Warren County is announcing the appointment of Joseph W. Petty as the new Planning Director for Warren County. Mr. Petty has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from George Mason University and 10+ years of experience in community development. Mr. Petty’s new position with the County became effective April 15, 2021. He will fill the vacancy created by the promotion of former Planning Director, Taryn Logan, to Deputy County Administrator effective February 1, 2021.
Mr. Petty began working for the Warren County Department of Planning and Zoning in January 2018 when he was hired as Zoning Officer. In July 2019, he was promoted to the position of Zoning Administrator. Prior to becoming a full-time County employee in 2018, Mr. Petty worked with the Warren County Parks and Recreation Department from 2000 to 2005 before leaving to attend college. Following graduation, Mr. Petty worked for a Business Improvement District that was integral in revitalizing a commercial and residential community. Mr. Petty will continue to serve as the County’s Zoning Administrator and assume the role of Subdivision Administrator. He will be the lead staff support for the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Well and Septic Appeals Board, Development Review Committee, and Agricultural and Forestal District Committee.
Taryn Logan, Deputy County Administrator and former Planning Director, stated, “Mr. Petty will move seamlessly into the position of Planning Director. He has the knowledge, enthusiasm, and care for the Warren County community that makes him the right candidate for this position. Mr. Petty will continue to guide the Department forward in a positive manner.”
Delores Oates, North River Supervisor, was part of the interview and selection panel for the Planning Director position. Mrs. Oates stated, “The announcement that Joe Petty has been chosen for the position of Planning Director is another example of the County’s commitment to excellence. Joe’s enthusiasm for our community and its future is obvious in one conversation. I wish him all the best as he takes on this new challenge!”
Regarding his appointment as Planning Director, Mr. Petty said, “I am truly thankful for this exciting opportunity. I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of the community, and to uphold the integrity and professionalism that Mrs. Logan has brought to this position.”
The Warren County Department of Planning and Zoning is in Suite 400 of the Warren County Government Center, located at 220 N Commerce Avenue, telephone (540) 636-3354. Office hours are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday.
VDOT dynamics, Health Insurance switch, closed meeting discussions dominate county meeting agenda
Closed Sessions and reports on Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) projects and funding and county priorities in its 6-year Secondary Road Plan took up much of the Tuesday morning, May 4, Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting and work session. The meeting closed session topics were EDA-related litigation and personnel matters related to the Warren County Planning Commission.
The post-meeting work session began with a closed session adjourned to, to discuss requested adjustments to the Lease Agreement with VA Golf, LLC. The supervisors voted in June 2020 to accept the group’s management offer to operate the County’s municipal Front Royal Golf Club gifted to the County’s citizens in the 1930’s by William Carson Sr. in memory of his late son. Referencing video of that meeting in a written summary in the board agenda packet, VA Golf principal Louis Nicholls noted that maintenance and care of the club’s restaurant equipment was not part of the original agreement that has been revised by the County to include that. Nicholls said VA Golf was willing to take on that responsibility, but asked for adjustments to the lease that would allow the golf management group to pay rent primarily through “trade out” dollars in the provision of space and services to all County-related departments including public schools. There was no announcement on the lease arrangement out of the work session’s closed executive session.
Then VDOT’s Edwin Carter was back from his meeting update on ongoing projects to review spent and available funding in coming years committed to the County’s 6-Year Plan priorities. One issue addressed during his earlier meeting report was VDOT versus utility company jurisdiction in preventive or reactive work on clearing trees which threaten to or have fallen on power lines during extreme weather events. Recent and forecast high wind conditions were sighted for the danger they posed in downing trees in proximity to power lines. Carter explained that VDOT was limited in its authority when the trees have already been downed onto power lines or trees deemed a danger were not on VDOT right of ways.
During his monthly projects update, Carter told the board that a recent VDOT roadside litter collection project on primary and secondary roads had produced 20,000 bags of trash in the tri-county area of Warren, Shenandoah and Frederick Counties, at a $65,000 cost to the contractor.
