In an email response to Royal Examiner’s July 19 inquiry on what he considers the emergency nature of his ordinance proposal to prevent private-sector employers, among others, from reassigning or terminating employees who refuse the COVID-19 Coronavirus vaccine, Front Royal Town Councilman Scott Lloyd referenced Valley Health’s July 19 announcement of a vaccine mandate for all its employees and health care workers. Valley Health’s public relations department has been contacted for a response to Lloyd’s assertions and claim that he has been contacted by a significant number of their employees, including medical professionals, about concerns about being mandated to receive the vaccine. We will publish their response when received.
Lloyd also compared being mandated to receive the vaccine outside traditional, non-emergency drug approval standards to past abusive governmental medical practices, including “Tuskegee experiments” and “forced involuntary sterilization of the ‘unfit’.
“The emergency: The code defines emergency measure as ‘an ordinance or resolution to provide for immediate preservation of the public peace, property, health or safety’,” Lloyd began, adding, “In Tuskegee experiments and programs of forced involuntary sterilization of the ‘unfit,’ (even, or perhaps especially, here in Virginia), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convened Commission to study the conditions under which testing might occur on human subjects,” Lloyd wrote, referencing a resultant “Belmont Report”.*
In addition to worrying over the speed with which COVID vaccines have been approved for “emergency” mass distribution without traditional approval processes, Lloyd’s references to testing, Tuskegee and forced sterilizations are telling in his perception of urgency in bringing his self-termed “Medical Freedom” or “Anti-Coercion” ordinance against mandated Coronavirus vaccinations forward on July 26, rather than August 2. More on that urgency below, but first some historical background on the councilman’s federal sterilization and Tuskegee program references leading to the Belmont Report. The writer apologizes for the length of this article, but believes context and detail are crucial to approaching council’s scheduled July 26 action on Councilman Lloyd’s “Medical Freedom” ordinance proposal. – So, get the popcorn kids.
Learning from the past?
According to an ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) link provided by Lloyd in his email: “One of the less well-known episodes in Virginia history is its practice of forced sterilization begun during the heyday of the eugenics movement in the early 20th century – a Virginia-based movement that sought to protect the ‘purity of the American Race’. Virginia’s legal sterilization program was enacted into law in 1924 – the same year the legislature adopted the Racial Integrity Act that prohibited interracial marriages.
“Virginia’s Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924 became the model for the nation after it survived constitutional review by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell (1927). The high court ruled that the state’s law allowing forced sterilization of ‘any patient afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity, imbecility …’ for the greater welfare of society did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law … Tragically, it is estimated that between 7,200 and 8,300 people were sterilized in Virginia from 1927-1979 because they were deemed by society at the time to be unworthy or unfit to procreate. In most cases, the individuals were ‘patients’ at state mental institutions …”
WOW, but that’s not all.
A little online research revealed that the “Tuskegee Experiment” was a 40-year study (1932-1972) of “syphilis-infected Negro males” overseen by the U.S. Public Health Service and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is considered a U.S. governmental study unethical in nature in that it essentially used its subjects as lab rats, who were lied to about the nature of the study and from whom effective treatment of the disease with penicillin when it was discovered in the mid-1940s to be a cure, was withheld.
The study ended in 1972 after being outed by a report on it by the Associated Press.
Wikipedia observes: “The purpose of this study was to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis. Although the African-American men who participated in the study were told that they were receiving free health care from the federal government of the United States, they were not.”
In 2021, the CDC website traces the study, its timeline, and its consequences:
“The study initially involved 600 Black men – 399 with syphilis, 201 who did not have the disease. Participants’ informed consent was not collected. Researchers told the men they were being treated for ‘bad blood,’ a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance.
