Waynesboro elections ’06
Economic-development issues promise to dominate the discussions among the candidates for the two open seats on Waynesboro City Council leading up to the May city elections.
That is, if incumbent Ward D councilman Reo Hatfield has his way.
“I have to believe that people can just look around and see that I’ve fulfilled my campaign promise on economic development. We’ve been blessed to have this economic development, and we’re not going to stop now,” said Hatfield, who has served two terms on city council, the first running from 1994 to 1998 and the second beginning in 2002.
Hatfield emphasized economic development in his 2002 campaign – and development issues have taken center stage since, with the Wal-Mart SuperCenter that was already in the works at the time of the May 2002 elections spurring rapid retail growth in the city’s West End.
“Our success has been obvious, at least from the word on the streets, and I feel like we have opportunities that are still arising,” Hatfield told The Augusta Free Press.
“It’s important to have business leadership in there right now to continue this progress,” said Hatfield, the president of the Waynesboro-based Reo Distribution logistics company.
The man that Hatfield unseated in the ’02 elections – DuBose Egleston – thinks that the self-styled business leadership currently in place on city council failed to foresee impacts on traffic and stormwater runoff from the West End development.
“We knew when Wal-Mart came to town that things were going to start happening,” Egleston told the AFP. “What I would have liked to have seen happen was when Wal-Mart came in, we should have done a comprehensive traffic study on Rosser Avenue and Lew Dewitt to develop a comprehensive plan for traffic. We should have done a comprehensive study on the impact on stormwater. We didn’t have to wait around for the businesses to come here. Do it before they come in. We knew the development was coming.
“We should have had the tenacity to do these things from the beginning. We should have had the foresight to do these things when we approved the Wal-Mart coming here. Hindsight is 20-20, but we have to learn from our mistakes and not let this kind of thing happen again. We can’t afford to,” Egleston said.
The second of Hatfield’s two opponents in the Ward D race – Waynesboro School Board chair Lorie Smith – as well wants to see city leaders looking more at the “big picture” than seems to be the case at the present time.
“We’re sitting in a locality where for many, many years we’ve been ignoring a number of issues that have been allowed to regress. I’m talking about issues from stormwater management to retention of our first responders to equipment that’s ancient. We’ve got a laundry list of things that we’ve allowed to regress, and to date a lot of those things are not getting proper attention,” Smith told the AFP.
“My concern is that we’re growing, and we’ve got to try to establish some vision for where we want the city to go with the growth – and we’ve also got to try to strengthen up the bases from which we’re beginning to grow,” Smith said. “We’ve got to get the infrastructure sound. We’ve got to go back and pick up some of these things where we’ve regressed so that we can provide a vision, and we can work from a solid place.”
Vice mayor Nancy Dowdy – whose Ward C seat is also up in the May elections – says the council should focus more of its time on infrastructure issues, one, and two on diversifying the development base to expand beyond retail.
“I don’t think we should hang our hat on retail at the exclusion of other areas of economic development,” said Dowdy, who does not yet have an announced challenger in Ward C.
“Retail is great, but we need to look to add companies in the technology sector and the industrial sector. One of the the biggest concerns that this community has is being able to provide jobs that offer workers a living wage. Industry jobs and technology jobs can do that,” Dowdy told the AFP.
Hatfield, who got the development discussion going last month with a full-page ad that he ran in a local newspaper touting the growth that has taken place in the city in his term on council, thinks politicians “ought to be judged on what they have done.”
“And look around. We’ve got a downtown that for the first time in the history of this city has property sales of over a million dollars. We’ve got new businesses downtown. We’re setting aside money for the sewage-treatment plant and stormwater management,” Hatfield said.
“Economic development is necessary to allow us to do these things – to allow us to maintain and reduce our tax rates so we can take this burden off our citizens,” Hatfield said.