One item on a 15-item Consent Agenda was removed for discussion and another was pulled from the agenda at the request of Interim County Administrator Ed Daley. Pulled for discussion at the request of Board Chair Cullers was approval of the new Health and Dental Insurance Rates achieved by the board decision to switch providers for more favorable rates. Removed from the agenda was authorization of approval of an Amended Agreement between the County and Town for the allocation of CARES Coronavirus Relief Funds. Those federal funds pass through state agencies to the County, and are allocated to the Town by the County upon receipt of documentation of the Town recipients’ eligibility for CARES funding. With submitted changes the interim administrator explained he needed additional time to assure the version presented to the board was the correct one in its entirety.
Also during the meeting, North River Supervisor Delores Oates asked her colleagues to consider eliminating the board’s first Tuesday of the month morning meetings in favor of a 7 p.m. starting time. She argued that the 9 a.m. meetings made it difficult for would-be board of supervisors candidates and working citizens in general to attend.
Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter explained the morning meetings were established to facilitate outside agency and departmental monthly reports during workday hours for those involved people, some like VDOT’s Ed Carter who have to travel some distance to attend. After County Attorney Jason Ham explained some legal dynamics involved in establishing and advertising meeting dates and times, it appeared the board will take up the subject at a coming work session.
Health Insurance switch dynamics
Cullers noted concerns expressed to her about coverage dynamics related to the switch from Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield to United Healthcare, as well as RSW Jail’s coverage package through SIGNA compared to the rest of county departments. Cullers said she wanted to assure impacted employees that they would not be losing coverage options from the lower rates presented by United Healthcare.
Health Insurance consultant Ed White of McGriff Insurance explained that during the review of available options an “apples to apples” comparison of coverages had been made to assure comparable coverage options at the various rates presented by providers.
Pointing to Anthem Blue Cross as likely the major provider in the region and Virginia as a whole, White said it was understandable that employees who have had the same Anthem coverage for decades would be concerned about a change. He said that as far as overlapping medical provider representation it was essentially a 98% overlap, indicating minimal impact on participating medical providers. As far as prescriptions there could be some variables related to co-pays, he admitted.
Interim Administrator Daley told the chair and board that orientation meetings for employees and retirees on the County’s health care plan were being scheduled. He added that he had put the person who brought the concern forward in touch with White, so that a personal review of impacts on that individual’s coverage could be made.
Following those assurances, on a motion by Delores Oates, the board unanimously approved the insurance carrier switch.
Sheetz and IT issues revisited
One member of the public addressed the board on the last open meeting agenda item – reconsideration of the denial of the Sheetz rezoning application in Linden. See more on that in a coming related story.
At the meeting’s outset, Board Chair Cullers also read two resolutions of appreciation for work done by County Public School and neighboring Frederick County’s Department of Information Technology staffs assisting with the aftermath of the March discovery of the cyber intrusion of the Warren County software and communications system.
As previously reported that “intrusion” was determined to be part of a larger national incident being investigated by law enforcement at multiple levels.
Stacy Swain also gave the board an update on Virginia Cooperative Extension Office programs and how they’ve been impacted by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
See all the meeting and work session highlights in the linked County video of the May 4 meeting and work session, also available on the County website.
Town of Front Royal, Chamber of Commerce work to kickstart small business as part of economic recovery
In an effort to kickstart local economic recovery the Town of Front Royal and the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce are partnering to offer small business consulting services. Businesses located in Warren County and Front Royal can contact Herb Melrath at 719.284.2291 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.
“I welcome, one-on-one consulting meetings where we can discuss the business owners’ individual needs. We will also share relevant information with the entire business community from a variety of resources as we recover and invigorate our small business economy. We will do this in a variety of ways to include social media posts, email updates, and webinars.” said Melrath who is a former Main Street business owner and currently runs his own consulting business locally.
The consulting services are open to prospective and existing business owners. Niki Foster, President of the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce stated, “Part of the Chamber’s mission is to connect business with the resources they need to be successful and encourage growth. We are excited to team with the Town of Front Royal to move forward from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 crisis. This is just part of what our organization does to help businesses thrive in our community.”
The consulting services are tailored to meet each individual business owner’s needs. Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce membership is not required to use these services. The services will be available until April 2022.