“In 1972, an Associated Press story about the study was published. As a result, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs appointed an Ad Hoc Advisory Panel to review the study. The advisory panel concluded that the study was “ethically unjustified”; that is, the “results [were] disproportionately meager compared with known risks to human subjects involved,” the CDC summary continues, adding, “In October 1972, the panel advised stopping the study. A month later, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs announced the end of the study. In March 1973, the panel also advised the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) (now known as the Department of Health and Human Services) to instruct the USPHS to provide all necessary medical care for the survivors of the study. The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program (THBP) was established to provide these services. In 1975, participants’ wives, widows and children were added to the program. In 1995, the program was expanded to include health, as well as medical, benefits. The last study participant died in January 2004. The last widow receiving THBP benefits died in January 2009. Participants’ children (10 at present) continue to receive medical and health benefits.”
In 1973, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the study participants and their families, resulting in a $10 million, out-of-court settlement in 1974.
On May 16, 1997, President Bill Clinton issued a formal Presidential Apology for the study. With a number of aging survivors and their family members present at the White House, President Clinton apologized for their experience of the Tuskegee Experiment:
“The people who ran the study at Tuskegee diminished the stature of man by abandoning the most basic ethical precepts. They forgot their pledge to heal and repair. They had the power to heal the survivors and all the others and they did not. Today, all we can do is apologize.”
Back to the Present
Back in Front Royal, Virginia, in July 2021, Councilman Lloyd believes the above histories have lessons for today. Of the Belmont Report grown out of the Tuskegee Experiment experience, Lloyd wrote Royal Examiner: “The Belmont Report states: ‘An agreement to participate in research constitutes a valid consent only if voluntarily given. This element of informed consent requires conditions free of coercion or undue influence’ …
“What Valley Health is doing clearly fits the definition of ‘coercion’, above,” Lloyd’s email of July 20 states, continuing, “Some people who would not take this vaccine are deciding to take it not because they want it, but because they are afraid of losing their job. Every one of these cases is an emergency, as is the fact that the major health provider in our town is engaged in a systemwide campaign of coercion and undue influence with regard to its employees.
“Like I said, I have heard directly from dozens (two dozen just today) of Valley Health employees who feel they are being put in the impossible situation of having to choose between their livelihood (some of them have been health professionals for decades) and a vaccine they do not want. The widespread distress that this causes in our community is an emergency,” Lloyd asserts. “The people I am talking to will experience real harm without protection, and that economic distress will cause real pain in our community. Some of the people I am talking to are pregnant or have newborn children, some are carrying the insurance for their family, for some, Valley Health is the household’s only source of income. Many, I believe most, of these will be ‘subject to suspension or termination’ before our next regular meeting in August, so emergency action is necessary in July.”
We contacted Lloyd by email for elaboration on his apparent assertion that distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations might qualify as “medical experimentation” as opposed to distribution of adequately, if more speedily tested vaccines for a pandemic credited with taking nearly 4.1-million lives worldwide, over 611,000 nationally, including 61 in Warren County in about 18 months. It is a public health emergency considered to still be in progress, with a Fourth Wave surge being reported in many areas, particularly among unvaccinated populations.
The FDA perspective
Prior to receiving Lloyd’s Tuesday afternoon emailed response to our questions, we went to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) website to see that federal approval agency’s take on the COVID-19 vaccination distribution under a public health “emergency” declaration. The site asserts:
“The FDA has regulatory processes in place to facilitate the development of COVID-19 vaccines that meet the FDA’s rigorous scientific standards,” the FDA states. They elaborate that “The HHS (Health and Human Services) Secretary declared that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of drugs and biological products during the COVID-19 pandemic, pursuant to section 564 of the FD&C Act, effective March 27, 2020.”
Of the necessity of speeding up the testing and distribution process for what is considered by medical professionals around the world to be a public health emergency and worldwide viral pandemic, the FDA site adds: “FDA recognizes the gravity of the current public health emergency and the importance of facilitating availability, as soon as possible, of vaccines to prevent COVID-19 – vaccines that the public will trust and have confidence in receiving.”
Of course, if you believe the same, or same type, of people are running FDA, HHS, CDC or other federal agencies cited in medically obtrusive and immoral activities, some racist in nature, conducted in the early to mid-late 20th century, such assurances may sound hollow.
