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Council poised for decision on CDBG pavilion project despite added costs

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‘CH’ – Gallagher’s Cheri Herschman – tried to open the council’s March 30th virtual work session with an employee health insurance presentation. However, her audio hook up experienced issues, leading to her getting bumped to second on the agenda. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Audio/Mike McCool

After technical difficulties with the remote hook up of Gallagher representative, Cheri Herschman knocked the employee insurance plan presentation off the top of the Monday virtual work session agenda list, the Front Royal Town Council heard from Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick on issues with the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program’s revitalization of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District.

“Needless to say, we’ve had some challenges with the CDBG in general, and now with the Coronavirus hitting our community it’s been even more of a challenge,” Tederick told the council to begin the March 30th work session discussion.

Among those challenges needing to be addressed almost immediately, Tederick explained were approval of amendments to bylaws to address personnel changes in the Façade Advisory Board and acknowledgment of the decision to move to the “materials only” option on financing downtown business façade improvements due to unexpectedly high bids on work and materials through the federal-state grant process.

“Several members got off the board; we have to add new members to the board,” Tederick said of the necessity of bylaw updates regarding program staffing.

As the agenda packet noted, those several “members who got off the board” included two, former Town Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp and Tourism and Community Development Director Felicia Hart, whom Tederick terminated as part of his January 27 municipal downsizing initiative tied to his FY-2021 budget proposal. Also on the list was former Town Manager Joe Waltz, whom many observers of Town Hall believe resigned several months earlier to avoid being asked to implement then-Interim Mayor Tederick’s staff and departmental cutback plan.

The bylaw amendment would acknowledge Tederick’s replacement of Waltz as the program’s Grant Administrator, Director of Finance B. J. Wilson’s stepping into Hart’s role as “Assistant Project Manager” and the addition of Interim Planning-Zoning Director Chris Brock as “Project Manager”.

To build or not to build
Also on the table for movement toward quick council action, as in its first meeting of April, was a decision on whether or not to proceed with construction of the new Village Commons-Gazebo area Pavilion building aspect of the CDBG plan. Staff noted in the agenda packet that project estimates have added $143,349 to the $140,000 the Town has available for that major new downtown revitalization construction project now estimated at a total cost of $283,349.

The Front Royal Visitors Center has been a popular stopping point for community tourism information. After Town ‘Tourism’ promotion was suggested for outsourcing and removal from the Town budget, is council eyeballing a ‘Tourism’ promotional facility upgrade?

Staff’s recommendation should the council decide to proceed with this new construction aspect of the CDBG program, which was to request a CDBG budget amendment that would allow a 50/50 Town-CDBG Program split of the additional costs.

“We just need to get some guidance from council whether to continue down the path of staff trying to find the $75,000 dollars – in the packet we have various line items that I’ve been able to identify in the current budget in order to fund the $75,000 dollars. So, I just need to know … if that’s what you want to do,” Tederick told the council.

The line items Tederick identified to raise the Town’s half of the needed additional revenue should the State Grant administrators agree to the budget amendment for the project, came from departmental budgets whose staffs were impacted by Tederick’s late January terminations. They include a total of $39,079 from the Community Development Department; $25,000 from former Council Clerk Jennifer Berry’s budget; and $10,921 from the remaining staff salary allotment for the Horticulture Department.

First, Councilman Jacob Meza questioned whether the Town could commit the money to this project while so many revenues and timeframe on business closing variables from the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response remain unknown.

Revitalize what – targeted for federal funding through state agencies for a façade facelift, downtown businesses are currently facing an undetermined shut down as part of attempts to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic spread statewide and locally.

“We’re still kind of structuring our budget for next year. But I still think there might be decisions to be made on the dollars that’ll be spent out of our budget considering the financial impact that we’re going to sustain with the all the preparation and the work keeping the COVID-19 down,” Meza said, adding, “All I’m saying is I think I’m okay with tonight deciding that we’re going to put the $75,000 in the budget with the line items that you’ve put in our packet that went out. But I’m still not a hundred percent sure that some things will be financially feasible depending on the financial impact of the COVID – does that make sense?”

While replying that he understood Meza’s concerns, Tederick noted that the line item funds he had identified were out of the existing budget, not next year’s where the Town will see the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and response on Town revenue streams and expenditures. The interim town manager pointed out staff needed a direction from council in the short term on whether they wanted to pursue a major aspect of the CDBG project in this budget year, or leave it to an uncertain budget-year future.

“So, you’re saying take it out of this year’s budget, but I thought we originally talked about having to set aside additional funds because the cost overage was unexpected, and you’re saying not take it out of the next year’s budget,” Meza replied.

Tederick reiterated that the additional $75,000 he had identified to try and move the pavilion project forward with a requested CDBG budget amendment was, indeed, out of the Town’s current FY-2020 budget.

Noting that due to project changes some funds committed to the façade aspect of the downtown revitalization project might end up coming available to other CDBG projects like the pavilion, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock suggested council seize the moment if funding was now available, rather than wait facing an uncertain budgetary future.

I’ve got an idea for a downtown façade improvement – a movie marquee with films and playing times listed for a non-pandemic-stricken citizenry.

“So, I’m thinking looking forward instead of looking backward with this epidemic or pandemic, that we need to think about going forward in a positive manner,” Sealock told his colleagues.
Tederick then told council he did not feel there was great time pressure, and that the matter could be forwarded to another work session “to give you time to process … and have another round of discussion on whether to move forward or not”.

However, Finance Director B. J. Wilson noted that the building contractor on the project had been holding the price now on the table for some time. He pointed out that work session discussion of the matter had been on council’s schedule several weeks earlier; and that it was currently an unknown how much longer the price estimate at the root of the March 30 discussion might hold in what has been a builder’s market.

After the mayor polled a somewhat nervous council, a majority consensus was established to move the matter forward for a decision at the council’s next meeting.

