If the EDA would be willing to take this on, and they made the decision, I would be happy to pass it on to them,” Vice Mayor Frank Lucente said, after initially criticizing the suggestion from Smith to have City Council ask the Economic Development Authority to come up with recommendations for a model policy that could guide future requests for street closures for events in Downtown Waynesboro and elsewhere in the city.

The issue came to a head Monday as City Council considered and ultimately approved by a unanimous 5-0 vote a request related to the Main Street Muscle Car Show in May. That item came up on the City Council agenda less than a week after a simmering controversy over the April Waynesboro Omnium bike race that saw a street-closure request needed to make that bike race happen fall down to defeat initially end up getting resolved to allow the race to go on as scheduled.

City Manager Mike Hamp in a memo to City Council members on the May 16 Main Street Muscle event recommended in light of the controversy over the bike race “that at some point in the near future staff and City Council undertake a review and discussion of downtown events to establish a statement of policy or guidelines for considering and conducting events in the downtown.” Smith took that idea one step further in an e-mail to City Council members in which she brought up the idea of empowering the six-member EDA to provide advice and counsel to the city on the development of a policy to guide future decisions on downtown events.

“At the end of the day, we want our merchants to be successful, and we want the event to be successful,” Smith said. “I feel that if we could employ some type of model where we could evaluate data, where we could evaluate impacts on revenues, decreases in revenue for our merchants, look at what it does for the overall sales-tax base for Waynesboro, for meals and lodging, then we’re going to have a model that is a plan of action that we can refer to as a council that will help guide us as we deal with these requests,” Smith said.

City Councilwoman Nancy Dowdy was cold to the idea at first glance. Dowdy said her concern is in dealing with requests related to first-year events like the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival that got started in Waynesboro nine years ago. “Everything has to start out somewhere, and based on any criteria that we would have had in place, we probably would have turned that (the Fly Fishing Festival) away,” Dowdy said.

Lucente, for his part, took issue with Smith’s framing of the City Council’s handling of recent event requests as being political. “I don’t think there’s politics in it. I think it’s just a matter of dealing with the problems that come up and having the people that have questions have that discussed and have compromises be made as they have in the last one,” Lucente said, blaming the controversy that many have said was clearly a political matter in which Lucente appeared to hold up the ultimate approval of the Waynesboro Omnium request at the urging of a downtown businessman, Main Street Discount owner Bill Mikolay, who financially supported Lucente ally Bruce Allen in his election bid in 2008, as being something that could have been “much easier solved had it not been a last-minute issue.”

The more he talked through the proposal from Smith, though, the more Lucente seemed to argue himself into a position of wanting to agree with Smith’s suggestion.

“If you can come up with a formula to evaluate, I’m not opposed to that,” Lucente said.

Mayor Tim Williams also seems willing to give the EDA idea a chance.

“It’s certainly something we can consider, and we can discuss it among Council members to come to some kind of opinion and conclusion,” Williams said.


Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press