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Vox populi

Fear and Loathing in Waynesboro column by Chris Graham

“Voices in the blogosphere had been murmuring in the tatter of keyboards that the conservative bloc had endeavored to subvert open meetings law along with city regulations in reforming the Finance Committee a week ago with only Williams and Lucente as members,” The News Virginian editorialized this morning.

I might be jumping to a conclusion here, but I’m thinking they might have been talking about little ol’ me.

If they were, they overstated what this voice in the blogosphere had to say on the matter by half.


 – From our July 1 “Winners and Losers“: “PUSH: Tim Williams revives Finance Committee – The new Waynesboro mayor said the committee, dormant for at least the past four years, will be a ‘fact-finding committee’ after appointing himself and Vice Mayor Frank Lucente to the body this morning. It will be something that we will have to learn more about before any of us can pass judgment on the matter.”


– From our July 3 “Winners and Losers“: “PUSH: Shakeup with Finance Committee? – Details are still coming together on this, but I’m hearing that there might be issues with the makeup of the committee appointed by new mayor Tim Williams. Fueling the talk is the placement of an item on Monday’s Waynesboro City Council work-session agenda to discuss the committee and its mission. Don’t have much more than that right now, unfortunately.”


– From our July 7 “Fear and Loathing“:

“A question has arisen regarding the makeup of the Finance Committee appointed by Mayor Tim Williams last week at city council’s reorganization meeting.

“The question – doesn’t the committee appointed by Williams, consisting of Williams and Vice Mayor Frank Lucente, need to have one more member from the council to comply with the city code?

“The answer – a qualified yes. I say qualified because the rules governing the makeup of the committee are delineated in the city code, not in the city charter, meaning we could still end up with the two-man committee that Williams envisioned.

“The committee, according to Section 2-36 of the city code, is to consist of three members who are appointed to serve out two-year terms. Section 2-36 does not spell out other specifics about the mission of the committee or meeting frequency. My scan of the city charter came up with nothing in terms of specifics regarding the Finance Committee, with only a general provision in Section 3-1(b) granting city council the power to ‘appoint all such boards and commissions as may be deemed proper or required and prescribe the powers and duties thereof’ serving as any kind of guide.

“This is important, because it would appear that since the provision governing the seating of the Finance Committee is contained not in the charter, which is an act of the Virginia General Assembly that can only be amended by the state legislature, but in the code, which is an act of the city council that can be amended as deemed appropriate by the city council, it would only take a majority of the city council to change the requirement for the committee to consist of three members.

“Another question then arises – why would city council want to amend the provision requiring three members?

“I’m reading tea leaves here, but one possible answer comes to mind right away. Meetings involving three members of city council have to be open to the public under provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act unless they meet one of the specific exceptions provided for under state law. My guess is that, then, Finance Committee meetings held to discuss city budget and finance issues would have to be open to the public, including members of the press. I don’t know that Williams and Lucente necessarily want that kind of scrutiny for whatever it is that they have planned for the committee, though I could be wrong on that, most certainly.”


Three items on the matter – raising simple questions about the revival of the committee, the makeup of the committee, and issues involving the city code and city charter that had been raised by members of the two city-council factions and members of the city staff behind the scenes.

If it’s me that they’re mad at, they’re mad because I caught wind of the questions being raised behind the scenes, and brought them to the public forefront.

I dunno, isn’t that the news media’s job? I think it is. It’s definitely not to not have the first clue as to what’s going on in City Hall. Or worse, to not know, and then pretend that it doesn’t matter anyway.

“Who cares?” the NV editorialized on the matter of the questions that had been raised regarding the Finance Committee. “The committee has no more power to act than does the night custodian, whose work will likely prove significantly more evident.”

I know that the NV had a reporter on hand for the city-council work session that featured a quite knowledgeable discussion of the Finance Committee and the related issue of oversight to be provided by city council to fiscal matters in City Hall. The work session will replay several times between now and the next regular business meeting. You can see for yourself how high the stakes were on this. On both sides of the political aisle. And no, the custodian didn’t end up playing a role in the debate that ensued.

“The time has arrived for (former vice mayor Nancy) Dowdy and others to sweep aside the residue of bitterness over the results of the spring election,” the NV opined a little later, and let me tell you, this one is starting to hit close to home. This is a repeat of a smear that two critics who have graced our pages here have given up trying to perpetuate about the motivation for Fear and Loathing, namely, that it’s sour grapes (comments to that effect here and here) over having lost the May 6 election.

Far from it, and anybody who has read this website more than once or twice the past six years knows that. It’s our job in the news media, as the saying goes, to “comfort the afllicted and afflict the comfortable.” Given the compliant and borderline lapdog approaches of some of our brethren in the local news media, sure, it looks like we take things to that end to the extreme here at the AFP.

But really, we ain’t doin’ nothin’ remarkable. It’s called asking hard questions and demanding answers. It’s fun when you do it and it works.

“Let Dowdy and backers of the minority cry from the rooftops over issues of genuine significance, starting with stormwater,” the NV soldiered on (been there, done that, wrote the book).

“Let them also leave aside petty potshots and speculation over ulterior aims of meaningless effect. They and the city have better to do with their time.”

Yes, “petty potshots.” Dismissing a stream of legitimate issues raised on these pages that have received exactly no consideration from the NV – the John Lawrence story being one example, the identities of the chief campaign contributors to the new majority being another – as “the residue of bitterness over the results of the spring election” is about as petty a potshot as you can get.

Of course, as I’ve been saying throughout this column, I’m assuming a lot here.

I mean, it could be other “voices in the blogosphere” that they were aiming at with this editorial.

I’d try to sleuth who it might really be that they were trying to kick in the shins, but somebody has to hold our city officials’ feet to the fire, and I’m guessing the stenographers for the officialdom that pass for editorial writers in this town have better to do with their time.

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