Of his perspective on the testing and approval status of COVID-19 vaccinations, Lloyd wrote Royal Examiner later Tuesday afternoon:
“I think that formally we remain in the trial phase for all available vaccines so I think the Belmont Report speaks directly to this situation. I think I would describe it as the ‘research’ or ‘trial’ phase; I doubt I would use the term ‘experimentation.’ I would probably describe the mRNA vaccines as ‘experimental,’ as they’ve never been tried in humans and it is not possible to know if there are any long-term effects from using them, which would be the type of potential harm that concerns me the most with that particular category.”
According to the CDC and other medical and news source websites, mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines were among the first authorized for use against COVID-19 in the U.S., including the Moderna and Pfizer, the latter of which this reporter received his second dose of from Valley Health on February 3, fortunately with no side effects from either dose to this point. According to the CDC website, the mRNA vaccines “do not interact with human DNA in any way” and “do not introduce the live COVID virus” into the recipient’s body or cell nucleus. They have been researched for decades in the treatment of various health ailments including rabies, the flu and ZIKA, among other infectious diseases, the CDC notes.
Of the process by which they do work, the CDC writes of mRNA: “To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. NOT (emphasis added) mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.”
It would seem that this process, avoiding some more cellularly intrusive methods of many traditional vaccines and with several decades of infectious disease research behind it, is why mRNA vaccines were among the first to be approved for use under public health “emergency” standards. But is that enough to allay the fears of some vaccine skeptics?
“The attitude of some is that, because of the large number of people who have received it, it is almost like they are not in trials anymore, (I have heard some doctors make this argument),” Lloyd wrote the Examiner, continuing, “I think these sorts of formalities matter, especially when dealing with a new drug.
“That said, I think that the Belmont Report* is a touchstone for matters of informed consent outside of clinical trials and ‘human research’ because it defines what is impermissibly coercive in the context of informed consent. In other words, when the trials end, I do not think that the behavior that falls under ‘coercion’ as defined in the report becomes ‘not-coercion’ because there is no more trial.”
Information or Opinion?
Perhaps the operative word in Lloyd’s analysis is “informed”.
First, one would ask: Is the federal public health apparatus and medical establishment “informed” enough to make an “emergency” judgement the vaccines distributed are safe for general human use?
And on the other side, the question is: Are those fearful of taking those “emergency” authorized vaccines “informed” enough on what methods the vaccines utilize in offering immunity against the COVID-19 Coronavirus, and what testing as been done to assure that the human health risk is minimal, and that, that risk is concentrated on those with specific pre-existing medical conditions?
For in the space between the answer to those two questions would seem to lie the legal justification for either a public or private-sector mandate that employees or members who have contact with other employees, members or customers must be vaccinated; versus as Councilman Lloyd and the constituent base he seeks to represent believe, such a mandate presents an immediate and dangerous health risk to them that municipal governments should legislate against, regardless of previous state or federal legal precedents concerning public health emergencies.
On the topic of “informed consent”, Councilman Lloyd wrote: “I have looked into AMA (American Medical Association) and other definitions of ‘informed consent’ and they mention freedom from coercion without defining ‘coercion’. I think the definition in the Belmont Report rings true and I would be surprised to find a definition anywhere that deviates widely from it.”
As to the question of the “informed” basis for his concerns, based on the health concerns of those he has heard from reluctant to be vaccinated, Lloyd claims a largely informed constituency:
“You asked about the validity of the medical objections, which I think I can answer quickly: I have not been looking very closely at the research at all. I see things mentioned here and there and some of them seem concerning, but my interest is not whether it is right. If a person does not want a vaccine because he thinks there are aliens in it; I would think he is wrong and I would also defend his right to decline the vaccine. I will say, though, that these are medical professionals: nurses, nurse practitioners, and doctors who are contacting me. I am not a medical professional; I would say they are in a better position to evaluate the various medical claims, and their perspectives are highly sophisticated, backed up with real stories of what is occurring ‘on the ground’ as they say.”
So, remaining and fundamental questions facing town council July 26, appear to be: Are Lloyd and those he is hearing from operating from documentable facts concerning alleged medical dangers from receiving COVID-19 vaccines okayed for circulation by the FDA of 2020-21, or are their fears a result of susceptibility to alarmist conspiracy theories in wide circulation in an “alternate fact” social media universe?