Judge will hear oral arguments in reconsideration of Meza appointment decision
In an April 29th letter to attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants in the legal challenge of the appointment of Jacob Meza to the Front Royal Town Council four days after the term he chose not to run for re-election to in November had expired, Judge William W. Sharp alerted both sides that he will hear oral arguments on the plaintiff motion for reconsideration of the court decision that the appointment was legal.
Citing scheduling and other factors, Sharp noted he was staying his Order of Dismissal of the plaintiff’s case until those oral arguments can be heard. A date has yet to be set as counsel and court availability is still being determined.
In his letter to plaintiff Paul Aldrich’s counsel David Downes and Town and Meza attorney Heather Bardot, Judge Sharp explained: “Not a small part of my decision to enter the stay order and give one last chance for oral argument, is my realization that I gave a very poor articulation of my reasons for my original decision, and I do not want to make that mistake again. It is, therefore, my intention to give a written explanation of my decision, whichever way it goes, in which my words are more carefully expressed.”
As reported in our story on the April 7 hearing and court ruling “Judge rules Town Charter Section 47 does not prohibit council appointments for one year” Judge Sharp seized on the inclusion of the words “appointed or elected” in Town Charter Section 47 upon which the plaintiff case was based, in ruling for the defense stance that Meza’s appointment was not prohibited for one year from the end of his last term on council.
The relevant Section 47 passage reads: “No member of the council of the Town of Front Royal shall be appointed or elected to any office under the jurisdiction of the council while he is a member of the council, or for one year thereafter,” continuing to note for an unexplained reason an exception for the position of Town Treasurer.
As previously reported by The Royal Examiner, “In her Demurrer filing for dismissal, Bardot pointed to Section 6D and related wording on filling council vacancies, such as the one created by Councilman Chris Holloway’s November 2020 election to mayor. ‘The council may fill any vacancy that occurs within the membership of council for the unexpired term, provided that such vacancy is taken within 45 days of the office becoming vacant,’ Section 6D states. No reference to a one-year hiatus per appointment is made here, Bardot noted.”
Pointing to the words “or elected” in Section 47 of the Town Charter, Judge Sharp noted that obviously in the 84 years since the Charter was created, it had not been used to prevent council members from running for re-election. Thus, he contended Section 47 was not the applicable section of the charter at issue in internal appointments, siding with Bardot’s conclusion that Sections 6 and 9 of the Charter were the applicable sections on council appointments, rather than Section 47.
However, plaintiff counsel Downes argued that the framers of the 1937 Town Charter were using the words “appointed” or “elected” synonymously referencing achieving a consensus on internal appointments, and not referencing general elections decided by citizen’s votes. The framers’ intent was to avoid the fact or appearance of cronyism by political allies within council, Downes asserted.
Some supporters of the plaintiff case have noted Meza might have faced an uphill battle had he run for re-election in 2020 after alienating a segment of his support base during his last term. That lost base appeared in reaction to Meza’s reversal of initial recusals from discussion of his employer Valley Health’s request for a municipal loan through the EDA to finance the construction of the new Warren Memorial Hospital without a Maternity Unit. When his vote was needed to achieve the necessary council majority to approve the loan, Meza reversed course, claiming no conflict of interest to prevent his voting. He did note the support of that stance by the town attorney.
Meza cited job and family time constraints in explaining his decision not to run for re-election in 2020.
As to delays in finalizing the order to dismiss the plaintiff case due to any lack of clarity in verbally rendering his April 7 ruling, on April 29 Judge Sharp observed, “In a case of this complexity and magnitude, I normally would have taken your arguments under advisement on April 7 and prepared a carefully worded final decision. As I stated in the courtroom, I wanted to give the parties a prompt decision to prevent ongoing uncertainty. It is evident from reviewing your subsequent pleadings that I may have created more problems than I solved, and I do want to clarify a few points so that we do not go chasing down rabbit holes, and miss the core issues.”
And one might guess that among core issues during the oral arguments for reconsideration will be the plaintiff counsel’s observation that a council member’s term has yet to expire when they are running for re-election. Thus, if re-elected, one term flows seamlessly into the next without any real-time out of office.
It might also be relevant to the court’s reconsideration to establish whether, in the intervening 84 years since the Town Charter’s 1937 establishment, any former council members have been reappointed within a year of electing to leave office by choice or having been removed by the will of the people at the general election.
