The sometimes painstakingly detailed Fiscal Year Budget process continued for the Warren County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning, March 17. Heard from at a 9 a.m. work session was the twice-delayed outside agency presentation of the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging (SAAA), as well as Warren County Public Schools presentation of their budget request for FY 2021.
It was noted during the school budget discussion that during the school system’s current pandemic shutdown, free lunches are being made available to all students under the age of 18 – more on that below. In fact, the specter of national, state and local reactions to the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak hung over all aspects of Tuesday’s budget discussion.
To open the work session SAAA Executive Director Linda Holtzapple traced the agency’s work on behalf of the community’s elderly. That work is designed to help allow the community’s aging citizens to maintain their independent residence “for as long as safely possible”, avoiding the necessity of a costly relocation into elder care facilities for those seniors and their families.
SAAA programs include operation of the Senior Center geared to socializing, outside the home events, as well as the Meals on Wheels program of prepared food delivery to senior’s homes, and in-home care services for those who need some additional around-the-house physical assistance.
Holtzapple, who was accompanied by SAAA Director of Care Management Jimmy Roberts and SAAA Board member Christy McMillin, noted that due to the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic response, to which the elderly have been identified as particularly susceptible to potentially fatal health risks, the Senior Center’s in-house activities were currently suspended. However, she noted that the facility’s kitchen was still in use for Meals on Wheels deliveries, done with precautions to avoid potential passing of the COVID-19 virus.
Holtzapple said that extra Meals on Wheels deliveries were being made to stock clients up “in case there is a gap (in deliveries) due to Coronavirus issues”.
The SAAA request is for $54,000 from the County, reflecting no increase from the FY 2020 County funding of the agency. Holtzapple noted that the SAAA generates about $200,000 in annual fundraising activities for its regional efforts.
Following their presentation, Board Chairman Walter Mabe and Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers thanked the SAAA contingent for their work in support of the community’s elderly.
Interim Schools Superintendent Melody Sheppard led a five-person Warren County Public Schools contingent in presenting and explaining their recently (March 11) School Board-approved budget to the supervisors and county staff. Included in the work session agenda packet was a March 12 letter from Sheppard to the county administrator citing the School Board’s previous day approval of a $62,247,344 operating budget, requiring local County funding of $26,956,323.
That $26.9 million figure represents a 1% increase over the current fiscal year county funding of its public schools.
After a brief explanation of the State Composite Index ranking of Virginia counties’ ability to fund public education in response to an earlier question from the supervisors, Sheppard continued to trace additions, reasons for those additions, and their budget impacts to County officials.
Highlights included $2.85 million to implement a 1% COLA and/or STEP salary increase tied to the County’s Employee Compensation Study conducted in recent years. The study was designed to help the County and its public-school system stem a tide of staff turnovers due to a lack of competitive salaries with surrounding communities.
Other items included $120,000 for 19 new school buses reaching 15 years of service over the past three years; $150,000 for textbooks ranging from six-year-old Science books – science curriculums are on a faster informational update cycle than most; eight-year-old Math and Social Studies books; and 15-year-old Foreign Language books Sheppard noted had references to “tape recorders”, a reference that baffles many students.
Some discussion was devoted to new staff positions, particularly $231,833 earmarked for one clinician and four support coaches for a Behavioral Support Specialist Program designed to help correct disruptive students’ behavior inside the classroom. A PILOT program in two schools, E. Wilson Morrison Elementary and Skyline Middle School, was acknowledged as having a “positive impact” on students and the classroom environment.
When Board Chairman Walter Mabe questioned whether such a program included enough “accountability” for bad behavior, Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox replied from his early background in detention and disciplinary oversight in the system.
“I’ve probably suspended more kids than anybody in this room, and my experience is they come back “angry,” he observed. Fox said the option presented by the Behavioral Support Program of repeated interaction with students in teaching and re-teaching “behavioral expectations”, perhaps unlearned in the home environment, was a preferable option to simply removing the students from the school as a punishment reaction.
During accreditation and preparing students for the post-graduation employment world discussion, Mabe also raised interesting points on student sub-categories related to accreditation and the long-term national trend toward teaching toward memorization test results versus teaching children to think critically.
