"Obama White Money" or "Like Money"?

By: Matt Holmes Email
By: Matt Holmes Email

Thursday May 7, 2009

It all comes down to how you interpret what was said in an online podcast.

Albemarle County Service Authority Board of Directors Chairman Don Wagner, talking about federal stimulus money that could be used for a dredging project, made reference to President Obama. One interpretation of what he said reads like this: "It's Obama money...Obama white money." That interpretation has led people to call for an apology from the Board of Directors and for Wagner to resign.

On Thursday, Wagner spoke with CBS19 to set the record straight on exactly what he said.

"I said 'that's Obama money,' and then I said, 'it's Obama-like money.' L-I-K-E," Wagner explained.

Wagner is a longtime real estate developer and a 25-year member of the Albemarle County Service Authority Board of Directors. Those who know him well say he is not a racist and would know better than to use a term like "white money."

"I had never heard of 'white money,'" Wagner said. "That's a brand new term to me. Maybe I don't visit the same Web sites that Kevin Lynch does."

Lynch is the city activist and former city councilor who initially attacked Wagner for his comments. In an e-mail Thursday, Lynch stood by his interpretation of what Wagner said at that meeting last month.

Meanwhile, a number of city and county leaders are lining up to defend Wagner and his record of service.

If you want to listen to the meeting and decide for yourself what was said, check out the podcast here.

Wednesday May 6, 2009

"It's Obama money...Obama white money," a member of the Albemarle County Service Authority said to the laughter of his colleagues.

The comments, made at a meeting in April, came during a discussion about funding the dredging of the North Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Now that a podcast of that meeting is gaining some attention, the comments have sparked strong emotions.

"The term 'white money' is a redneck slur referring to tax money," explained Kevin Lynch, a former Charlottesville City Councilor and member of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply.

"I was very disappointed to hear that language being used in the course of a conversation about our water supply plan," added Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris.

We caught up with Norris at a forum Wednesday night for city council candidates. While he said he was unaware of the comments, he immediately took issue with them.

"Using terms like 'Obama white money,' I think is a highly inappropriate turn of phrase that's not befitting a public servant," Norris said. "I think they should have been called out on it."

Lynch says he's less offended by the nature of the comments than he is by the attitude the Service Authority is conveying toward the water supply issue.

"That was just one slur that popped up in the middle of it," Lynch complained. "That whole meeting was all about how to thwart the will of city council. It was baldly stated many times. It's unbelievable that they would put that on a public record, but they did and now anyone can listen to it."

You can listen to the podcast of the meeting here.

Because the podcast is audio-only and the speaker does not identify himself, it's unclear which member of the Service Authority made the controversial comments. The Albemarle County Service Authority is an unelected board appointed by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

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