Town demands ‘reparations’, firings, and threatens ‘legal action’ for alleged ‘Sludge War’ on solid waste crew
At 5:44 p.m., sixteen minutes before an already once rescheduled Town-County Liaison Committee Meeting was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 29, the Town of Front Royal issued a three paragraph press release, accompanied by the public release of a four-plus page letter signed by Mayor Chris Holloway to Warren County Board of Supervisors Chair Cheryl Cullers. The topic is the dispute over what sewage materials the Town has been sending to the County’s Bentonville Waste Transfer Station amongst its residential trash disposal.
The Town release and letter, copied to Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, maintains the aggressively accusatory stance the mayor and Councilman Jacob Meza took at the April 26 town council meeting as reported in the Royal Examiner story “County responds to Town attack on its methods in dealing with sewage dumping allegation”.
Mayor Holloway informs the county board chair that: “… the Town Attorney is researching and considering legal action against Sheriff Mark Butler, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and possibly the County of Warren” regarding the April 20th investigative incident, which is repeatedly referred to as a “sting operation”, targeting a Town Solid Waste Department truck crew.
The letter to County Board Chair Cullers also indicates that, not only Thursday’s scheduled Liaison Committee meeting, but all future ones, as well as a planned joint “retreat” or renamed “advance”, are cancelled pending “a minimum of the following (4) actions take place”. Those actions are a public apology, financial reparations, “the immediate payment (within 5 days) of all past due money owed to the Town by the County”, and an investigation the mayor envisions resulting in the termination of Interim County Administrator Ed Daley and resignation of Sheriff Mark Butler, to which Mayor Holloway tells the County Board Chair, “I am confident I can get a resolution of support from the Town Council”.
Throughout the letter to the county board chair, Sheriff Butler appears to be the main target. Derogatory references to his language during the April 20 incident involving the disposal of waste from the Town sewage treatment plant mixed with residential garbage are made. And the mayor cites a recent Town FOIA inquiry to the sheriff regarding traffic stops initiated by his department inside the town limits.
Referencing a “site visit” the Town claims vindication by the State waste disposal oversight agency, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), for any “criminal activity suspected by the County” from the Town of Front Royal’s waste disposal activities at the County’s Bentonville Waste Transfer Station over an as-yet-publicly-defined period of time.
Here are the jointly released April 29th Town press release and mayor’s letter to the county board chair in their respective entireties:
On Tuesday, April 20th a sting operation was carefully devised by Warren County and Sheriff Butler’s office in hopes of catching the Town disposing of sludge illegally at the Warren County Transfer Station. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was called by the Sheriff to investigate the Town’s operation and any violation of the Town’s permit. DEQ found no evidence of criminal activity suspected by the County after conducting a site visit.
Mayor Chris Holloway stated, “Myself and the Council are very disappointed and shocked that the County would reach to this level to try and undermined the public’s trust by initiating a criminal investigation without contacting the Town informing them of their concerns. The community should trust their government in doing the right thing and working together. We are one community and as Mayor I will never lose sight of this although the County’s actions speak otherwise. What is more disturbing is the fact the County and Sheriff involved three of the Town’s essential workers who perform an honest days work collecting our customer’s trash. The day this happened I personally met with them and thanked them for what they do every day.”
As a result, the Mayor and Council felt it was important to send Chairman Cullers a letter (attached) outlining the events and Town’s concern. “We will also be sharing my letter with all Town citizens and possibly County residents,” Mayor Holloway said.
Tuesday, April 20th I was called by the Town Manager and informed of a sting operation regarding a “criminal investigation relating to the Town’s disposal of sludge at the Warren County Transfer Station” which was personally led by the Warren County Sheriff, Mark Butler. Bottom line up front, as I am sure you are aware, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has since confirmed the Town conducted no such illegal activity and that our processes are well within standards. The Town is researching whether or not Sheriff Mark Butler had jurisdictional authority to even spearhead such a sting operation into the alleged disposal of sludge, more to this point in the near future. I have waited a week for a phone call by you or Sheriff Mark Butler to apologize for the actions and overreach of power which I will outline below; however, as of the penning of this letter, I have received no such calls or correspondence. I believe the citizens of our community have a right to know the gross misuse of office which took place last week. Please allow me to outline the facts as they relate to the chain of events of last week and the misuse of office and perhaps abuse of authority which may likely be addressed in coming weeks.