As noted, Lloyd asserts many who have contacted him are medical professionals and Valley Health employees in a position to know “what’s going on, on the ground” regarding COVID vaccinations, or at least they claim to be. Perhaps some will show up July 26, to identify themselves, their credentials, and state the basis for their concerns about being vaccinated – perhaps.
Otherwise, Lloyd’s colleagues on the Front Royal Town Council will be asked to accept on faith that there is a pending employment emergency based on a legitimate and grounded-in-fact medical concern about the safety of the available COVID-19 vaccinations that somehow Valley Health and other involved agencies have failed to identify, or perhaps can’t be trusted to tell us the truth about if you accept a corrupt federal and medical agency lineage dating to 1924 to 1972. And if jumping that hurdle, council will then face a vote on a perhaps legally unsupportable ordinance proposal based on an assertion made by an anonymous group of alleged medical professionals, and their council sponsor who admits he has “not been looking very closely at the research at all”.
Lloyd did include in his communications with Royal Examiner that he will support public comments on his ordinance initiative during the general Public Concerns portion of council’s July 26 meeting. That sounds like an invitation to his concerned constituents to stand up and be heard, along with those who disagree that the Town has reason or jurisdiction to swim into murky factual and legal waters.
(*Writer’s note: The lengthy Belmont Report developed over 4 years in the wake of the public revelation of Tuskegee Experiment can be found online, one link leading to summaries and the full report is: The Belmont Report | HHS.gov)
At least two supervisors willing to revisit continuation of coyote bounty program in more open forum
Seeing the continued awarding of $50 bounties for the random shooting of coyotes in Warren County following a November 10, 2020, work session presentation by County legal and animal control staff seeking an end to the practice as counterproductive to its intent of thinning coyote pack numbers, Royal Examiner recently sought information on the Board of Supervisors apparently unanimous decision to continue the bounty awards.
In early October this reporter emailed Board Chairman Cheryl Cullers with copies to the other four board members in case there was a divergent opinion on the matter that has not, to this reporter’s knowledge, been publicly discussed. The only initial reply was from the board chair: “… but there are those that don’t agree with that information,” Cullers replied of the information presented to the board on November 10, 2020, by Warren County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Officer Laura Gomez and Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan.
“That information” was addressed in Royal Examiner’s November 11, 2020, story “County headed to public hearings to end coyote bounty payments and expansion of loose dog prohibitions”. It included the following information: “The biggest issue with (coyote bounties) is we have documentation showing it’s not effective in any way. And removing the coyote bounty would not prevent people from still being able to protect their property and their livestock … And they’re showing in that letter that it has over a 150-year failure,” Animal Control Officer Gomez noted of the proposed ordinance amendment ending the bounty program.
“That letter” referenced by Gomez to the county supervisors on November 10, 2020, stated among other things that: “Coyote bounties have been tried throughout the United States for more than 150 years. There is not a single documented instance of a bounty
program temporarily or permanently reducing coyote populations or livestock depredation problems,” Michael L. Fies of VDGIF (Va. Department of Game and Inland Fisheries) wrote in response to a November 2016 inquiry by Bath County Animal Control officials included in Tuesday night’s agenda packet,” Royal Examiner reported at the time.
And it was not simply the abandonment of bounties, but the implementation of what was called more “successful targeted control” programs in place of bounties, suggested at the state level that was brought to the supervisors late last year:
“Since coyote bounties are ineffective, our Department has consistently recommended against these programs in favor of targeted control efforts around farms with a history of coyote damage. This approach has been successfully used by USDA Wildlife Services to reduce livestock losses in other portions of the state,” VDGIF’s Fies wrote in the above-referenced 2016 letter to Bath County officials presented to Warren County’s elected officials by animal control and legal staffs in late 2020.