After it was noted that those standards and categorizations came down to localities from the State, which in turn saw those mandates handed down from the federal level, Mabe observed that “Maybe it’s time to start pushing back” against what many educators feel are counterproductive governmental mandates originating in the political sphere, rather than from educators.
The current closing of the school system, along with all Virginia public schools, due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus situation was also discussed.
“This is uncharted territory,” North River Supervisor Delores Oates observed.
As noted above, Sheppard told County officials that the school system in making lunches and backpack meals programs available to students during the statewide school shutdown. The possibility of utilizing languishing school buses as a distribution means was broached. Currently, the meal is available at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School and is available free to all students under the age of 18 in the system.
Number Crunching & the EDA
Following those presentations, County Administrator Doug Stanley guided the board through the latest numbers on departmental funding requests, as well as those from all outside agencies, concluding with staff recommendations on those funding requests.
Facing an $865,222 shortfall with a mandate not to raise county taxes, Stanley reviewed suggested cuts of $866,951 to balance a projected total FY 2021 budget of $113,133,873. The county administrator’s balancing act reduced the required local revenue needed to balance the full budget to $80,944,559.
Among the suggested cuts were $147,445 to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s operational budget. Stanley explained that he had worked with EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons and EDA Finance Committee Chair Jorie Martin to adjust the EDA’s budget request downward, factoring in potential property sales and rentals, as well as the likelihood of the EDA being moved into the County departmental network in the coming fiscal year.
That move would relieve the EDA of a significant amount of projected legal expenses cited at $97,000, as they would have access to the County-funded EDA-related civil legal counsel of Sands-Anderson. There were no cuts to the EDA’s current two-person staff, Parsons and Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson, Stanley noted.
Overall, it appeared the county administrator was able to pair back the EDA’s original funding request of $452,220 to $253,000. Of course, that does not factor in expenses, like Sands Anderson that the County is already absorbing, as it did with the Cherry Bekaert forensic audit that uncovered the alleged misdirection of $21.3 million of EDA assets involving Town and County projects.
Stanley also observed that he did not include the EDA’s current $266,000 annual debt service payments on the Front Royal Police Station that the Town of Front Royal has chosen not to pay as it steps up its hostile civil litigation with the EDA.
“I don’t feel it is the County’s responsibility to pay a Town debt – unless directed otherwise,” Stanley observed of the current impasse over what has been described as “an undisputed $8.4 million debt on principal payments” the Town owes the EDA for its financing construction of the FRPD headquarters.
The town council and its interim town manager have apparently decided to include a dispute over covering the 3% interest rate the EDA is paying on the FRPD debt service in its escalating hostile civil litigation against the EDA and its former executive director.
Town officials have ignored the EDA’s offer of a compromise on the interest rate and a non-litigious attempt to come to a mutual agreement on what the EDA actually owes the Town in any debt service overpayments or misdirected Town assets related to the EDA financial scandal. Town officials continue to insist they have no legal obligation to pay more than the 1.5% interest rate they claim council was verbally promised by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. And they have claimed over $20 million in damages against the EDA and McDonald.
“What happens on July 1 when nobody is paying it?” Oates asked of the FRPD debt service. While the county administrator had no immediate answer to that question, the supervisors did not instruct him to amend his budget proposal to fund the EDA continuing to cover those payments for the Town of Front Royal.
See this far-ranging budget discussion, as well as a meeting-ending 10-minute discussion of the County Board’s role in a potential Emergency Management response if the COVID-19 Coronavirus situation continues escalating at the State and regional levels, in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
County prepares for next phase of reopenings, explains mask enforcement
After a one week break, the eighth weekly Warren County Joint COVID-19 Emergency Management Team briefing of May 28th featured another appearance by Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell. Bell joined County Board and Emergency Management Team Chairman Walter Mabe and County Deputy Emergency Services Manager Rick Farrall at the not-quite roundtable report and Q&A with media.
Mabe gave Farrall the floor to begin the briefing with an update on Warren County and Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD) COVID-19 statistics and reopening plans. Farrall reported a total of 1,279 reported cases in the health district. That is up 182 from the 1,097 cases confirmed on May 24.