First to explain the technical process, The Town of Front Royal Wastewater Treatment plant receives its material in two ways. The first is through the Town’s sewer system, and the second is through the Septage receiving station (primarily septic tanks outside of Town limits). The solid material is called Grit and Screenings. The Screenings are the items such as baby wipes, feminine products, toys, and similar products. The Grit is items that settle out in the tank that the human body does not break down like rice, corn, nuts, seeds and any grit, gravel, or dirt within the manhole walls or in the septage tanks. The Screenings and Grit are rinsed with water, drained and pressed to dewater. The cleaned Grit and Screenings is then put with residential trash to be taken to the County Transfer Station. This has been the process for many years and is completely legal, and within DEQ permitted standards.
As previously mentioned, last Tuesday, the Town received information that Sheriff Mark Butler was personally leading a sting operation into what he described as a, “criminal investigation into the Town’s illegal dumping of sludge” at the Warren County Transfer Station. Although neither Sheriff Mark Butler nor any of his deputies are licensed wastewater operators, he concluded through his “expert” opinion that the legally allowed dumping of Grit and Screenings that were taken to the Transfer Station was “sludge” because it smelled like “shit.” Throughout the day, numerous Town Refuse employees, one of whom was on the job only two days, were personally detained and interrogated by Sheriff Mark Butler and his investigators. Their commercial driver’s licenses which are required for their livelihood, were confiscated and run against criminal records. As the crew who had the Grit and Screenings described the incident, they were threatened by Sheriff Mark Butler that they could personally be liable for a $25,000 fine and up to a one million dollar fine, that they will likely be losing their CDL license, as well as the Town trash truck would be impounded. Sheriff Mark Butler went on to say to some of the Refuse employees that if they shared any part of his investigation that he would ensure they were charged with obstruction of justice. Please keep in mind, these employees were not at the Director or Town Manager level, but Refuse employees who work five days a week picking up trash, just doing their job for Town citizens, as well as disposing of Grit and Screenings from both County and Town residents. These are the cold hard facts from numerous eye witnesses.
As if this is not bad enough, there’s more. Sheriff Mark Butler contacted DEQ and asked them to participate in his investigation of the Town’s “illegal dumping of sludge.” The DEQ agent told the Director of Public Works that in his entire career he had never been called by a local Sheriff, therefore, he concluded there must be an egregious violation and immediately started his investigation, even though as previously stated the Sheriff may not have jurisdictional authority to conduct such an investigation. Upon DEQ’s research, he accurately concluded that our process was in accordance with code and procedures, meaning the Grit and Screenings properly disposed at the Transfer Station did not violate any laws or code. Additionally, at the request of the Sheriffs office, the next day, DEQ conducted an onsite investigation of the Town’s Wastewater Treatment facility with Sheriff investigators, Sheriff Mark Butler and Town staff. Sheriff Mark Butler again relayed his “expert” opinion that the Town was illegally dumping sludge into the Transfer Station in which he “intellectually” stated, “You know the saying – if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck. So, if it looks like shit and smells like shit, then it must be shit” (his exact words). Amazed at this profound statement, the DEQ agent and the Town’s Wastewater Treatment Manager explained to Sheriff Mark Butler the process the Town goes through to process the Town and County’s Grit and Screenings. The DEQ agent further taught Sheriff Mark Butler that there is a difference between sludge and Grit and Screenings. Additionally, he educated Sheriff Mark Butler that nearly all municipalities dispose of this Grit and Screenings with residential trash as the Town of Front Royal has done for many years. Lastly, during this meeting, Sheriff Mark Butler told the group that he took it upon himself to contact Sheriff Cubbage of Page County to inform him that the Town was illegally dumping bio-hazard in the Page County landfill. Since this call, Sheriff Cubbage has confirmed to Town officials that the Town is not illegally dumping in the Page County landfill. So, in summary, let me unequivocally restate to you and the public -THE TOWN OF FRONT ROYAL HAS NOT BEEN AND DOES NOT DUMP ILLEGAL WASTE.