It might be noted that this reporter’s headline on the referenced story on that November 10, 2020, presentation on coyote bounty programs contained one glaring inaccuracy – “County headed to public hearings to end coyote bounty payments (and a related animal control issue on dogs running loose in the county). For no public hearing was there to be, nor to this reporter’s knowledge, any open work session or meeting discussion by the board of the information it was presented with by county staff on November 10, 2020, nor of any expressed citizen disagreement with that information.
Rather, on January 5, 2021, coyote bounties were presented for continuation as part of the Consent Agenda for matters considered “routine business” not requiring public discussion or scrutiny by the board prior to a vote of approval. And while other Consent Agenda items were pulled for discussion that evening, continuing the coyote bounty program was not one of them.
But that could be poised to change. Contacted about the approval process, first Board Chairman Cullers expressed a willingness to revisit the issue. “I would be glad to have a future discussion on this issue. I understand the side that feels it is not effective, but there are those that don’t agree with that information. Again I will be glad to readdress the issue,” Cullers replied to this reporter’s emailed inquiry about the initial approval process.
And “readdress” would seem a wise course for this board majority. Because that initial approval process, essentially done out of the public eye, other than the vote to continue it without a public hearing or public discussion other than one meeting public comment favoring continuation of the bounties that Cullers cited, seems to run contrary to the process of a board majority carried into office over a year and a half ago on campaign promises of ending political “business as usual” out of the public eye – a process cited as contributing to the EDA financial scandal the county is still recovering from.
In fact, we reached out a second time to North River Supervisor Delores Oates following her comment at the October 5 Board of Supervisors meeting to County Administrator Ed Daley regarding the effectiveness of air purification machines the County is pondering the purchase of for use in county government buildings. – “We want facts, not opinions,” Oates told Daley of a final decision on the air purification device purchase for Warren County Government buildings.
And yes, facts, as they are available, would be valuable in ascertaining the effectiveness of the air purification machines in limiting the spread of contagious viral or other airborne illnesses. But why not the same standard of “facts, not opinions” in the decision to continue a coyote bounty program found locally, state-wide, and nationally to be counterproductive to its intent of thinning coyote packs anywhere over 150 years of experience?
And Oates too expressed a willingness to revisit the issue prior to publication.
“I would be happy to discuss. If memory serves me correctly, there were no alternatives offered to control the population of coyotes at that presentation. I believe we postponed a decision to learn more about what options were available to reduce the coyote population,” Oates responded to our email inquiry.
“I stand on my facts, not opinions statement,” she added, pointing to myriad other issues the County has faced in the past year: “On this topic, we didn’t revisit as I suspect many other issues have taken precedent. With COVID and the IT breach, the coyote topic didn’t seem urgent. I am not opposed to revisiting the alternatives to bounties in the near term,” Oates wrote Royal Examiner, adding, “Perhaps we needed to understand what targeted control meant. I will be honest it’s been almost a year since we heard the presentation. We wanted to understand what the cost was to farmers with a targeted control approach. I know there were lingering questions which is why we just didn’t eliminate the program.”
And with a perhaps building board consensus, it appears the county supervisors may be revisiting the coyote bounty issue, and exploring alternatives such as those referenced “targeted control efforts around farms with a history of coyote damage” that Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Michael L. Fies referenced in his 2016 letter on the subject to Bath County officials. As we told Supervisors Cullers and Oates during our discussion, it seems counterintuitive to continue to pay people in a bounty program cited by wildlife professionals as not only ineffective but achieving the opposite effect of often increasing coyote numbers, rather than reducing them.
And if there are citizens who disagree with those conclusions of wildlife professionals, it would be nice to publicly hear what facts, if any, those disagreements are based upon.
See the full November 10, 2020, presentation and discussion in the linked Warren County Work Session video Nov 10, 2020 Board of Supervisors Work Session – Warren County, VA (swagit.com):
County Planning Commission reviews Fire Department Capital Improvement Plan, also faces upsurge in permit activity
The Warren County Planning Commission met on October 13 in a work session to review a Capital Improvement Plan submission for 2021-2025 for the County Fire and Emergency Services Department. Chief James Bonzano told the Commission that calls for service for 2020, the last complete year, increased by over 3%, continuing a trend that began in 2013. This increase impacts response times, budget costs, and equipment availability, he explained. Calls were split between Fire, at 14%, and EMS (Emergency Medical Service), at 86%. EMS vehicles are called out more than 4 times as often as fire apparatus, have longer runs, and as a result, wear out that much sooner.