Hear, if not see, council and staff’s discussion in the linked Royal Examiner audio recording:

Town will waive card-payment fees thru June, undecided on long-term options

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Staff morale, permanent administrative leadership and health insurance options lead County work session discussion

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On Tuesday morning, December 1, the Warren County Board of Supervisors met in a work session to discuss several pending policy and budgetary items. Those items included:

1 – six “Action Items” determined from the board’s recent weekend “Strategic Planning Session”;

2 – Lord Fairfax Community College’s proposal on the use of COVID-19 related funds for Workforce Solutions Scholarships targeting people negatively impacted financially by the Coronavirus pandemic and its limitations placed on business operations from state and local social distancing and other safety precautions;

3 – a new health insurance option proposal designed to safeguard county employees due to the ongoing Valley Health-Anthem Blue Shield/Blue Cross health insurance provider negotiating impasse;

4 – and a presentation by the United Way of Front Royal/Warren County on its programs and partnerships within the community in providing volunteer service and health care, among other options to community members in need.

FR/WC United Way Board President Shane Goodwin, at the podium and live broadcast wall screen, and Executive Director Steven Schetrom make their case for continued municipal support of United Way community assistance programs and partnerships. Their PowerPoint was well-received. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

Beginning with that final United Way presentation, the full board present seemed to concur that United Way helps orchestrate a valuable community service and deserves continuing municipal support for its endeavors. A PowerPoint on recent activities was presented by United Way Executive Director Steven Schetrom and Board of Directors President Shane Goodwin. And Schetrom reminded the supervisors that all the funding United Way receives is spent locally within the community.

County Board Chairman Walt Mabe cited an existing need for shower facilities at the County’s cold-weather Thermal Shelter for the homeless at the 15th Street Health and Human Services complex, as a potential immediate project for United Way to tackle.

Lord Fairfax’s Carlene Hurdle presented an overview of the college’s Workforce Solutions program and the initiative to funnel some partnered scholarship municipal funding into programs designed to equip students with skills to acquire jobs there is a higher immediate demand for.

Carlene Hurdle virtually explains Coronavirus pandemic change of direction in LFCC’s Workforce Solutions scholarship plans.

Interim County Administrator Ed Daley seemed to speak for the board when he said the County’s intention would be to see the scholarships were directed toward students who had been economically “displaced” by consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic, not just people looking for a more lucrative career change. Hurdle responded that the County could dictate how the money it invested – $30,000 was cited – since it was its money earmarked into the scholarship fund.

“It sounds like a real opportunity for those in need,” Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox observed. Daley explained that while the County contribution had originated in CARES Act related funding, having been transferred into the County’s General Fund it was now administered as a county General Fund budgetary item, which would remove the necessity to have the money spent by the end of the calendar year.

Daley also noted that, as with its cooperative arrangement with LFCC on the tractor-trailer driving school off Kendrick Lane, the Warren County Economic Development Authority would work with the County and LFCC to promote the scholarship program.

And speaking of the interim county administrator, in the lead-off topic on the “Strategic Advance Action Items” concerning future “Critical Issues, Goals, and Strategies” a debate arose over a suggested time frame for the hiring of a permanent replacement for Daley and departed County Administrator Doug Stanley. The suggested timeframe was a permanent county administrator in place by the spring of 2022.

Despite acknowledging the excellent contributions Daley has made since assuming the interim administrator’s role, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter questioned the wisdom of that long delay – over a year and a half – in putting a permanent hire into the county’s top administrative position. North River Supervisor Delores Oates countered that the additional time gave existing departmental staff the necessary time to fill key positions either open or coming open in order to create a more stable staffing environment for the new administrator to step into.

Socially distanced into the spectators’ front row by PowerPoint presentations that bumped him from the former and occasional press table, Tony Carter questioned the board majority plan to not name a permanent county administrator until spring of 2022, nearly two years after Doug Stanley’s ouster.

Carter argued that the new permanent replacement would be better positioned to help create a stable staffing environment they had been instrumental in creating. Carter also noted that Daley’s interim contract called for him to only be paid for 28 hours a week’s work, pointing out it was not unusual for a municipal manager to work a 40-hour-plus week.

Daley seemed to speak for the post-Strategic Planning board majority in pointing out it was felt bringing the new administrator in mid-stream of the staff and departmental stabilization effort was not the best option. He pointed to necessary upgrades in county IT (Information Technology) as an example. Earlier, Deputy Emergency Management Director Rick Farrall cited the need for “modernization across the board” of the County’s Information Technology, including the hiring of an IT Director “ASAP”.

Above, Deputy Emergency Services Manager Rick Farrall tells the board there is a need for ‘modernization across the board’ of the County IT department, including filling an empty director’s position. Interim County Administrator Ed Daley, below, appears paper bound as he explains board majority rationale for making needed staff replacements and soft and hardware upgrades prior to re-advertising for a permanent county administrator.

“Our new finance director is here, and he can start moving with IT to do something about our software. And then the new IT and hardware programming, both of those overall – that is a year-and-a-half process … So, the way this is set now, we can start that. And we will fill the deputy county administrator’s position so that you have someone coming up,” Daley said of the advantage of having the permanent administrator in place either before or after the stabilization and upgrading process of county government.

“I believe the direction that we need to go in is to give our county some stability,” Chairman Mabe observed, adding, “and to give them the stability that they need … we need a lot of things before we ever look for a new county administrator … I agree the potential is there for that county administrator to not necessarily like everybody we’ve selected and got into the positions. But with a stable organization, we are more apt to get a better county administrator.”

“I agree,” Oates chimed in.

Mabe also addressed staff morale, seemingly in disrepair after the rapid one-two loss of the county and deputy county administrators this summer. Deputy County Administrator Bob Childress announced his retirement shortly after Stanley’s forced July departure.

