Home Mailbag: Butch Wells and I are on the same side of the student artwork controversy
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Mailbag: Butch Wells and I are on the same side of the student artwork controversy

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I appreciate your article and the support you have shown for this young student. I have a soft spot in my heart for our younger generation and the challenges and temptations they face today, but my spot is nowhere nearly as huge as my wife’s! Thanks again for your support of this student. 

Butch Wells

No, hell hasn’t frozen over, but yes, this Butch Wells is the same Butch Wells that I’ve been feuding with, in a manner of speaking, for the past several months.

When you cover local politics in the same local market for 29 years, you will eventually find yourself ending up on all sides of the issues with the subjects that you come across.

The controversy over student artwork in Augusta County that popped up over the weekend is the latest example of the strange bedfellows theory relative to politics for me.

For some background to the story of this email from Wells on that issue, Wells and I have very much been on different sides of another issue, the one involving how the Augusta County Board of Supervisors handled the resignation of former South River Supervisor Steven Morelli, and the board’s decision to go behind closed doors to discuss how to handle the fallout of the Morelli resignation last year.

I took the county to court over the closed meeting, with my contention being, the closed-door meeting was illegal, and the legal drama there is still playing out.

At the height of the controversy, Wells, who represents the Beverley Manor District on the Board of Supervisors, called me, a day after a circuit-court hearing on the legal challenge, to try to pressure me into revealing the name of a source who he assumed had provided me information relevant to the case.

To say the least, the call didn’t play out the way I assume Wells thought it would play out.

It’s against this backdrop, then, that Wells went out of his way to write me over the weekend, in reference to an article that we had for AFP about the controversy generated by two Augusta County School Board members over artwork from a senior at Fort Defiance High School who self-identifies as queer.

Wells’ wife, Donna Wells, is also a member of the school board, and Donna Wells was among the majority of board members who blocked the effort of fellow board members Timothy Simmons and Sharon Griffin to have the artwork banned from a Sunday art show at FDHS.

Simmons and Griffin were the ones who forced the call for a special school board meeting that began at 9 p.m. Saturday night to address the obviously to them pressing issue.

The discussion was held behind closed doors, which, come on, have we not learned that lesson in Augusta County already, that public matters need to be debated in public?

I’ll credit Butch Wells for being on hand for the meeting, which meant he had to sit in a nearly empty boardroom for nearly an hour and a half while the school board hashed things out behind the scenes.

I’m also giving him credit here for reaching out to me to share his support for the FDHS student, Abby Driscoll.

Just because people can sometimes find themselves on very different sides of the issues of the day doesn’t mean we can’t also be cognizant that there’s a common good that we’re all striving to achieve.

Which is to say, yeah, Butch and I have butted heads over the Morelli resignation matter, and it got ugly that one time, in particular, but I think we both recognize that we both just want what’s best for the county, even though we very much disagree on what that may entail sometimes.

I’ve already thanked Butch privately for writing me over the weekend, and wanted to do so publicly here as well, to give credit where credit is due.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].