You can smearmonger better than that, can’t you?

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

Stewart Hall wasn’t around for the end of the now-infamous interview of John Lawrence that was conducted late last year by a group of self-styled business conservatives for their informal nomination to run for city council’s Ward B seat. According to Lawrence, Hall got upset at Lawrence’s insistence that he wouldn’t just up and agree to fire city manager Doug Walker before coming to his own assessment of Walker’s performance on the job and “stamped out of the meeting, and his parting shot to me was, You’re just naive. You don’t understand what’s going on.”

Pot, meet kettle.

I mean, seriously. These guys can’t seem to leave well enough alone. The flames of controversy over the firing of Walker by the new city council that is going to take office next week had been reduced to embers as the people who had initiated the backroom maneuver had done their best to show contrition to a public that seemed to want their blood for the transgression. Enter Hall, in a letter to the editor published by The News Virginian in its Tuesday-morning edition and on its website entitled “Reasons why Walker was not rehired,” and the smoldering fire is getting hot again.

“First,” Hall wrote, “his consummate incompetence in revitalization by discouraging business and industry with penalizing taxes and ‘special fees,’ while offering no incentives.” Huh? What? How about the $6.5 million incentive package that Walker drew up at the urging of city council that led to the development of the Waynesboro Town Center? Did Stewart Hall somehow miss the fact that the Outlet Village is no more, and that what made it no more was a multimillion-dollar incentive package that gave Waynesboro a shopping complex anchored by a Target that Augusta County was desperately trying to land one exit up the interstate in Fishersville?

As for the “penalizing taxes” bit, I would point to the reduction in the tax rate during Walker’s tenure from the penalizing 97 cents per $100 assessed value before Walker arrived in the River City to the current 70 cents per $100 that we have in place today. But deferring to Walker, he wouldn’t take credit for that, and rightly so. Tax rates are the province of the electeds, as they should be.

I can at least agree with Hall on that point – “The council is supposed to set policy,” he wrote in his letter. But I’m scratching my head over what preceded that statement: According to Hall, council members Tom Reynolds, Lorie Smith and Nancy Dowdy allowed Walker to set policy “by approving 99.4 percent of Walker’s proposals!”

Now, if that were true, it would be quite damning – much as it is damning to the election chances of John McCain or the re-election chances of Bob Goodlatte to report their 90 percent-plus support of President Bush during their terms in Congress. But 99.4 percent approval for a city manager – man, oh, man, that’s bad, pretty much letting the fox run the henhouse, isn’t it?

I have to say, though, that I smell a rat here, and its Latin name is Madeupnumberus Rodentus. Just to cite two for instances where Reynolds and Walker differed – there was one last spring when the mayor introduced the ordinance last spring reducing the city tax rate down to 70 cents after Walker had based his budget on the 78-cent rate then in place in the city; the second was Reynolds’ decision this spring to cast his lot in favor of using the general fund to pay for stormwater improvements after Walker had advocated the creation of a utility-fee-based system to fund stormwater improvements.

Those are two pretty big issues where the mayor alone broke with the city manager. I have a hunch that if we commissioned a thorough review of the minutes from the past five and a half years’ worth of meetings we would find quite a few other instances of deviation from that rather lofty 99.4 percent benchmark that Hall has set down for us.

“This inefficient foursome has put the community in debt for decades to come by catering to special-interest groups and pork-barrel spending at the expense of the maintenance of a deteriorating infrastructure. Consequently, Reynolds, Smith and Dowdy can take much of the credit for his demise,” Hall soldiered on, blissfully oblivious to the fact that there are plenty of us out here in the real world of Waynesboro who know the truth as to what he and his fellow jihadists represent.

They wanted you to believe that the ’08 election was about taxes and spending and the rest, but they sold you a bill o’ goods. They’re already jostling in line amongst themselves for the chance to enrich themselves at your expense. And that’s why they wanted Walker out of the way. Nothing personal against Walker; it’s just business.

At least I thought it was nothing personal against Walker. Hall’s letter is making me reconsider that line of thought, and some of the things that would-be mayor Tim Williams and kingmaker Frank Lucente have been saying about just wanting to move the city in a different direction.

Maybe this really is the hateful, spiteful, sophomoric move that some of the critics said it was from the get-go.

We should probably thank Stewart Hall for reminding us of that.

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