After a perhaps rocky start, Board Chairman Walt Mabe wants county staff to know the new board majority, considers them a valued part of the county government ‘team’.

“Our staff that’s looking into this, all of us, there’s going to be a lot of … for lack of a better word, camaraderie. We’re going to understand there’s fear. We’re going to give them the opportunity to know that we like the staff that’s working for us; and we’re working as a team,” Mabe said of the board effort to heal any wounds that may have been opened in the last year.

“And they are much more important,” Daley added nodding to Board Deputy Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi and other staff present, “to your stability than whoever sits here (in the administrator’s seat).

“That’s correct,” Mabe concurred.

Another Strategic Agenda item was a reduction of legal fees. Oates pointed to $2.8 million spent to date on the EDA civil litigations, against Jennifer McDonald and co-defendants and by the Town of Front Royal against the EDA. That latter case related to another Strategic Agenda item, “improved public trust and relationships with the Town of Front Royal and partnering agencies in order to make the best decisions for our community”. Maybe the newly hired permanent town manager can help out on that front.

The other item was a presentation by Human Resources Director Jodi Saffelle, Daley, and Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan concerning another option for the county to deal with impacts of the Valley Health – Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance coverage negotiation impasse on county staff. Saffelle credited Daley with what she called an “out of the box” alternative to coverage in introducing it to the board.

“If it’s a bad idea, it’s my idea,” Daley observed to some laughter at Saffelle’s passing credit to him.

Senior Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan tells the board that even if Valley Health and Anthem overcome their contractual dispute impasse, depending on eventual rates the County may have found a viable health care coverage alternative.

More seriously, the option which Jordan noted the County might stick with even in the event of a late settlement between Valley Health and Anthem. – “If they come to terms we still may go with the new provider depending on the rates,” Jordan observed of the potential of a late settlement in the high-stakes health provider/health insurance poker game – was cited as protecting employees who might have to go to a Valley Health hospital in the event of an emergency medical situation during any lapsed insurance coverage period.

See the discussion of these health insurance variables and the other matters of concern to the county’s future operations and involvement with outside agencies in this Royal Examiner video:

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Front Royal’s new town manager no stranger to contentious or unstable municipal situations

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A town manager who left his previous employment under a cloud and apparent threat to be fired over a dispute with his council over “his management style”; a town manager from a municipality with a recent unstable track record of its own management style – four managers in four years according to the Johnston County (North Carolina) Report.

It sounds like new Front Royal Town Manager Steven Hicks will fit right in here. No wonder Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick and council feel they have found the right man for the job.

The lead of a Johnston County Report story of July 30, 2020 states, “After just nine months on the job, Selma Town Manager Steven Hicks has reportedly agreed to resign. Sources tell Johnston County Report that Mr. Hicks will submit his resignation effective Monday, August 3rd at 5:00 p.m.”

In the Town of Front Royal press release on Hicks’ hiring he is identified as the former town manager of Selma, N.C. And the photo accompanying the North Carolina paper’s article certainly appears to be a match for Front Royal’s new town manager, effective December 7, 2020, if with a tad more facial hair now.

Above, photo attached to Front Royal Press Release on Steven Hicks hiring; below, screen shot of photo accompanying referenced Johnston County Report story on Hicks’ departure from the town manager’s job in Selma, N.C. – Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

The Johnston County Report story continues:

“As previously reported, Town Councilman Byron McAllister on Tuesday allegedly offered the town manager a deal to voluntarily resign and receive one month of severance or be fired. Under Hicks employment contract, he is entitled to severance equal to six months of pay (3 months notice of termination plus 3 additional months salary).  He is currently making $120,000 annually.

“Some members of the town council were upset with his job performance and management style. Sources indicate there were enough votes to fire Hicks if the meeting had taken place this afternoon (at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 30, 2020, the date of the story’s publication).

The Selma government website notes a one-item July 27 Special Council Meeting – that item – a Closed Session on a personnel matter. With a separation agreement apparently in place, no meeting on July 30.

The Johnston County Report also noted that “Steven Hicks is the fourth person to serve as manager for the Town of Selma in the past four years. He was hired in October 2019 to replace former Selma Town Manager Elton Daniels, who resigned in February 2019 to accept a job with the City of Rocky Mount. Daniels had served just 18 months.”

According to the article, Hicks severance terms matched his contracted severance package equal to six months pay, not the one month or be fired option one councilman reportedly offered him.

“Sources say the deal will require Mr. Hicks to resign on August 3rd. In return, he will receive his full salary for the next six months, including contributions to his retirement and health benefits. Vacation and sick leave will stop on August 3rd, but he will receive all accumulated time. He will also be allowed to seek employment elsewhere before the six months’ severance ends,” the Johnston County Report noted. It sounds like Hicks wasn’t negotiating his termination from the position of weakness Councilman McAllister was trying to assert.

So, three months and three weeks after his abrupt departure from Selma, Mr. Hicks has been announced as the successor to Interim Front Royal Town Manager Matt Tederick after over a year of searching and rejection of as many as 80 candidates for the permanent town manager’s job.

Why the selection of someone who left his most recent job under a cloud of discontent after less than a year in his first municipal manager’s position?

We asked both Mayor Gene Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, the latter who was head of council’s executive search committee, about Hick’s most recent employment situation and selection. The mayor said council was aware of the separation and pointed out a large percentage of candidates vetted had left their positions within a year or less of their presentation as candidates for the Front Royal job. The mayor suggested speaking with Sealock due to his more direct involvement in the search.

Sealock concurred with the mayor’s appraisal of candidate resumes council had previously reviewed being presented for the job. “All these guys were short-termers,” Sealock said of the pool of candidates brought to council. “He was vetted by the (executive search) contractor – it was not a big deal. He turned down one job before this one. His credentials were solid,” Sealock added of Hicks resume.