The National Standards for fire department equipment govern when it should be placed on the reserve list or removed from service. According to Chief Bonzano, the current fleet has 18 units of its 65 that are over 15 years old, and two over 25 years. In Warren County, there is currently no capacity to place vehicles in reserve. The chief also identified facility improvements needed, live-fire training, and firefighter cancer prevention as priorities in the submission. The Chief oversees a nearly $6 million annual combined budget.
Several commissioners suggested ways to extend budgets by alternative financing or leasing. The Chief acknowledged he is looking into these mechanisms but cautioned that many of them assume a fleet that allows for residual values when turning in a vehicle at the end of the lease. Much of the current fleet is far past the age where it would have any residual value as used equipment. The Fire/EMS Department is also pressed for volunteers – not only operational but associates – helpers of all kinds, including fundraisers. The Fire and Rescue Services capital investment submission will now be fed into the County’s budget process.
The regular Planning Commission meeting followed immediately after the work session, and the commission considered two Conditional Use permits (CUP) requests.
Terra Site Constructors, LLC, is requesting a Conditional Use Permit for a contractor storage yard at 6986 Winchester Road in the North River Magisterial District. The property is zoned Industrial (I). Planning Director Joe Petty reviewed the recommendations for approval of the request for the commission members. There were no public comments on the proposal, so Commission Chairman Robert Myers closed the public hearing. The site will primarily be used for the temporary storage of heavy equipment. After a brief discussion, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the permit. The request will now go to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
Gordon Lee Birkhimer has requested a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental for his property at 52 Forest View Drive, an Agriculturally zoned property in the Fork Magisterial District. Mr. Birkhimer is planning a sailboat trip around the world and expects to be absent for up to two years. He has engaged a professional management firm to oversee the rental activity, and a local citizen to do maintenance and upkeep.
When Chairman Jones opened the floor for public comment, Pamela Rhodes addressed the commissioners and outlined her opposition to the permit. As a 30-year resident of the neighborhood, she expressed the opinion that the applicant would have no control over what kind of people would be renting the property and as an absent property owner would not care. She was opposed to long or short-term rental for the property. In addition, one neighboring property owner, Phyllis Wright, had written to the planning department and opposed the permit being issued. Her concerns were for personal safety, fire danger, and the potential for crime.
Once the Public hearing was closed, Vice Chairman Hugh Henry commented that the community’s experience with short-term tourist rentals has been very good – an asset in a neighborhood, particularly since strict rules govern the issuance of a permit. Tourist rentals must be well maintained or guests won’t rent them. A long-term renter is a much greater risk, since a property owner can rent his property to anyone he chooses, and neighbors have no recourse. Management companies do generally perform background checks, and a written set of guidelines in the property management plan assure that guests know what the rules are.
Given the growing experience with the issuance of short-term tourist rental CUPs and the concerns of neighbors, Vice Chairman Henry asked the applicant if he would agree to two additional conditions: A prohibition against the use of ATVs on the property or roads around it, and a prohibition on discharging firearms. The applicant agreed. The commission then voted unanimously to recommend approval. The request will now go to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
The commission faces a steep climb at its November meeting with 10 CUP requests for a variety of uses, including short-term tourist rentals, a cluster housing development, an Outdoor Recreation Operation, two Rural Events Facilities, a gunsmithing service, and a campground, as well as two proposed Text Amendment changes to the Warren County Code Chapter 180. Commissioners approved authorizations to advertise all these requests.
Planning Director Joe Petty told the commission that the Comprehensive Plan review work sessions will resume in January, and he thanked the commissioners for their time and work so far on the new plan. Meantime, the Planning Department will be meeting with the contracting firm that is helping with the rewrite to prepare for the next steps.
Chairman Myers then adjourned the meeting.