Of that 1279 number, 24 were in Clarke County; 319 in Frederick, 213 in Page, 414 in Shenandoah, 168 in Winchester City, and 141 in Warren County. Farrall noted the Warren number indicated a jump of 12 from the previous day. He continued to explain that county increase was due in large part to the fact that inmates at RSW Jail who have tested positive are classified as cases in this county, while employees are categorized in their home county of residence.
Farrall stated that the RSW Jail Administration and staff were being joined in closely monitoring the jail’s pandemic outbreak by the Virginia Department of Health, the LFHD, private regional medical provider Valley Health, Warren County Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
Farrall then said that tomorrow, on May 29, several more-heavily pandemic-struck regions, including all of Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., the City of Richmond, and Accomack County on the Eastern Shore would begin moving to Phase One of reopening a week behind the LFHD and other parts of Virginia. He then cited anticipated reopening dates for nearby states, including
Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order expected to be lifted on June 5.
Farrall then noted the mask requirement tied to Governor Northam’s Executive Order 63 and handed the floor over to Commonwealth’s Attorney Bell. Bell expanded on local plans in compliance with Governor Ralph Northam’s anticipated Executive Order 63 that will mandate mask-wearing in reopened public and business buildings. Bell assured the public it would not be a strong-armed, law enforcement reaction.
Rather, the Department of Health would be generally in charge of handling violations, which could negatively affect businesses in which people were determined to be ignoring the mask order.
Noting the hardship such local small businesses have endured, Bell suggested those choosing to be customers of reopened business not risk putting their owners in further jeopardy by ignoring the face mask rules.
See Bell’s explanation of those rules, their potential for being cited for a Class 1 misdemeanor violation and other briefing highlights of the 21-minute meeting, including Chairman Mabe’s ideas for increased community interactions and individual involvement in our recovery in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Council approves FY21 budget appropriations – conditionally
At its May 26th meeting the Front Royal Town Council approved an appropriation of just over $48.6 million to fund its Fiscal Year 2021 budget. The first of two required votes was 5-1, Letasha Thompson dissenting as she has through the budget process due to ongoing concerns on portions of the proposed budget, specifically unanswered questions about how Tourism marketing and the Visitors Center operations will be funded.
The second, binding vote will come at the council’s next meeting on June 8.
The appropriation of $48,604,340 is projected to balance the Town’s anticipated expenditures and revenues as sub-categorized by departmental and General Fund uses. However, in the current uncertain COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic financial landscape such predictions can be very tenuous as municipalities wait to see the impact of mandated business closings and travel restrictions on their normal tax revenue intake in coming months.
Unfamiliar financial landscape
As was later explained, that is why the appropriation is being passed with a contingency qualification that it will be reviewed on a monthly basis to assure the revenue to support the FY-21 budget is, in fact, available in the coming fiscal year beginning July 1.
The Public Hearing drew the evening’s only two pre-submitted citizen comments to be read into the record of the still virtually conducted pandemic lockdown meetings. Those comments were from 2020 Council candidate and Fussell Florists proprietor Betty Showers and long-time council watchdog Linda Allen.
While those detailed questions weren’t immediately addressed, as below council and interim town manager comments indicate, the plan is to present answers to those two citizens and council prior to the second vote of approval on June 8 – within 48 hours was cited as likely response time.
“You know, right now we all know with the COVID-19 it’s a guessing game right now. And I just want to assure the folks that we’re going to keep a very close eye on any shortfalls and make the appropriate adjustments when needed,” Gary Gillespie observed after, like others, thanking the Town’s financial and administrative staffs for their budget preparation work under trying and unusual circumstances.
Gillespie then asked Interim Town Manager Tederick to work with staff to put together answers to the citizen questions submitted prior to the second vote of approval.
“That’s not a problem at all – Mr. Wilson (Finance Director) and I have already looked at those questions. We were prepared to answer them tonight if need be. It’s not going to take much time; we should be able to get that out in the next 24 to 48 hours to those individuals, and we’ll copy council on our responses. They are easy answers,” Tederick told the council and the mayor, adding that they were “good” and “understandable questions”.
As read into the record by Acting Council Clerk Tina Pressley, Showers opened her letter by observing that some of her questions have been previously asked, though not publicly answered by the town’s elected officials.