Sealock said council felt comfortable that Hicks departure from the Selma, North Carolina town manager’s position “was a political issue” largely revolving around “personality,” to which the vice mayor added of Hicks potential management style, “He is quite pushy.” But we guess old Marines like Sealock are used to that “management” style.

But if short on municipal administrative oversight experience, as noted in the town press release on his hiring, Hicks is long on municipal, departmental management experience. That 25-years’ experience includes General Services Director of the City of Durham, N.C.; Public Works and Utility Director of the City of Petersburg, Va.; Acting Assistant James City (Va.) County Administrator; and Resident Engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation in Williamsburg, Va.

In the press release on Hicks hiring, Sealock stated, “Finding the right candidate took longer than we expected. Council knew what they wanted in a manager and was patient to find the right Town Manager for our community. I believe our efforts have paid off by having the best candidate possible. I’m excited to see what Steven will bring to our Town government, businesses, and community.”

Mayor-elect Chris Holloway added, “Hicks was selected because of his impressive leadership in operations, bringing business in communities, developing fiscally conservative budgets, managing enterprise departments, and delivering complex infrastructure projects on-time and on-budget.”

“Complex infrastructure projects, fiscally conservative budgets, enterprise department management” are parts of a resume built for the most part as a departmental head. However, work during his nine months in Selma on a 400-acre mixed-use development project involving Duke Energy and Eastfield Crossing Developers projected to create 3,100 jobs was cited in Front Royal’s press release on Hicks’ hiring, though where in that project’s evolution Hicks was hired was not specified.

Be that as it may, Hick’s Town of Front Royal contract ratified November 30th, includes a $140,000 annual base salary with a “signing bonus” of $5,000 and a relocation expense coverage of $10,000; with an option of a $300 monthly “vehicle allowance” toward the purchase, lease or ownership of a vehicle “in lieu of mileage expense reimbursement” among other leave, retirement and professional growth benefits, including an outstanding performance incentive bonus of “up to 5%” of his base salary annually. Depending on the length of service, as in his previous position in Selma, Hicks would receive three to six months’ severance pay upon his termination “without cause.”

Ever the legally astute municipality, Front Royal’s contract with Hicks also stipulates that among other scenarios, it will be terminated “upon … the death of the manager”. – So, there’ll be no collecting that salary or a severance package for three-to-six months from beyond the grave.

But hopefully, 25 years in the trenches of municipal departmental management and VDOT, not to mention Selma, N.C.’s seemingly tumultuous political environment, have toughened Steven Hicks up for his stint in Front Royal (aka Hell Town), and he won’t be negotiating an exit strategy with the Grim Reaper any time soon.

Attempts to get contact information for Hicks for comment on his professional path to Front Royal from the Town before publication were unsuccessful.

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COVID-19 pandemic resource links, timelines, school schedules and long-term care facility reports

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Below are November 30, 2020 updates on relevant information to the community, including online resource contact information; public and private school schedules into 2021; local long-term-care facility information; and mid-term (completion in the next 3-months) and long-term (over 3 months completion) schedules of county and town resources and relief funding distribution reporting:

MID-TERM (scheduled completion in the next 3-months)

  1. Thermal Shelter:
  1. The Thermal Shelter opened November 1stat 7:00 pm, and will remain open until March 31, 2021.  Operational hours are 7:00 pm to 7:00 am, seven days a week at the Health and Human Services Complex – 465 W. 15th St., Front Royal, VA 22630.  Phone is (540) 892-6108.
  1. CARES ACT of 2020 (Emergency Coordinator) 
  1. Overall project coordinator is Rick Farrall, Emergency Coordinator
    1. Warren County’s total (first and second) allocation is $7,008,308 (based on population)
    2. County to withhold $100,000 to fund Chamber of Commerce request and audit
    3. County to withhold $300,000 to fund WCPS for 900 distance learning devices
    4. Balance of $6,608,308 to be “equitably distributed” between County and Town
  1. Warren County
    a. Allocation is $4,130,192 or 62.5% (estimated population of 25,000)
  2. Town of Front Royal
    a. Allocation is $2,478,116 or 37.5% (estimated population of 15,000)
    v. All funds must be expended in accordance with section 601(d) of the Social Security Act outlined in the CARES ACT (and current CARES ACT guidance)
    vi. See above timeline regarding the “equitable distribution” (allocation) of CARES ACT funds
    vii. Applied for the Voter Registrar CARES ACT (COVID-19) funding $58,965 (6/30)
  1. Treasurer.  Confirm receipt of funds, date – complete (o/a 8/21).

A County EM2 vehicle parked outside the WCGC in March as first round of local responses began coordinating with state directives. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

LONG-TERM (scheduled completion over 3-months)

