New council tries to put good face on divided government

Story by Chris Graham

I would say everything went according to script at this morning’s reorganization meeting of Waynesboro City Council. Tim Williams is mayor, as Frank Lucente told me six weeks ago would be the case. Lucente, meanwhile, is vice mayor, Mike Hamp is the interim city manager, and John Kiger is still the city assessor.

And also according to script, even as council members tried to gloss over the political divisions that have crippled city government the past four years, we had our first 3-2 votes of the new fiscal year within minutes of the formal seating of the new city council.

“This is not a popularity contest. It is a role to be taken very seriously. This community is going to be depending on you. You have an important role to play, and I think you’re going to need all the support you can get,” City Councilwoman Nancy Dowdy said to Williams in support of her motion to nominate fellow progressive Lorie Smith to the vice-mayor job. The motion failed by a 3-2 party-line vote, with conservative council members Williams, Lucente and newcomer Bruce Allen voting nay. A similar bloc vote moments later elected Lucente vice mayor without discussion.

The appointment of Hamp to serve as interim city manager was confirmed in a 5-0 vote. Hamp will at least temporarily succeed Doug Walker in the top job in City Hall. Walker was forced out shortly after the May 6 elections in a move that had been foreordained by a cabal of city and county businessmen who made the removal of Walker from his job a top priority.

Kiger was also reappointed by a 5-0 vote. I had raised questions about his reappointment in a column last month based on financial support given to the Allen and Lucente campaigns by a city real-estate investor, Lewis Price, who has openly lobbied for the removal of Kiger from the assessor’s job. Lucente made the motion to reappoint Kiger at this morning’s reorganization meeting.

I don’t view the Kiger and Hamp appointments as surprises in any way. Ditto for the Lucente and Williams elections. The only thing that caught me even slightly off-guard was the run of speeches toward the end of the proceedings trying to emphasize a bipartisanship and sense of cooperation that I don’t know we’re actually going to see last beyond this afternoon, though we can always hope.

Smith got things going. “As we move forward in this council, I very much look forward to the five of us forging ahead in a positive manner, and in a manner in which all five of us can work together to try to reestablish some trust and some respect in our working relationships that at times has been missing,” Smith said.

“I look forward to working with everyone here on city council,” Allen said in his first public statements as a member of city council. “I think we do have a good team, and I look forward to the positive things that we’ll be able to accomplish.”

“I look forward to realizing the progress that the people of Waynesboro expect and deserve,” Williams, the new mayor, said. “I look forward to growing our city while we preserve our quality of life that so many members of our community have come to appreciate, and surrounding communities have begun to envy. I am confident in this council and its ability to work together and find solutions to the challenges we face.”

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