Schilling blasts water project, O'Connell's 'fiefdom'
6/8 update: Gary O'Connell responds with a Saturday morning email (the Hook reporter was in North Carolina at the time, so that's why it's getting posted Sunday noonish). O'Connell calls the process "transparent from concept to completion" and asks that the entirety of his statement be posted, and so it is (see below).
9pm, 6/6 update: We still haven't heard from Gary O'Connell, but we have heard a differing view from former Councilor Blake Caravati who asserts, via a comment below, that his former Council-mates oppose the water project because they have "hidden agendas." Also, we now have audio for of the Schilling show, also below, for those who just can't get enough.
Just three days after the mayor won two concessions for critics of the community's controversial $143 million proposed water project, new fire erupted as ex-City Councilor Rob Schilling blasted a key city official today for allegedly withholding information and running a "fiefdom."
"The information given to Council by the City Manager," Schilling told a local radio audience, "was filtered or shaped to promote a certain point of view or direction that was desired by staff or the City Manager."
With Schilling's announcement, all three recently-departed City Councilors who stepped down in January are now claiming they were provided misleading information about the local water situation by City Mananger Gary O'Connell, who also sits on the waterworks and airport boards. Republican Schilling, now a radio talk show host on WINA-AM 1070, joins Democrats Kevin Lynch and Kendra Hamilton–- both of whom were his radio guests today–- in asserting that they've been duped.
"My greatest concern is for the ratepayer," Schilling said, "and I don't believe the ratepayer is well served by the current plan or the current process."
As the Hook has reported, the water supply proposal–- which features a mammoth reservoir fed by a 9.5-mile pipeline–- was based largely on the assertion that dredging the existing Rivanna Reservoir might cost over $223 million, an amount larger than a recent contract to dredge the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. In fact, private contractors and other experts interviewed by the Hook have presented estimates ranging from $24-$30 million.
Before Mayor Dave Norris interceded with amendments demanding fresh explorations of dredging and conservation, O'Connell had attempted to push a business-as-usual endorsement of the official water proposal through City Council on Monday, June 2. The situation prompted Councilor Holly Edwards to suggest that Charlottesville's council-manager form of government may need revision.
O'Connell was not immediately available for comment.
Schilling's complete statement:
I realize there are agendas held by those on both sides of this issue, beyond obtaining the least costly water supply in the least environmentally damaging way (those who want to control growth by limiting water; those whose primary concern is for the Moorman's River over the residents of the community and over the Rivanna River; those, who for economic reasons, just want to see "something" done).
There were often times in my Council service when the answers coming back from staff, through the City Manager (who always insisted that questions be submitted through him, rather than being asked directly of staff) were less than satisfactory. In many cases I had to ask the same question over and over again.
For the majority of my Council term, I felt (and was certainly warned by others) that the information given to Council by the City Manager was filtered or shaped to promote a certain point of view or direction that was desired by staff or the City Manager.
In other words, unless I phrased a question in a very specific way, I may have received in return something less than the "whole truth." For me, getting complete information became a frustrating effort in futility.
In my opinion, the City Manager, who for a time fancied calling himself "the CEO of Charlottesville," is running a fiefdom at City Hall and has been for a long time, and independent-thinking city councilors are considered temporary "impediments" to be navigated around.
Although I asked many, many questions about the water supply plan before casting my vote in support, I do not believe that I was provided complete information in response to my questions. Additionally, over the years from 2002-2006, the answers often changed, and often drastically, without a thorough explanation.
Since I have not conducted the research that Mr. Lynch and Ms. Hamilton have regarding water supply alternatives, I do not necessarily endorse the alternate plan as being "the" right plan. However, if I were casting my vote now, with the information as it is being presented today, I would not likely vote for the existing plan. That is not to say that I would not do so ultimately, but I believe there are enough questions outstanding to withhold my support presently.
My greatest concern is for the ratepayer, and I don't believe the ratepayer is well served by the current plan or the current process.
Gary O'Connell's Saturday, June 7 email: Creating a safe, reliable, and abundant water supply is probably one of the most important processes a community will ever go through. I am confident that our process was open and inclusive from the time we first began to tackle this critical challenge in 2002. Two unanimous votes on City Council have now affirmed our community's water supply plan. This important process was transparent from concept to completion, with many opportunities for public input all along the way, including a number of recent discussions. I take that responsibility as the City Manager very seriously, and so has the City Council, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, the Albemarle County Service Authority and the Rivanna Board.