“We provide the money for you to spend and therefore expect full transparency. Therefore, I am raising the questions again,” Showers wrote in opening. Her questions were, as presented in ALL CAPS writing to council:
1. THE REVENUE PAGE HAS MANY INCREASES YET IN AN EARLIER WORK SESSION YOUR DISCUSSION INDICATED THAT THERE WOULD BE A DOWNTURN IN MANY REVENUE ITEMS. WHY IS THERE AN UPTICK IN EXPECTED FUNDING?
2. WHY IS THERE A $10,000 INCREASE FOR TOWN COUNCIL PROFESSIONAL SERVICES?
3. UNDER THE TOWN MANAGER, WHO HAS USE OF A TOWN CAR AND THERE IS NO MONEY LISTED FOR MAINTENANCE PROPOSED FOR 2021. AS THERE WAS NONE LISTED FOR 2020.
4. UNDER REVENUE, THE RENT FOR THE ADELPHIA BLDG IS $12,045 FOR 2021. ACTUALLY, IT SHOULD BE COMCAST WHO WILL NO LONGER HAVE A SPACE IN FRONT ROYAL AFTER JUNE. WHY IS THAT MONEY SHOWN FOR SOMETHING THAT WON’T EXIST?
5. WITHOUT A TOWN ENGINEER, THE PROFESSIONAL SERVICES BUDGET SAYS $50,000. IT SEEMS TO ME THAT WE ARE GOING TO BE SPENDING A LOT MORE.
6. UNDER TOURISM, YOU HAVE LISTED BLIGHTED BLDGS AND TROLLEY SERVICE OF $93,860. THESE ARE NOT TOURISM BUDGET ITEMS. THEY NEED TO BE PLACED MORE ACCURATELY.
7. FOR POLICING EXPENSES, WHY WAS THE REQUEST FOR 4 PATROLMEN AND 4 VEHICLES TURNED DOWN????
Those were followed by Allen’s questions, again prefaced by noting they had been previously posed and left unanswered to the writer’s knowledge.
“I have asked questions about the proposed 2021 budget before without hearing any answers. Some questions will be repeated below with hopes that the next meeting, a work session, will provide those answers,” Allen began. And as again presented in ALL CAPS writing, those questions were:
1. UNDER PLANNING, WHAT IS THE $40,000 LISTED FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES TO BE SPENT ON?
2. WHY UNDER PLANNING IS THERE NO FUNDING FOR THE COMPREHENSIVE LAND USE PLAN? IT IS REQUIRED BY VA LAW EVERY 5 YEARS.
3. WITH BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS THE EXPENSE IS DOWN BY $5,000. WHAT CHANGES CAUSED A REDUCTION OF THESE CITIZEN BOARDS?
4. UNDER HORTICULTURE, WAS A HORTICULTURIST HIRED? ALSO, YOU HAVE INCREASED PROFESSIONAL SERVICES BY $20,000. FOR WHAT REASON?
5. UNDER COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, THERE IS A LINE OF POLICE FACILITY OF $515,000 AS THE EXPENSE. WITH A LAWSUIT AGAINST EDA AND THE TOWN’S REFUSAL TO PAY THE INTEREST OR PRINCIPAL FOR THE POLICE STATION, IT SEEMS DOUBTFUL THAT THIS MONEY WILL BE USED FOR THIS PURPOSE. WHAT EXACTLY ARE THESE FUNDS BEING USED FOR?
Contacted early Thursday afternoon, neither Showers nor Allen had yet received those written answers promised within 48 hours. Tick, tick, tick ………
The approximate 12-minute appropriations public hearing and discussion beginning about 40 minutes into Tuesday’s council meeting is available, along with the entirety of that 55-minute meeting in the linked Royal Examiner recordings tied to our series of three stories on that meeting:
Mayor, council debate rationale for lower water-sewer tap fees to developers
As noted in our lead story on the Front Royal Town Council’s Tuesday, May 26 meeting, public hearings on two ordinance amendment proposals drew some discussion prior to a vote.
The first of those two was an altered motion on water and sewer rates and lowering tap fees for new development into the Town’s central water-sewer utilities. Mayor Eugene Tewalt temporarily gave up the meeting’s presiding officer role to Vice-Mayor William Sealock so that he could add comments into the public hearing record.