I wish my letter to you could end here, but there’s more I need to let you know. The Town Council is truly perplexed and demands answers to some questions. How did this sting operation start in the first place and why was it led personally by Sheriff Mark Butler which is unprecedented? Here’s what I know, when contacted by the Town Manager the very day of this harassment, Interim County Administrator, Ed Daley, told the Town Manager that you, Chairwoman Cullers, told him the Town was illegally dumping sludge, that he called the Sheriff to investigate, and that he was aware of the sting operation taking place. This begs perhaps the most important question, why didn’t Dr. Daley just call the Town Manager to look into this matter first instead of the Sheriff? Why wouldn’t Dr. Daley just ask the Town Manager if together they could look into the process. (After all, approximately one third of the Grit and Screenings produced come from septic haulers outside of Town limits). It’s my understanding that the Town Manager and Interim County Administrator meet for a private lunch every two weeks in order to enhance working relationships. Why were Town Refuse employees targeted, threatened and harassed by Sheriff Mark Butler himself personally? Again, for disclosure, here’s what I know, as I am sure you are aware, the Town has requested through FOIA official records from the Sheriffs Department regarding traffic stops. And for further transparency, just a few days prior to this sting operation led by Sheriff Mark Butler the Town received a partial response to the FOIA from the Sheriffs office. Was this the reason for the drummed up “criminal investigation” led by Sheriff Mark Butler? Or, considering all the money the County owes the Town (PILOT fees, hauling fees, EDA), was the County leadership hoping to get leverage over the Town and embarrass the Town in order to force the Town to the negotiating table? Or, is it payback because the Town has started its own EDA and will soon start its own Building Inspection operation? There’s a reason this happened. There’s a reason Ed Daley did not contact Steven Hicks and a reason why the Sheriff personally accused Town Refuse employee of a crime. You should know that the Town Council are unanimously perplexed and very disturbed by the targeting, harassment and lack of good judgement by Ed Daley and Sheriff Mark Butler. I believe you have a duty to get to the truth and do so quickly. If the County attempts to cover this up, the Town will absolutely take steps to ensure justice for our Refuse employees.
Chairwoman Cullers, what would you do in my shoes if County employees were treated the way our Refuse employees were treated or if the County government was accused the way the Town was accused? How would you feel if the Town Manager concluded the County was doing something inappropriate and conducted a sting operation with the Front Royal Police Chief, instead of first reaching out to the County Administrator? As for me, at a minimum I can assure you that I would be pressing for the Town Manager’s immediate resignation or termination if he grossly mishandled such a matter and demonstrated such a lack of judgement. I hope you can appreciate the severity of this incident. Words truly cannot express how upset Town Council and our employees are at the actions of Mr. Daley and Sheriff Butler.
So where do we go from here? For disclosure, I need you to know that the Town Attorney is researching and considering legal action against Sheriff Mark Butler, the Warren County Sheriffs Department and possibly the County of Warren. We cannot just sit back and allow our hard-working Refuse employees to be harassed and intimidated simply for doing their job and conducting legal acts by taking trash to the Transfer Station. In addition to reevaluating how the Town will be addressing the handling of County septage in the future, I am canceling all future liaison meetings and the Town/County Advance until a minimum of the following actions take place:
- A public and private apology by the Board of Supervisors, the Interim County Administrator and Sheriff Mark Butler to the Refuse employees who went home on Tuesday night worried about losing their jobs, going to jail, paying a massive fine and losing their CDL license;
- Reimbursement for Town staff hours spent dealing with the harassment and failed sting operation by Sheriff Mark Butler. I hope to have an invoice compiled in the coming weeks;
- The immediate payment of all past due money owed to the Town by the County. If not paid within five business days of receipt of this letter, I will be asking the Town Attorney to take appropriate legal action;
