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Friendly fire


Citizens group hears from City Council candidate

Story by Chris Graham
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Ward D Waynesboro City Council candidate Mike Harris introduced himself to a friendly audience Tuesday night, speaking at a meeting of the Waynesboro Citizens for Responsible Spending at the Waynesboro Public Library.

Harris, 62, is a Virginia State Police and military veteran who settled in Waynesboro in 2004 after his retirement from the State Police. His 11-minute talk to the Citizens for Responsible Spending was heavy on biography and political red meat.

“I’m a conservative. I don’t like spending money. I hate it. I don’t like paying taxes any more than anybody else does. I detest it. So when we have tax increases, I always want to know why and what for. I think that’s a reasonable request,” said Harris, who is challenging Ward D Councilwoman Lorie Smith in the May 4 city elections.

Smith, a former Waynesboro School Board chair who was elected to City Council in 2006, was in attendance at the meeting. Citizens for Responsible Spending leaders said during the meeting that the group has not yet endorsed a candidate in the Ward D race, though one of the organization’s founding members, Constance Paradiso, said it is actively recruiting a candidate to run for the open Ward C seat on City Council, and Harris campaign signs and volunteer signup sheets were prominently on display in the meeting room at the library.

The air of campaign event undermined the effort that was made to position the group as being nonpartisan. “Our main mission is to make citizens, ourselves included, accountable and responsible for our government,” said founding member Vicky Ferreira, a Commerce Avenue business owner.

“Oftentimes, we want to put all the responsibility and accountability on public officials. We can change that, one citizen at a time. You do that by caring enough to want to get involved,’ Ferreira said.

“What we need is a City Council that will talk to its citizens and tell them what they maybe don’t want to hear, but to tell them what’s really going on. What kind of mandates do they have to work under? What do they think are the essential functions of government? What do we need to do, as opposed from what we want to do?” said another founding member, Pete Marks.
“We’re not always going to agree, but we need to have these debates about what our priorities are and get to doing what we need to do,” Marks said.

The news page on the Waynesboro Citizens for Responsible Spending website also gives an indication as to its interest in the City Council race. The page links to two items, one a story in the Monday News Virginian about the group, the second the announcement of Harris’ candidacy with an invitation to readers to learn more about Harris on the Harris campaign website.

“If you want to give us a label, it would be fiscally conservative,” Paradiso said. “We’re looking for like-minded citizens who are overwhelmed with global issues. In the big picture, local government is the only line of defense that we have.”

Harris played to that line of thinking in his talk.

“I have some concerns about this city about where we’re headed, or where we’re not headed,” Harris said, without offering specifics as to what he might have issues with in terms of direction. “If we don’t take some strong actions, immediately, I’m awfully afraid that we could end up looking like Henry County, Martinsville or Danville. And we don’t want to do that,” Harris said. “We have to make some hard decisions. To conduct business as usual and expect a different outcome to me is the definition of insanity. We cannot continue doing business as we’ve been doing. We have to think outside the box.”




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