Waynesboro: A sick, twisted joke in bad government

downtown“If councils could spend future money,” Waynesboro City Councilman Frank Lucente wrote in a letter to the editor of The News Virginian this week, “I can assure you future councils would have no money as the present council would have it all spent.”

OK, I’ll bite. The city paid for school renovations at Kate Collins a few years ago with bonds. (Of course. No locality pays cash for multimillion-dollar renovations.) The then-current City Council agreed to take on the bonds that future City Councils, elected every two years here in our fair city, would have to pay back.

Lucente wants the city to renege on an economic-development agreement with the Wayne Theatre, citing shifting political winds.

Can we presume, then, that he would have no problem if the city were to decide to back out of paying back those bonds on Kate Collins?

And actually, no, this isn’t a rhetorical question. For all of his balderdash in his letter about how “(w)e live in a democracy and the voters decide who is elected to office,” Lucente engineered an effort to overturn the will of the voters in 2008, months after a November 2007 referendum that saw city residents overwhelmingly approve bonds for projects to build a new fire station and fund stormwater system improvements.

This after saying in a December 2007 City Council meeting that while he thought the city was “making a mistake” in going forward with the projects, “I always thought if I ever got in this dilemma, I would go with the voters. The voters are the people that I work for, and that’s who I’m going to support.”

So Lucente led an effort to overturn the will of the voters after the 2007 referenda, and now he’s behind this latest salvo to overturn the will of city leaders related to the Wayne.

He’d have you believe that it’s about principle: he wrote in his letter to the editor that he was re-elected to office as a “conservative business candidate” who didn’t support public money going to the Wayne Theatre.

Actually, Lucente was appointed to City Council in 2005 to serve out the last three years of the unexpired term of former mayor Chuck Ricketts when Ricketts was appointed to a judgeship.

Lucente was first elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, and it is true that both times he waved the bloody flag of the Wayne Theatre to stir up his base of Waynesboro as it is today, Waynesboro as it is tomorrow, Waynesboro as it will be forever voters.

Credit where credit is due, Lucente’s demagoguery has kept a do-nothing faction in the City Council majority for eight years, and beyond. Even with Lucente stepping down this year, the lack of competitive races on the ballot in the May elections all but guarantees a return of the power bloc that he was able to breathe to life and put into power.

But what Lucente is doing now isn’t about principle. All these years later, Lucente is butthurt that he lost a vote, and on his way out the door he’s wagging his middle finger at the other side.

Waynesboro is already an absolute joke in economic-development circles for the inaction of the last eight years. Take this dare: name a single significant economic-development project to come online in Waynesboro since 2008 that doesn’t involve a retail store or restaurant.

There is exactly one: the PGI deal in 2010 that had the city handing over $550,000 in cash to go toward infrastructure improvements, a land donation of 15 acres in the industrial park with an estimated dollar value of $600,000 and $1.75 million in abatement of local taxes over the next six years.

All of this to create 41 jobs at an average wage of $18 an hour, raising the average hourly wage for the city overall by a grand total of a penny.

Good news for PGI: the term on that tax abatement comes to an end this year, meaning Lucente can’t push for us to renege on that deal on his way out the door.

That good news for PGI is bad news for the rest of us. The end of that tax abatement is likely the end of our last meaningful economic-development deal.

Lucente and his bloc did engineer one other major economic-development deal, if you can call the $3.475 million that they paid to a political ally for 177 acres of scrub brush in 2011 a major economic-development deal.

Especially considering Lucente’s personal unease over committing additional city dollars to building an access road to open up the scrub brush for development opportunities.

“I’m very cautious spending money for something that may not prove profitable,” Lucente said in casting the lone dissenting vote this past October as the City Council decided to apply for funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation that would help the city pay for an access road to the scrub brush.

This is the sad, twisted joke that is the legacy of the past eight years of Waynesboro City Council politics: spend $3.475 million on scrub brush that we don’t want to develop, spend another $2.9 million to raise wages a penny, then back out on a $700,000 deal because a City Council member is butthurt.

Column by Chris Graham


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