County seeks Town to jointly explore regional water alliance
While the Front Royal Town Council was failing to gather a quorum to conduct its work session slated to follow a 6 p.m. Finance and Audit Committee meeting at Town Hall, across town at the Warren County Government Center several town officials including Assistant Town Manager Kathleen Leidich and Public Works Director Robbie Boyer, were present to hear a presentation by the Frederick Water Authority to a work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors.
Board Chair Cheryl Cullers noted the invitation extended to, not only town staff, but its elected officials at last month’s Liaison Committee meeting, to hear the presentation on what appears to be a state-and-federal government promoted move toward regional water authorities.
“I’m not trying to tell the Town what to do – I want them to be a part of this,” Cullers said of a cooperative move into an altered water-sewer utility relationship that could be of mutual benefit to both municipalities, particularly over the long haul of future development on the county’s north side.
Cullers noted that several council members have stated the intention of watching the County video of the presentation in playing catch up. And what town officials did or will hear is very interesting as to long-range planning for regional growth and provision of cost-efficient water and sewer service. For while the Town of Front Royal has its own central water-sewer utility, it is dealing with what was termed “100-year-old infrastructure” in some areas and a limited and now oft-threatened by solid waste-fueled destructive algae blooms, water supply, the Shenandoah River. The Frederick Water Authority on the other hand is in the midst of creating new infrastructure for what appears to be a massive underground water source, while entertaining a change in its structural documentation to extend its reach beyond the boundaries of Frederick County and the City of Winchester to adjacent counties including Warren and Clarke.
Executive Director Eric Lawrence outlined the Frederick Water Authority’s existing parameters, structure and infrastructure. That structure includes independence from the Frederick County government, though it is a relationship that currently includes the Frederick County Supervisors appointing the water authority’s board of directors. Lawrence noted that like municipal utilities, the Frederick Water Authority is a non-profit operation with its fees going back into the supporting infrastructure. A cost-comparison showed favorable numbers on average residential charges in the region. And Lawrence noted that potential expansion into adjacent counties, further expanding the customer base would poise the operation to continue to offer excellent rates with a massive water supply with redundancy and backup within that water supply base.
However, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter pointed to an old written aspect of the Route 522 North Corridor Agreement that saw the Town of Front Royal extend its central water-sewer utility into Warren County’s Route 340/522 North Corridor to facilitate industrial and commercial tax-base expansion in the county’s northside. That “Sanitation Authority” aspect of the Corridor Agreement could seem to legally prohibit shopping for better water-sewer utility rates by Warren County on its northside. However, were the Town to agree to throw into the regional water concept with Warren County, seeing benefits to its own future operations and expenses, such a legal blockage could evaporate.
North River Supervisor Delores Oates noted recent experience had shown that working at odds with each other was in neither the County, nor Town’s best interest.
“I’m just saying that it’s easier to say than to do,” Carter said of a joint move of the Town and County governments toward a regional water authority that could create a major realignment of how the Town’s water-sewer utility operates.
See details of the Frederick Water Authority operations and future potential in an expanding regional format, along with its implications on utility costs on both sides of the town-county line, in the first hour-and-six-minute power point presentation and Q&A in the County work session video.
Following that regional water authority presentation and discussion the board adjourned to Closed/Executive Session to discuss EDA litigation and related matters including recovery of EDA assets. And on the back end of that hour-and-fifteen-minute Closed Session, see a detailed presentation on the operations, costs and revenue streams of the County’s Parks and Recreation Department; followed by County Administrator Ed Daley’s summary of options on Compensation Board Bonus pay related to COVID pandemic operations and County payments to non-Comp Board covered employees.
EDA completes audits for 2018 and 2019; 2020 audit is next
The Board of Directors of the Front Royal and Warren County Economic Development Authority accepted its audited financial statements for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, today, October 5, 2021. The audit of the financial statements was conducted by the firm of Brown Edwards, CPAs of Harrisonburg, VA.