- Additionally, after your investigation if you determine it appropriate to terminate the Interim County Administrator, Ed Daley and to ask for the resignation of Sheriff Mark Butler, I am confident I can get a resolution of support from the Town Council.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate that my problem is not with the rank-and-file deputies of the Sheriffs Department, they are just following orders. I fully support our men and women in blue and brown. Even so, many have advised me not to expose the misuse of office by Sheriff Mark Butler for fear of a false arrest or personal harassment against me or my family. After all, we have all seen citizens within Town limits in handcuffs on the side of the road as their vehicles are emptied and searched by undercover Sheriff deputies, most of whom are let go because of a lack of a crime. In an effort to protect all Town employees and the Town Council from possible harassment by the Sheriff, I have instructed the Town Attorney to send a letter to all Town employees informing them of their legal rights and due process in the event that a Sheriff deputy or Sheriff Mark Butler personally pulls them over. We will be instructing our Town employees to video tape any encounter with the Warren County Sheriffs office in such an instance. Furthermore, in the event there is an incident with a Town employee or Councilmember, I will be requesting our Town Attorney to personally lead an internal investigation into the matter and if appropriate, involve the Attorney General’s Office and State Police. We will also be publishing a public notice to Town citizens and tourists informing them of their rights, as well as, sending this letter to all Town citizens and possibly County residents living outside of Town limits. We are not going to tolerate harassment by the Sheriff. Please join me in encouraging any Warren County Sheriff Deputy, County employee or citizen who have concerns with the Sheriff or have had any unfounded searches during a traffic stop to contact Doug Napier, Town Attorney or George Sonnett, Assistant Town Attorney who are compiling information to send to the Attorney General’s Office.
Chairwoman Cullers, as you can imagine these actions by County leadership and staff have caused great harm, a bigger divide between our governments and an enhanced mistrust of the County government by our Town. The Town of Front Royal is charting her own course – we are moving forward even with the obstacles the County continually places before us. We ask that the County not interfere with our ability to govern, operate and prosper. I demand the immediate actions referenced above and answers to my questions so that the healing process can truly commence and our Refuse employees can find justice.
Chris Holloway, Mayor
Town of Front Royal
County responds to Town attack on its methods in dealing with sewage dumping allegation
There was a two-pronged attack against County officials at Monday’s (April 26) Front Royal Town Council meeting regarding the Warren County Sheriff’s Office preventing a Town Solid Waste crew from dumping treated sewage at the Bentonville Transfer Station the previous Tuesday, April 20.
First, during his council member report Jacob Meza, who was in full attack mode on a number of fronts Monday, berated Sheriff Mark Butler, his department and county administrative staff for “harassment” of a Town Solid Waste work crew at the County’s Bentonville Waste Transfer Station. Next during the mayor’s report, Chris Holloway jumped on the bandwagon, calling the incident and related County actions “appalling”.
After stating he had been excited and optimistic about past indications of Town-County municipal cooperation, Meza said, “I was dismayed to hear last Tuesday, uh … what I would consider harassment by a law enforcement agency, the sheriff’s department, of our town staff.”
Meza wondered why first contact between the municipalities over the issue of what the Town was dumping at the County Waste Transfer Station was between county law enforcement and a town work crew, as opposed to between administrative, elected or law enforcement personnel – “anybody” Meza offered before describing what he felt was undue harshness in county law enforcement’s interaction with the town waste disposal crew:
“Last Tuesday three of our crew members on our sanitation truck were greeted at the landfill by the sheriff’s department. And not just the sheriff’s department, but Sheriff Mark Butler himself, waiting to surprise our staff while they were making our normal run to empty their truck, and they confronted them.” Of that confrontation, Meza said, “Confront them by getting them out of the truck, threatening arrest, threatening to take away their license to operate the vehicles, threatening them with a $25,000 fines, all for the sake of supposedly dumping sludge at the landfill.
“This is unacceptable,” Meza concluded of the law enforcement-town staff interaction.
After Meza’s assessment, the mayor weighed in during his report. After noting that County Board Chairman Cheryl Cullers had been told the Town was dumping “sludge” at the transfer station, leading to first, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley being informed of the allegation, which was then passed on to Sheriff Butler, Mayor Holloway said, “And they set up a, I guess you could call it, a sting operation.”
According to the mayor, that “sting operation” led to Town waste disposal drivers being “threatened” with $25,000 fines, certification loss, and obstruction of justice charges if they discussed the investigation.
