“What are you doing, Bruce? Are you daydreaming?” Waynesboro Vice Mayor Frank Lucente asked City Councilman Bruce Allen during a break in Friday’s City Council planning session as Allen gazed out a window from the council chambers in the Charles T. Yancey Municipal Building toward the corner of Main Street and Wayne Avenue.
“Thinking,” Allen replied, quickly, “about what it’s like to be on the outside.”
I wasn’t getting a good vibe, to say the least, about how the session was going from this exchange, but then I had to remind myself that Allen and Lucente weren’t totally on board with the idea of having a planning session when it had been proposed this summer. Lucente had famously said during a discussion of the idea that he didn’t like the word vision, for example, and tried to dissuade the council from going the route of putting together a session aimed at replicating what the council had done in past years under former mayor Tom Reynolds and former city manager Doug Walker to get together to talk about the big picture in city government and try to put that kind of frame on city-government activities.
On the other side of the room, the council members who had wanted to forge ahead with the session – and I’m refraining from calling it a visioning session out of respect to Lucente, though that’s what it was, essentially – were clearly thinking, as I think they need to be, about the big picture.
“This is the most progressive council in the city’s history,” I overheard Mayor Tim Williams say in a conversation with council members Nancy Dowdy and Lorie Smith, which caught my attention considering that it was Williams, a fiscal conservative, saying it, one, and two, it was a pair of progressives that he was saying it to.
At first I wondered whether he was meaning what he was saying in a critical or even perjorative way. “We’ve spent more,” he went on, “in the past four years than any other council in the city’s history.” “But we’ve had to. We’ve been catching up from what past councils hadn’t done,” Smith said. “If past councils had done what they were supposed to do,” said DuBose Egleston, a former city councilman who was in the room, “we wouldn’t have had to spend the money all at once like we’ve done the past four years.” “I agree there,” Williams said.”
Which is when I realized – yeah, the past couple of days had been good ones for this council, which not only has a new dynamic with Williams as mayor and Lucente and Allen forming with the new mayor a conservative-minded working political majority, but also with Mike Hamp as the new city manager, in place of Walker, and former city planner Jim Shaw in place as Hamp’s assistant city manager.
“We’ve had a great day and a half. We’ve had open, honest discussion,” Williams told me after the session came to a close this morning. “We’re not always going to agree, but that’s why we’re a council. I think we’ve come to some common ground. It’s been very productive. Just having some time together as a new council is good for us.”
“I think it was very productive,” Dowdy said a little later. “I think it gave us an opportunity as a council to come together and have an idea of where we’re headed and give direction to the new management of the city. I’m very pleased with the outcome.”
I sat in on the end of today’s session to hear the council and the new city management go over topics including the proposed South River Greenway and public transportation, and despite the obvious philosophical differences in approaches of the Lucente-Allen and Smith-Dowdy coalitions in particular, it seemed that there was a sense among all concerned that it shouldn’t be politics but rather the public good that should guide the decisionmaking process.
Considering where this group was just a few months ago, when dysfunction was the order of the day, I’m considering this a most positive step in the right direction.
– Chris Graham