The mayor then explained his understanding of development of the tap fee and water-sewer rate discussion in recent months leading up to the night’s vote.
“Six months ago or thereabouts, we decided that the Town would install the water and sewer taps at the Town’s expense, which when we found out in talking to the person who had been doing that, it was about an $8,000 cost that the contractor or developer was paying to that individual that was doing that,” Tewalt recounted, observing, “So when we took this over, that’s $4,000 dollars for water and $4,000 for sewer to that developer,” that the Town would appear to be absorbing facing the proposed tap fee decreases on the table.
Tewalt continued to cite numbers indicating that lost revenue it appeared to him Town citizens would eventually be absorbing in higher water-sewer rates to meet an apparent revenue shortfall.
“That would equal to $12,127 that the town taxpayers are going to have to absorb somewhere … in order to cover these costs,” Tewalt told council.
A check of the 34 pages of related ordinance material in the agenda indicated large, across the board reductions to the “system development fees” (formerly known as connection or “tap” fees) ranging from $21,938 down to $12,217 to connect a sewer line to a 1-inch water meter; and from $1,464,450 down to $1,294,967 to connect a sewer line to 12-inch water meter.
Also indicated was a slight monthly increase in the base residential sewer rate for under 3,000 gallons usage per month from $16.17 to $16.74 and above 3,000 gallons usage from $13.91 to $14.40 monthly. That increase apparently holds to the water-sewer rate study consultant Stantec’s recommendation of a 3.5% sewer rate hike to cover system costs. Tewalt also noted that council had decided to defer the recommended 2% water rate increase to the next fiscal year cycle (FY-2022).
That led the mayor to predict a likely 4% increase for citizen water rates next year, or more if the “tap fee” reductions were included with the Town’s continued responsibility to make those connections for developers.
“And this just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me at this point,” the mayor concluded of having the Town perform the connections for developers at reduced rates to be absorbed by taxpayers. However, it would take a while to determine exactly what was on the table and how it was arrived at.
As Tewalt concluded, Vice-Mayor Sealock asked Acting Council Clerk Tina Pressley if any public comments had been submitted for the public hearing. There were none, Pressley responded. So, Sealock then closed the public hearing and handed the presiding officer’s gavel back to the mayor.
Tewalt then asked for a motion. Meza responded by reading the motion originally printed for the agenda. “I move that Council affirm on its first readying an ordinance amendment to Town Code Chapter 134 pertaining to the increase of sewer service rates and the decrease of water service rates and system development charges for both sanitary sewer service and water service, as presented.” It would later be necessary to re-read the motion, deleting the reference to a reduction in “the water service rates”.
Following Chris Holloway’s second and the mayor’s call for any further discussion, Meza said, “I have a couple clarifying comments that I’d like to try to understand.” He then referenced the several months of conversation about the tap fee rates, observing that eventually, “council started moving in a rapid direction, a rapid pace to reducing those fees …”
Meza indicated it was his understanding council was moving in the direction of consultant Stantec’s recommendations.
“So Mr. Tederick, did Stantec take into account the fact that we would be doing our own installation on the tap fees?” Meza queried the interim town manager.
That led to Tederick’s introduction by remote connection of Stantec representative Andrew Burnham. In introducing Burnham to the virtually-conducted meeting conversation, Tederick noted, “I would be very delicate in how I address your question,” perhaps addressing Meza, “because it might be best to have the answer in a closed session due to potential legal matters.”
However, the conversation and Burnham’s input continued in open session.
Tederick prefaced Burnham’s entrance to the conversation with some topic history: “In 2010 when the study was last done and the rates were set … the Town was conducting the connections. Since that time the Town stopped conducting the connections but continued to keep the rate at that higher rate. The rate that is being assessed today does not include the cost of material or labor, or the fact that the developer or the builder will have the ability to go out and put the connection in himself. So, in our opinion it’s very as Stantec presented it; it was just a very fair and transparent way of conducting business.”
Meza said he respected the mayor’s concerns, but remained confused as to how council developed varying opinions on where the new rates should be set, adding, “And now it seems there’s concerns that its actually fallen short and we won’t be able to cover (our costs) and that will fall on our taxpayers. So, I guess my question to Stantec would be did we evaluate this appropriately to take into consideration all the additional costs, so that two years out we’re not going to have to artificially inflate our rates in order to be able to sustain the program?”