  1. FEMA Emergency Protective Measures (Category B) Reimbursement (Planning Department)
  1. Warren County.  Main lead is Taryn Logan, Planning Director
    i. All departments/staff send monthly expense update to Taryn NLT the last working day of each month
    ii. Approximate County expenditure to date is $475,000 (11/17)
  2. Town of Front Royal.  Main lead is B.J. Wilson, Finance Director
    i. Approximate Town expenditure to date is $70,000 (10/14)
  1. Long Term Care Facility Information (Emergency Coordinator)
  1. As of November 24, 2020:  Addressing Census, COVID-19 cases, Other Issues, PPE, and Staffing:
    i. Commonwealth Senior Living – Nothing Significant To Report (NSTR).
  1. Regular facility-wide testing; one staff member recently tested positive.
    ii. Fox Trails – NSTR.
  2. PPS complete.  Staff is tested bi-weekly.  Residents tested monthly.
  3. Conducting limited indoor visitation.
    iii. Heritage Hall – VDH reports an “outbreak” at the facility, effective 9/17/2020.
  1. Weekly testing continues until the “outbreak” is over.  Test 11/16; all negative.  Latest test 11/23; awaiting results.
  2. Admissions resumed on 11/20.
  3. So far, 37 of 37 residents tested positive for COVID-19; 29 recovered, 9 attributed deaths. Eight staff tested positive; all recovered/returned to work.
  4. There are no unmet needs at the facility at this time.
    iv. Hidden Springs – NSTR.
  5. Testing residents as required with kits on hand.
  6. Mandatory flu shots for all staff this year.
    v. Lynn Care – VDH reports an “outbreak” at the facility, effective 9/17/2020.
  7. Weekly testing continues.  Last test was 11/16-17; all negative.
  8. Currently, all residents and staff have tested negative.
  9. Residents will only be tested (now) if symptomatic.
  10. Note – CMS/State COVID-19 Survey completed; PPS complete.
    vi. Woods Cove – as of 11/16, one staff member that worked in the facility last Friday (11/13) tested positive for COVID.
  11. All residents and staff tested 11/19; all negative.
  12. Note – COVID incubation period ended o/a 7/31; PPS complete.
    vii. Shenandoah Senior Living – NSTR.
  13. Testing continues for new hires and residents who leave/return to the facility.
  14. Point Prevalence Survey complete.  Reporting staff is at minimum required level; trying to hire additional staff.
    viii. RSW Jail – VDH reports an “outbreak” at the facility, effective 10/19/2020.
  15. As of 11/11:  Currently, the last inmate to test positive/symptomatic was on 11/11.  The unit the inmate is housed on is expected to clear on 12/9.
  16. Note – all inmates/staff recovered from the COVID facility outbreak Friday, June 12; PPS complete.
    ix. Warren County Public Schools – NSTR.
  17. Currently, 65 students absent with symptoms and 59 in self-quarantine.  Staff – 18 staff absent with symptoms; 15 self-quarantined.  To date, 3 students and 8 staff tested positive.
  1. Distribution of four gallons of hand sanitizer to each facility is complete (4/27)
  2. New PPE guidance to Assisted Living Facilities sent out (5/7)

Above, gone but not forgotten – the COVID-19 testing tent that was initially set up at Valley Health’s Outpatient facility in Front Royal off Commerce Avenue a block down from the WCGC. Testing has moved to Valley Health’s Outpatient unit outside of town in the Riverton Commons Shopping Center. Below, county numbers from Nov. 26 – 4 days later there were 71 additional cases and one death reported in Warren County.

LOCAL AND REGIONAL “PHASE THREE” TIMELINE:

  1. Local and Regional “Phase Three” Timeline/Updates –
  1. December 1:  County Finance.  Submit appropriations and transfers list to Deputy Clerk.
  2. December 4:County Finance.  CARES ACT – NLT schedule CRF audit for late February 2021.
  3. December 4 (T):  Courthouse.  Next scheduled jury trial; pending State Supreme Court approval.  Courthouse is currently fully operational.
  4. December 8:  Warren County BOS.  Approve appropriations and transfers as appropriate.
  5. December 11 (T):Fire and Rescue.  Tentative County staff occupation of the new Rivermont Fire Station 2.
  6. December 11:  Planning Director.  Submit FEMA-B Grant Proposal to FEMA for related expenses through September 15, 2020.
  7. December 18 (T):County Treasurer/Finance.  CARES ACT – NLT transfer CARES ACT funds to County and Town as appropriate (pending documentation as appropriate)
  8. December 23:  Warren County Public Schools.  Holiday schedule begins.
  9. December 30:County and Town Staff.  CARES ACT – end of qualifying expense period (began March 1, 2020)
  10. December 31:Human Resources.  End of the Family First Care Act time period.
  1. CALENDAR YEAR 2021:
  1. January 4:  Randolph Macon Academy.  Students return from winter break.
  2. January 4:  Warren County Public Schools.  Students return from holiday break.
  3. January 4 (T):  Town of Front Royal.  Submit CARES ACT expenses (by category) to County for the time period 10/1/2020 to 12/31/2020 (complete).
  4. January 5 (T):  Warren County.  Submit CARES ACT expenses (by category) to State Department of Accounting for the time period 10/1/2020 to 12/31/2020.
  5. January 18 (T):  Christendom College.  Students return to campus for Spring semester.
  6. February 18 (T):  LEPC.  The next scheduled meeting is at 3:00 pm at the Public Safety Building.
  7. February 28 (T):County Finance/Auditor.  CARES ACT – NLT for internally funded CARES ACT fund audit to be complete (to be updated).
  8. March 12:Commonwealth.  The waiver of 18.2-422 of the Virginia Code is scheduled to expire (face coverings in public)
  9. TBD: Parks and Recreation facilities fully reopen.

COVID-19 INTERNET RESOURCES:

  1. Impact Planning for Localities (COVID-19):
  1. The below site produces a pretty neat Warren County graphic, if you haven’t seen it already.  It displays local hospital bed counts, population and business data, poverty information, etc.  The data appears to be fairly accurate.  Check it out here:
  2. https://business.maps.arcgis.com/apps/
  3. Just select the county/state in the upper right hand corner of screen, scroll down to Warren County and it will build a County graphic.
  4. This is not an official government site, but provides local information for reference.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)(COVID-19):
  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/
  1. Virginia Department of Health (VDH)(COVID-19):
  1. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/surveillance-and-investigation.
  1. Warren County (COVID-19):
  1. https://www.warrencountyva.net/coronavirus, and the County of Warren, VA Facebook page
  1. Town of Front Royal (COVID-19):
  1. https://www.frontroyalva.com.
  2. Local COVID-19 Helpline (non-emergency):  (540) 622-0555
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Prince Edward County not likely to pull Lynchburg ‘about face’ on Stanley hiring

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Former Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley has landed a job in Prince Edward County that is not likely to be withdrawn after a social media onslaught by past critics as his first effort at post-Warren County employment was in the City of Lynchburg.

