Tenuous connections

Fear and Loathing in Waynesboro column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

I’m trying to piece together what News Virginian reporter Jimmy LaRoue was trying to do in his story this morning about a real-estate connection between outgoing city manager Doug Walker and local real-estate developer Bill Hausrath.

Let me rephrase that. I have a strong idea what he was trying to do. I also happen to know how the story came about, and no, it wasn’t the usual boogieman. That’s all I should probably say right now, but you can probably guess that I know more – a lot more – than I’m able to tell you, though that shouldn’t be the case this time tomorrow.

Ahem.

Getting back to the story about the dealings involving Walker and Hausrath – I know that I’m not the only one saying What The Frig? about this right now. And I’m basing that on what we were able to get from LaRoue’s story alone.

Here’s what we know:

– Walker and Hausrath are among a group of 12 people who own stakes in the 220-acre, $1 million Lofton Lake, a retreat in the Greenville area.

– An ethics expert in Florida contacted by LaRoue to offer comment on the matter said the matter did not represent a conflict of interest in any way. “Entering into a land deal with a city Realtor would generally require that the city manager recuse himself with respect to any matter in which the Realtor is involved, but that does not appear to be a problem here,” said Robert Wechsler, the director of research at City Ethics, a nonprofit municipal ethics research group based in Jacksonville, Fla.

– Eh … I’m still trying to figure out what else there is to this story.

Obviously Bill Hausrath is involved in local politics. He was Lorie Smith’s campaign manager in 2006, Jeremy Taylor’s campaign manager in 2008, and he gave my campaign a contribution as well. Hausrath has been the linchpin of the effort to rebuild the Wayne Theatre downtown. He was the driving force behind the rebirth of Fairfax Hall on the East Side in the late 1990s. He is the reason that the Waynesboro YMCA is still a part of this community.

Doug Walker has also invested himself in the community, in many more ways than the stake in Lofton Lake would suggest. He’s been active in Schola Cantorum, for instance, been a participant in the River City Radio Hour that is a regular feature of the Third Fridays events downtown. He’s a member of a local Rotary Club and a regular on their volunteer circuit. He’s spent a lot of time and money renovating his home on Oak Avenue.

If I didn’t know the rest of the story regarding how this information was brought to light, I’d give LaRoue his due for sharing what he knows about this one tie between Hausrath and Walker, for going out of his way to contact an ethics expert, for talking with a member of a county board of supervisors where Walker had previously worked to get more perspective on how people who have worked with Walker in the past feel about his approach to ethics on the job.

I’ll still give him some credit, but I don’t know that I’ll stop wondering what he was really trying to do.


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