Enter the consultant
“The short and the quick answer to that is, it was taken into account,” Stantec’s Burnham said to enter the conversation. He then elaborated.
“Specifically, when we went through a presentation … it was a summary of our analysis that was done using the history of accepted methodologies in allocating costs. So, we wanted to make sure that your rates or the base charges and amounts of water used would cover your ongoing costs of operations and maintenance, renewal and replacement expenses.
“And that the system development charges (formerly known as connection/tap fees) would cover the initial cost of system capacity proportionally from all new connections; and that the cost of actually making the connection, the installation and the taps – those would be done separately based on actual costs for labor, materials to make the connection.”
Following some additional input by council, Tederick told Mayor Tewalt, “The Town under the new ordinance, will not be paying for the actual labor or materials. So, the labor and materials are being passed on to the builder, or the builder could decide to go out and provide his own connections. So, in no way is the town taxpayer paying for that.”
Tewalt responded that if that was the case, “I have no problems with this,” adding he thought Stantec had “done a great job”. However, the mayor re-expressed his concern that at some point in the evolution of the ordinance amendment discussion council had agreed that Town crews would be involved in future new development connections.
“My understanding was that council said we’d be doing the installation free of charge, without any cost to the contractor. If I’m wrong, then accept my apologies,” the mayor said after nearly 15 minutes of discussion with several expressions of confusion over how what was on the table had been arrived at.
Vice-Mayor Sealock observed that he believed that a past failure by council to adjust the utility rates as costs to provide the service increased had created ongoing issues the Town as now trying to catch up with as the tap fee discussion continued.
“The rates not being changed over an extended period of time had a definite effect on the sewer charges. So, I want to bring that up – they’ve been running in a deficit for a long period of time,” Sealock noted.
After the clerk pointed out the motion wording change regarding removal of a reference to “decreased water service rates” Meza read the corrected motion, again seconded by Holloway. The motion then passed by a unanimous roll call vote.
The second and binding reading will occur at council’s next meeting in two weeks.
Hear the whole discussion, along with council’s other business conducted, in the linked Royal Examiner recording of Tuesday’s remotely conducted meeting:
Mayor, Meza spar over committee appointment powers – Mayor by legal TKO
A decision on a one-on-one verbal confrontation between Mayor Eugene Tewalt and Councilman Jacob Meza on who had the authority to make committee appointments, the mayor or a council majority, was rendered by a referee, we mean Town Attorney Doug Napier about 52 minutes into Thursday night’s Front Royal Town Council work session.
However, the sometimes contentious debate over who should serve from the council on a new County-requested committee to jointly discuss a path forward on Tourism promotion in the wake of separately heard, identical presentations by Joint Town-County Tourism Advisory Committee Vice-Chair Kerry Barnhart earlier in the week, began about a half-hour earlier, some 20 minutes into the May 21st work session. The half-hour delay on a decision was due to the necessity of the town attorney’s legal research on mayoral authority.
The dispute arose over Mayor Tewalt giving one of the Town’s two appointments to the new committee to Councilwoman Letasha Thompson.
Thompson has been the council’s most proactive member in getting direct input from involved Town Tourism staff and tourism advisory committee members in the wake of the late January decision to reduce the Town Tourism function and personnel. At last night’s work session Thompson was first to volunteer to serve for the Town on that County-requested four-member supervisor-council committee. Following Thompson to also volunteer their service were Gary Gillespie and Lori Athey Cockrell.
Jacob Meza followed by expressing interest but saying he would defer to the service of others. Meza then weighed in against Thompson’s appointment citing a supposed lack of neutrality in having expressed past concern at the council majority and interim town manager’s preemptive Tourism cutbacks without what she believed was adequate research into how the existing Tourism apparatus was functioning or a plan to replace what was being cut.
So, rather than the councilperson who has been most proactive in researching that function with both existing town staff and joint tourism committee members, Meza threw his support to Gillespie and Cockrell.
Thompson responded aggressively, disputing Meza’s contention that her proactive work with tourism operatives somehow disqualified her from an objective analysis of how best to proceed with the County in a coordinated and effective manner on tourism marketing.