According to an October 27th story in “The Farmville Herald”, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors hired Stanley as County Administrator after a thorough investigation of his professional background, including his involuntary separation from his 20-year position as Warren County Administrator; and subsequent separation from Lynchburg City prior to his scheduled start date as county administrator there due to a past e-mail language controversy believed brought to the Lynchburg board by a past Stanley and Warren County government critic or critics.

Contacted about the report, Stanley confirmed the hire and a start date in mid-November. Stanley also indicated he had fully briefed his new employers on the dynamics of his July 8 separation agreement with Warren County and his aborted employment in Lynchburg.

“I started on November 16th.  I was up front with the Board about my tenure and exit from Warren. I would say that the Board did their homework and research on their own.”

The writing was on the wall for Doug Stanley, above, at a July 8 Special Meeting called by Board of Supervisors to facilitate an as neutral ‘involuntary separation’ as possible from the county administrator’s perspective. Below, Stanley supporters on staff who were present were warned ‘no cheers or tears (or signs once meeting started)’ or face removal by sheriff’s deputies. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

Saying he was happy to get back to work after the extended break – his final day here was July 31st, Stanley added, “I want to thank the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors for selecting me to be the next County Administrator. I am honored that the Board has entrusted me with this responsibility to lead the staff in carrying out the Board’s goals and vision.

“Prince Edward has a rich and culturally diverse history and is a community with tremendous potential. I look forward to working with each of the Board members, staff, the Town of Farmville, Hampden-Sydney College, Longwood University, and other community leaders in the coming years to broaden the local tax base, create employment opportunities, and improve the quality of life for the entire community.”

Following issuance of a press release on Stanley’s hiring, Prince Edward Board Chairman Jerry Townsend told “The Farmville Herald” the October 22 decision to hire Stanley was made after a thorough investigation of his time in Warren County and the allegations regarding his performance there, including during an evolving Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial scandal that surfaced in late 2017-early 2018.

“Mr. Stanley was very transparent and discussed with the board, in detail, the charges that had been brought against him and subsequently dismissed. The board has complete confidence that Mr. Stanley had no connection with any of the events that transpired in Warren County,” Townsend told The Farmville Herald.

Stanley, along with County-EDA Attorney Dan Whitten, all the sitting county supervisors and EDA Board of Director members were indicted on “misfeasance” misdemeanor charges by a Special EDA Grand Jury related to the emerging EDA embezzlement investigation. Misfeasance is defined as an unintentional act, in this case a lack of oversight of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s alleged behavior in spearheading a believed misdirection of EDA, Town and County assets.

Those charges brought under the English Common Law basis of Virginia legal codes were later ruled by the court not to be criminal acts by Virginia law and dropped against all the defendants.

It seems Stanley’s track record and 25-year professional history, the past 20 as Warren County administrator outweighed what many staff inside the Warren County Government Center saw as a public scapegoating of the past year or so that appeared to play into a newly elected, post-EDA scandal Warren County Board of Supervisors majority’s decision to seek his termination. It was a termination that appeared unpopular with Stanley’s co-workers inside the WCGC, many including department heads who showed up at the July 8 Special Meeting called to approve his involuntary separation agreement to show their support of the only county administrator most of them, and Warren County, had known this century.

With one of his earliest hires, Planning Director Taryn Logan to his left, Doug Stanley chats with county staff shortly after the July 8 Special Board of Supervisors Meeting to facilitate his removal from his county administrator’s position had adjourned to closed session. Staff, including several department heads, remained silently to observe Stanley’s departure agreed upon after a lengthy closed session.

“The board recognized that Mr. Stanley’s experience and leadership serving for over 20 years as county administrator of Warren County, as well as his accomplishments during that time, made him the standout amidst a field of very qualified candidates. Mr. Stanley has been a public servant his entire career, working in local government for over 25 years. He earned the respect of his employees and the community during his time in Warren County,” Townsend told Farmville Herald reporter Titus Mohler for the October 27th story.

And now following a recent weekend “Strategic Planning” session the Warren County Board of Supervisors will be considering two December 1 work session agenda goals related to the county administration’s future – “Improve employee morale in order to enable staff stability” and “Need to provide key leaders in order to provide stability and guidance to staff”. Previously such guidance and stability had to a great extent come from the former county administrator, who had been instrumental in the hiring process of the bulk of county department heads over the past 20 years.

In fact, Board Chairman Walt Mabe’s statement on Stanley’s departure in the July 8 press release following approval of the “Involuntary Separation Agreement” didn’t sound all that different from Prince Edward County Board Chair Jerry Townsend’s in welcoming Stanley aboard:

“We appreciate Mr. Stanley’s service to the Warren County community over the past 25 years. He has many wonderful accomplishments that have helped make Warren County a great place to live, work, and visit. We wish him the best as he continues with the next step in his career,” Mabe said on July 8.

After a three-and-a-half month “vacation” it appears that next step has begun.

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End of November update on COVID-19 pandemic local, state and national impacts

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On Monday, November 30, County Emergency Management Deputy Director Rick Farrall released the latest COVID-19 novel Coronavirus pandemic statistics for Warren County, the Lord Fairfax Health District of which we are a part, as well as state and national numbers. Since our last published report of Friday, November 13, less than three weeks ago, Warren County had recorded 174 new cases (to 859 from 685) and one death (to 26 from 25) attributed to the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus. The lone fatality over the 18-day period reduced the county’s percentage of deaths-to-cases to 3.03%, from 3.65% on November 13. But that remains higher than the statewide ratio of deaths to cases that has hovered between 1.7% and 1.9% over the past month, or the national ratio of 2% to 2.3% over the same period.

Below are the county, health district, state and national numbers – nationally over 13.1 million cases (up 2.8 million from 10.3 million) and 265,166 deaths (up 24,097 from 241,069) dating to November 13. The U.S. has consistently registered around 20% to 23% of the world’s COVID-19 reported cases and deaths with 4% of the world’s population.