“So, I just find it appalling,” Holloway said, adding that, “Sheriff Butler called Sheriff Cubbage in Page and said we were dumping biohazards at the landfill”. On that inter-county note the mayor decided to move on and change subjects – “to something better”. However, it is worth noting that Warren County now “transfers” it waste to the Page County landfill.
Royal Examiner contacted the named county officials for a reaction to Holloway and Meza’s accounts of the situation. Sheriff Butler responded by phone. “I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation. But I can say there was an allegation that illegal dumping was occurring at the transfer station in Bentonville. I informed deputies of the situation. We were there exploring it when they observed the suspect truck coming in. At that point we launched the investigation.”
Interim County Administrator Daley responded in an email: “We received a complaint about materials being dumped at our transfer station and we were concerned about our employees. We asked the sheriff to investigate. He took a sample to be analyzed and we have authorized our employees to not take additional ‘NOT sewage’ or sewerage in the future. Our transfer station is not permitted to accept sewerage so we have to be cautious.”
Daley’s reference to “NOT sewage” (capitalization in context) was a reference to Councilman Meza’s seeming confusion in addressing the issue of exactly what the Town is sending to Bentonville for solid waste disposal.
“For those of you who don’t know, I just kind of wanted to relay the high-level facts,” Meza said during his Monday comments, continuing, “So, the Town treats sewage that’s brought in from the county, from septic systems and treats it at our plants, and then for many years has taken the treated sewage out there – well it’s not sewage but it’s treated – out to the landfills to dump it.”
Whether sewage that is treated at a waste disposal plant continues to be sewage by definition may be an issue for Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as this situation progresses and the sample taken by the sheriff’s office in Bentonville on April 20 is analyzed as Daley indicated it is being.
On Wednesday afternoon we contacted Board Chair Cullers by phone. She verified the informational sequence described by town officials. “I was informed by staff at the transfer station that material of concern mixed in with residential garbage was being dumped on the tipping floor … I informed the county administrator and we determined the sheriff should be informed,” she began.
However, rather than a nefarious County “sting operation” Cullers indicated the County was simply reacting with caution to protect its employees and citizens, including many in her home district along the roads to the Bentonville transfer station from town.
“What I have been told is that our permit does not allow us to take material from the sewage plant. We do not want our employees exposed and all that comes through the South River District. I want good working relations with the Town – but we must work within the law. It’s an unfortunate situation,” the Warren County Board chair concluded.
On the bright side of this “unfortunate situation”, one might observe that no one was roughed up, shot or killed during the interaction so that Front Royal and Warren County become another national media road stop in the escalating national debate about law enforcement brutality during minor offense stops.
And in today’s national and local governmental environments, we’ll take small favors where we can find them.
Supervisors approve $124,614,825 FY-22 County Budget as time and word records shattered
If Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Cheryl Cullers thought she and her board were on a world record setting pace to adjournment of a municipal meeting on April 20, she and her board outdid themselves Tuesday night, April 27, with adjournment of a special meeting in an unprecedented five minutes – to this reporter’s knowledge an all-time local meeting record of municipal government.
Okay, it wasn’t the 12-item agenda with regular meeting board reports, public hearings, public comments and outside agency reports achieved in 73 minutes last week. As noted, it was a special meeting called to adopt the proposed Fiscal Year-2022 County Budget in the amount of $124,614,825, as well as make an annual housekeeping motion setting the Personal Property (motor vehicles) Tax Relief rate, this year at 35%, to comply with State regulations on annual adjustments related to the Virginia General Assembly’s “no Car Tax” legislation and reimbursements to localities adopted “many years ago” according to an agenda summary.
But five minutes IS five minutes to adjournment on a motion by Delores Oates, seconded by Archie Fox.
And had there not been some confusion over 6’s and 9’s being verbalized or miss-typed into the budget summary prior to the vote, it might have been a four-minutes-to-glory record-setting meeting, as this story would have been 56 words shorter (to 179) in establishing a still personal best for brevity municipal meeting story, at 235 words.
(Writer’s note – not applied to story length: I figured Royal Examiner’s faithful readers needed a break after yesterday’s 2,231 word account of Monday’s sometimes volatile and sometimes murky Front Royal Town Council meeting.)