“We have received the final outside audits conducted for 2018 and 2019,” said EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne. “This was a huge effort on the part of Brown Edwards, and they have done very good work in challenging circumstances. Getting these two financial audits completed is a major step forward in putting the EDA’s past difficulties behind us. Now we can better focus on economic development issues to benefit the community.”
“The auditors’ letter points to three areas for improvement of internal controls,” Browne said. “It was important to make each improvement recommended by the CPAs, and we have done just that. The Warren County staff now administer the check-writing duties, collection of rents, and have layers of approvals for expenses within EDA and the County administration that were not there three years ago.”
The audited financial statements show that, at the end of the fiscal year 2019, the EDA’s total net assets were $38,036,737, and its net liabilities were $44,575,435, resulting in a deficit net position of $6,538,698. The EDA will work with Warren County’s auditors starting with the fiscal year 2020, which audit can now be undertaken.
The EDA Board of Directors will have their next regular monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, October 29, 2021, at 9 a.m.
Outside agency, departmental updates dominate County Board’s attention
The Warren County Board of Supervisors had a light action agenda – a six-item Consent Agenda – but a full morning of outside and County agency operational and personnel updates before adjourning to a 10 a.m. Closed Session for information on Economic Development Authority litigation. Following that approximate half-hour Executive Session, the board got the bad news from County Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico that the County was not a recipient of SAFER grant funding recently announced through the State.
Maiatico explained that perhaps already being the recipient of grant funding for the Rivermont Fire Station, being near the front of the line for additional grant funding might be a longshot at this point. However, he added that there appeared to be funds remaining under the recent SAFER grant umbrella, so the department hasn’t given up hope some additional funding might come the County’s way for coming operational needs or equipment needs.
Prior to the Closed Session County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Ballenger gave a detailed update on the school system’s status into this 2021 semester in the second year of COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic precautions. The report was positive, with no system schools on the state “outbreak” list. Responding to a question, Ballenger explained that approximately 40 students on a quarantine list were a result of home exposures, and precautions to prevent those out-of-school exposures from being carried into the schools. Families were urged to do due diligence on potential home exposures, to help the system “Protect Instruction” as the semester progresses. The primary goal being to keep as many students as possible in school and safe from Coronavirus exposure, along with their instructors.
The system, like others, is dealing with a shortage of substitute or replacement instructors due to the evolving Coronavirus situation with the more contagious Delta-variant-fueled Phase 4 remaining an issue.
A presentation by People Inc. representatives tied into a follow up by Warren County Department of Social Services Director Jon Martz. Martz pointed out he had me with People Inc. reps the previous days to coordinate efforts moving forward as economic hardships are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Martz made one of several new staff introductions to the board, from his department Job Developer Brooke McClung. However, he also noted the loss of DSS staffer Samantha Edwards to another jurisdiction closer to her home. Edwards is leaving her county position tomorrow to become the DSS Assistant Director in Rappahannock County.
Others staffers headed this way introduced to the board Tuesday morning included Human Resources Director Jane Meadows and Finance Director Matt Robertson. Kayla Darr was noted for her work filling gaps in Admin during this time of staffing transitions.
During his County Administrator’s Report, Ed Daley reminded town officials of next week’s 6 p.m., Tuesday, October 12, work session in which the County will receive a Regional Water initiative presentation by Frederick County officials. Town Council and key staff have been invited to consider potential advantages of both municipalities moving in a regional water provider direction.
See these discussions and other business, including the monthly VDOT update, and a work session presentation on operations and staffing at the County Public Works Department, in the County video.
County applies for broadband grant – seeking input from unserved locations
Warren County has applied for a state grant to achieve universal fiber-to-the-home broadband to unserved locations in the County.
These state grants will only be available to areas that are unserved by broadband. As part of the planning effort, a list of unserved areas was submitted to the state agency that determines whether broadband service is available.
Several providers, including Virginia Broadband, Shentel, and Century Link/Lumen, have challenged the list of unserved areas in Warren County by claiming they already offer broadband service within areas proposed for grant funding.
A survey is available now to verify these unserved areas in Warren County. Without adequate survey responses from these areas, they may be excluded from the broadband grant project.