Above, County Deputy Emergency Services Director Rick Farrall briefs county officials on the status of the county’s pandemic response in late summer. Below, a Nov. 26 map of reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S., Central America and a portion of Canada. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

Warren County COVID-19 Update November 30, 2020:

  1. Lord Fairfax Health District:  As of today (per the VDH website), there are 6,357 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 208, Frederick 2,228, Page 593, Shenandoah 1,403, Warren 859 (61 are/were hospitalized, 26 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.03% total cases), Winchester 1,066); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
  2. Commonwealth:  3,326,327 total people tested (PCR only); 237,835 total cases [7.5% positive rate (PCR only)]; 14,619 total hospitalized; 4,062 total deaths (1.71%total cases).
  3. United States:  As of November 29, 2020 at 1:32 PM, there are 13,142,997 total cases and 265,166 total deaths (2.02%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.

Current VDH Social Gatherings, and Holiday COVID-19 Related Guidance:

  1. https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

Congregate Living Conference Call:

  1. There are currently three (3) COVID-19 outbreaks at County congregate living facilities.
  2. Expect the NEXT Congregate Living (Long Term care facilities, RSW Jail, and WCPS) teleconference call to be Tuesday (3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.), December 1, 2020; invites and “Zoom” call-in instructions are posted, agenda to follow on the invitation.

COVID-19 Information as of November 25, 2020, at 5 AM:

  1. Lord Fairfax Health District:  As of today (per the VDH website), there are 5,652 confirmed COVID-19 cases: Clarke 187, Frederick 1,885, Page 565, Shenandoah 1,318, Warren 782 (57 are/were hospitalized, 25 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.20% total cases), Winchester 915); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
  2. Commonwealth:  3,213,866 total people tested (PCR only); 226,300 total cases [7.5% positive rate (PCR only)]; 14,312 total hospitalized; 4,008 total deaths (1.77%total cases).
  3. United States:  As of November 24, 2020 at 12:16 PM, there are 12,333,452 total cases and 257,016 total deaths (2.08%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.

viii.   RSW Jail – VDH reports an “outbreak” at the facility, effective 10/19/2020.

  1. As of 11/11:  Currently, the last inmate to test positive/symptomatic was on 11/11.  The unit the inmate is housed on is expected to clear on 12/9.
  2. Note – all inmates/staff recovered from the COVID facility outbreak Friday, June 12; PPS complete.

ix.   Warren County Public Schools – NSTR.

  1. Currently, 65 students absent with symptoms and 59 in self-quarantine.  Staff – 18 staff absent with symptoms; 15 self-quarantined.  To date, 3 students and 8 staff tested positive.

Above, County Board and COVID Emergency Management Team Chairman Walt Mabe has consistently asked for observance of social distancing guidelines and neighborly concern for more vulnerable citizens throughout the pandemic. Below, late November chart of daily reported COVID-19 cases across the Commonwealth reflecting a Phase 3 spike of over 2,000 new cases per day through mid-late November.

COVID-19 Information, as of November 18, 2020, at 5:02 AM:

  1. Lord Fairfax Health District:  As of today (per the VDH website), there are 5,115 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 167, Frederick 1,646, Page 535, Shenandoah 1,225, Warren 724 (53 are/were hospitalized, 24 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.32% total cases), Winchester 818); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
  2. Commonwealth:  2,983,430 total people tested (PCR only); 208,833 total cases [7.1% positive rate (PCR only)]; 13,707 total hospitalized; 3,860 total deaths (1.85%total cases).
  3. United States:  As of November 18, 2020 at 1:07 PM, there are 11,300,635 total cases and 247,834 total deaths (2.19%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Information, as of November 13, 2020:

  1. Lord Fairfax Health District:  As of today (per the Va. Dpt. of Health website), there are 4,674 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 149, Frederick 1,427, Page 524, Shenandoah 1,144, Warren 685 (50 are/were hospitalized, 25 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.65% total cases), Winchester 745); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County). Royal Examiner Note: Since October 6 in Warren County that is an increase of 225 cases (from 460) and 12 deaths, up from 13 deaths over the first nine months of the pandemic, as what has been described as a “Third Wave” pandemic contamination progresses nationally.)
  2. Commonwealth:  2,864,009 total people tested (PCR only); 199,262 total cases (up 45,571 from 153,691 cases on Oct. 6); [6.5% positive rate compared to 4.8% positive rate Oct. 6 (PCR only)], 13,408 total hospitalized; 3,785 total deaths (up 482 since Oct. 6 – 1.90%of total cases).
  3. United States:  As of November 12, 2020 at 12:16 PM, there are 10,314,254 total cases and 241,069 total deaths (2.34% total cases) attributed to COVID-19. (Royal Examiner Note: That compares to 7,436,278 cases (up over 2.8 million) and 209,560 deaths (up 31,509) since October 6.
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Council reconsiders Happy Creek work and weekend walking mall extension

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The Front Royal Town Council policy rollercoaster indicated a change of direction on two major fronts after hearing from citizens during opening public hearing comments at its Monday evening meeting of November 23. Those directions were first, a compromise on Happy Creek work originally slated to remove all vegetation from its bankside and naturally formed riparian (natural vegetative growth) buffer flood shelf to be replaced by large so-called riprap rocks from South Street to Prospect Street; and second, a reversal of the recent decision to extend the weekend closure of East Main Street to vehicular traffic through the end of the calendar year.

The downtown weekend walking mall topic was added to a work session following the meeting after three of four downtown business owners addressing the issue criticized council’s recent reversal of a plan to reopen East Main to vehicular traffic early this month. And following a somewhat dizzying work session discussion it appeared that without any permitted events scheduled for East Main in the next two weeks, the reopening to cars would begin this Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Above, work session discussion of weekend E. Main St. traffic closings; below, Mayor Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Sealock may be thinking, ‘Maybe Letasha knows what they’re trying to say.’ Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

The openness to a change of direction along Happy Creek at a prominent stretch of the Shenandoah Greenway Trail off Commerce Avenue on the town’s southside came after 11 of 11 speakers, many with environmental and natural landscaping professional backgrounds, belabored the council-approved plan enacted under the leadership of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick.

