NEWS- Duped councilors? Three now slam O'Connell's water leadership
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 June 5, "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, three of the four most recently-departed City Councilors have now aligned in 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- 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.
But not every Councilor or ex-Councilor has stern suggestions in O'Connell's wake. Democrat Blake Caravati, who stepped down in 2006, the year voters ousted Schilling, has stern words for his former colleagues.
"No one was duped in the past," Caravati claims in an open letter he posted to the Hook's website. "The duping is going on now by Lynch, Hamilton, and Schilling."
His former Council-mates oppose the water project because they have "hidden personal agendas," Caravati asserts. "In plain words, the current campaign against the plan, under the false guise of protecting the rate payer and the environment is disingenuous."
In an interview, Caravati explains that with the exception of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply's Rich Collins, who is a founder of an anti-growth group called ASAP, he isn't actually going to speculate about the alleged hidden agendas.
"I have no idea what their agendas are," says Caravati. "They're hidden to me."
What makes Caravati, who was mayor during the 2002 drought, bristle is the attack on O'Connell, which he sees as personal. "I'm a little upset with my three former colleagues," says Caravati.
Caravati says he's not so troubled about the now-infamous $223 dredging assertion because he doesn't believe dredging is a sustainable solution.
"Even if it were just a third of that," says Caravati, "I probably wouldn't vote for it. Dredging doesn't supply enough water over the long term or deal with the environmental impacts as well as Ragged Mountain."
Questions have recently arisen about the propriety of letting one firm, Pennsylvania-based Gannett Fleming, earn over $2 million revisiting old measurements of the community water supply, claim that dredging was too expensive, and then win a $3.1 million dam design contract, but Gary O'Connell responds that there have been about 13 public meetings on the water supply. He calls the process "transparent from concept to completion."