Story by Chris Graham
You had to pay close attention – but if you did, it was clear that the candidates for the two open seats on Waynesboro City Council weren’t interested in playing nice.
“How many people here up at this table live by a budget every single day? I guarantee you that I look at a budget every day of my life – and have for 32 years,” Ward D incumbent council member Reo Hatfield said at a candidates forum sponsored by the Waynesboro Junior Woman’s Club Tuesday night.
“Aren’t you better off than you were four years ago?” Hatfield asked those in attendance. “Are your property values greater than they were four years ago? Are you eating at a place that you never ate before? Are you spending money at places you’d never spent money before? How much money did you save on gas from going to Charlottesville or Harrisonburg or Staunton?
“I want to continue that. I want to continue to grow our city,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield then offered a thinly veiled attack of one of his opponents, Lorie Smith, the sitting chair of the Waynesboro School Board, who answered a question on the role of the school system in the city with references to several successes witnessed in the public schools in recent years.
“There’s a big difference between spending money and generating money,” Hatfield said. “The schools are good schools, but they spend money. City council has to generate the revenue that goes to the schools, and we’ve done it every year, and we’ve done it successfully.”
Smith, for her part, made a reference to an issue that has received much attention in the 2006 campaign relative to the clique that has formed among Hatfield and fellow council members Frank Lucente and Tim Williams.
“I feel strongly that the city council needs to employ more comprehensive approaches when they’re looking at the needs that exist in our city – and I would say all the needs that exist within our city. I feel too many decisions are being made in isolation – and not enough consideration is being given for all of Waynesboro, not just the West End,” Smith said.
Later in the forum, Ward C challenger Pat Steele answered criticisms raised in the local media about his lack of political experience and his general lack of a good grasp on city issues.
“I’m a high-school football official – been so for 38 years. I’ve done a couple of state-playoff games. And when I’m on the field, I make a decision. I don’t walk around and ask the coaches – who usually don’t agree with us half the time. I’m also an EMT on the Waynesboro First Aid Crew. I have to make life-and-death decisions – and I make them with authority with the training that I’ve had,” Steele said.
Steele then used the guise of defending his campaign to fire a shot at Ward C incumbent Nancy Dowdy – whom he has charged supported a 16.4 percent tax increase last year.
“I’ve been accused of running a negative campaign – but I’d like to set the record straight,” Steele said. “The ads that we’ve been running are public record of Mrs. Dowdy’s record. They’re in the city-council minutes. They’ve been published in the newspaper. If she can’t run on her record, you know, what can she run on?
“I’m only publishing the facts that some of the people may not know what they are. I think these ads are saying exactly where she’s standing on taxes,” Steele said.
Dowdy responded that she would like to see the minutes that Steele was referring to.
“I must have been absent those nights,” Dowdy said.