Personnel announcements

And speaking of the interim town manager, following a closed meeting to discuss personnel matters it was announced that as of this coming Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, after over a year Tederick will be interim town manager no more. It was a development Tederick hinted at earlier when he observed this might be his last meeting as town manager. It was an observation that drew a smattering of cynical applause from some present. Tederick has served as interim town manager since November 9, 2019.

Matt Tederick eyes the crowd after hinting that Monday’s meeting might be his last as interim town manager.

The first announcement out of a 33-minute closed session was the hiring of Steven Hicks as town manager, effective December 7 when council’s next meeting, a special meeting/work session, is scheduled. A press release on Hicks hiring and credentials was read into the record by Councilwoman Letasha Thompson. That release in its entirety is available on the Royal Examiner website. It was observed that council interviewed 80 candidates, rejecting an entire first round of candidates, prior to its decision to hire Hicks.

The second personnel matter addressed out of closed session was by Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis. Referencing a social media controversy around the Twitter postings of an FRPD officer, Magalis announced that after a thorough investigation of the officer’s posts “corrective and punitive action” had been taken. But citing the officer’s clean personnel record and absence of complaints of a prejudiced nature in the exercise of his law enforcement duties over a lengthy tenure on the force, he will be retained by FRPD, likely with a defunct Twitter account.

FRPD Chief Magalis addresses the resolution of the officer Twitter account investigation as a critic of the department’s handling of the matter Samuel Porter appears to be recording with his cell phone in row three. Despite FRPD’s published statement to this media outlet regarding the seriousness with which it undertook its personnel investigation of the matter, Porter berated council due to his perceived lack of public information on the matter. Informed of the FRPD release to the media following his remarks, the FR Unites(?) principal lashed out at this reporter, ‘Not in the paper, put it out in the public like I just said – you heard me!’

About Happy Creek

In Tederick’s farewell meeting appearance as interim town manager, following the negative public comments on the Happy Creek project he repeated his November 9th meeting defense of the creek work based on the credentials of the CHA Inflow and Infiltration (I&I) consulting firm. However, that defense appeared to fly in the face of factual information on the project application and aftermath presented by environmental and landscaping professionals. Tederick did repeat blaming a town contractor for the cutting of trees over four inches in diameter, a contractor he noted had been terminated.

However, as has been commented in at least one Royal Examiner letter to the editor, some feel the contractor is being scapegoated for following vague or miss-stated directives from town officials on the project’s parameters.

Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, who attended the Saturday informational “Save Happy Creek Coalition” meeting-protest at the impacted stretch of the creek bank set the tone for council’s apparent willingness to reverse course on what was called a misguided, counterproductive effort to repair the creek bank and improve flood control and hard-surface stormwater distribution into the creek.

‘I think we need to listen to these people,’ Vice-Mayor Sealock, above, said directly to Interim Town Manager Tederick and Public Works Director Boyer, sandwiching Town Attorney Napier below.

“Somebody asked me why did you go down (to Saturday’s “Save Happy Creek Coalition” event)? Well, I wanted to find out for myself. So, Mr. Town Manager and Mr. Boyer (Public Works Director), I’ve got one concern. I think we need to listen to these people. I think if we need an extension (of Dec. 31 deadline for completion of the project) then we should take care of that – let’s listen,” Vice-Mayor Sealock told involved staff and his colleagues of environmental concerns over the direction of the project.

Councilwoman Lori Cockrell added the town attorney to the creek controversy mix, saying she thought he should have informed council of town codes requiring consultation with advisory groups like the Tree Stewards and Urban Forestry Advisory Commission on Town work targeting the Town’s Tree City-based environment.

Sealock’s colleagues, save the absent Jacob Meza, generally appeared to agree a revisiting of the project was in the Town, its citizens’, and the future of the community’s Appalachian Trail-related tourist industry’s best interest.

Of the general lack of environmental expertise on council toward the Happy Creek work, Cockrell noted, ‘Some people think it’s pretty; some don’t.’ Below, Tom Dombrowski obviously falls into that latter group. Dombrowski told council of his overseeing similar work in Prince William County, that he would be ‘tar and feathered’ for undertaking such work without a major public informational and feedback period preceding it.

Other meeting and work session business

In the meeting’s two agenda action items, council first approved by a 5-0 vote the second and final reading of an EDA rezoning request on 62.7 acres of land adjacent to the Happy Creek Technology Park at the end of Progress Drive from Residential-1 to Industrial-1. The request was made to improve the state tier ranking and marketability of the property.

Also, by a 5-0 vote, council approved a Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Amendment of $31,732.15 to receive funds from the Virginia Risk Sharing Association to reimburse the Town for expenses incurred due to a water break on the Route 522 North Corridor near Fairgrounds Road.

In the scheduled work session agenda item, following a presentation by conference call from Finance Director B. J. Wilson, council agreed to authorize staff to initiate the process to apply for a state exemption to the ban on utility disconnections due to financial hardships from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. Wilson explained that the Town meets the exemption of being able to show delinquent accounts receivable in excess of 1% of its utility’s annual operating revenues.

In order to make the application, council authorized the advertisement for a public comments period on the exemption request. Mayor Tewalt suggested the advertisement meet the seven-day advance public hearing standard, even though as a non-public hearing, public comments opportunity, staff indicated a three-day advance advertisement should suffice. That public comments period will be added to a Special Meeting added to the scheduled December 7th work session at the Town Hall second-floor meeting room.

See all the public comments, council and staff discussions at both the meeting and work session in these Royal Examiner videos:


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