“I think we’re all on the same page – we all think tourism is important; it’s how we’re going to get back on our feet. I think it’s rather odd that you take out the person who’s actually fought for the joint tourism meetings,” Thompson told Meza.
She noted that she had met with Barnhart “for hours” after her presentation on options moving forward “to get her perspective” and to get additional information on the research Barnhart and the Advisory Committee did to assemble the Advisory Committee PowerPoint presentation.
“Yes, I’m very passionate about us having strong tourism – and it is what it is,” Thompson told Meza and his colleagues.
But apparently taking the time to do background research involving those on the ground of Tourism marketing in this community, in support of one’s decision-making process is viewed as a negative by Thompson’s colleagues.
Vice-Mayor William Sealock joined in suggesting Thompson not serve as one of the two Town representatives, like Meza, citing Thompson’s immersing herself in the Tourism issue.
Meza then cited Mayor Tewalt’s insistence that he would appoint Thompson to the committee as a challenge to the will of the council majority. None of Meza’s apparent “gang of four” council allies indicated any disagreement with his stance either against Thompson’s appointment or council’s authority to decide who among them should be appointed.
However, the mayor was unmoved.
“I feel that Letasha has been involved with this, and Gary has too. So, tonight I’m going to make the appointment personally and give it to Letasha and Gary – so I hope that you all can do a good job and represent the Town very well,” Tewalt said, asserting his mayoral authority and drawing a “thank you” from Thompson.
That did not sit well with Meza, who challenged the mayor for not bending to the will of the council.
“This is a decision made by the council, not selected by the mayor, correct?” Meza replied.
“No, I disagree. I think I have the opportunity and the power to appoint two members and I’ve appointed the members,” the two-time mayor and long-time councilman responded.
“I think that you have the obligation to follow the direction of the council. And if the council is saying that we want to pick two members to represent the voice of council, you have an obligation to uphold that vote, do you not?” Meza pressed the mayor.
“No, I feel that I have the obligation right now,” Tewalt responded as Vice-Mayor Sealock injected that he did not support the mayor in this case. However, Sealock sent a mixed message, noting the mayor did have some committee-appointment authority, though he did not believe so in this case.
“This is not a board that you have appointed for action. In that case you do have that capability when you do appoint a board to look into the issue or whatever,” Sealock said, citing the joint County-Town nature of this particular committee that he told the mayor “takes you out of the picture” of mayoral committee appointment authority.
Thompson told her colleagues that if they shut her out of the committee appointment, she would continue to talk to those County and Town sources with whom she seemed to be the lone council member to establish an ongoing relationship with regarding tourism.
But Tewalt held his ground, telling her she remained appointed. The mayor added that he believed the council did not have the authority to overturn his committee appointment authority.
Again, Meza disputed that, asserting council authority over the mayor on committee appointments. The raising of the town attorney’s name and the necessity of a legal ruling at this point led to the discovery that Napier, was in fact, present with Tederick, apparently at Town Hall, despite not showing up on the virtual name list of work session attendees. Napier told council he was looking for the applicable statutes as they spoke.
Twenty minutes later a decision was ready to be rendered just as Councilman Holloway joined the meeting.
Napier then told the full council and mayor, “I’ve looked at everything we can look at, and this is Town Code 4.8 and I can’t find anything anywhere to contradict this: ‘4.8, the mayor is the presiding officer. The mayor as the presiding officer of the council, dot, dot, dot, shall appoint all committees.’
“So, the mayor appoints who he wants for the Tourism Committee,” Napier said.
“Thank you, Doug. Again, I appoint Letasha and Gary,” Mayor Tewalt reminded council.
Though defeated by Town Code, Meza wasn’t finished.
“I respect that appointment, Mr. Mayor. But I did want to make a note that you had a majority of council recommending different appointments (one actually) that you went against,” Meza stated for the meeting record.
“So noted,” the mayor responded
“Not surprising,” Councilman Holloway commented, throwing in with the Meza-Sealock led otherwise silent council majority despite having missed the lengthy debate on the Thompson appointment.
And then council moved on to other business, that business being the downtown street closures discussed in our companion story on the Thursday, May 21, work session.
See both discussions, and consideration of the redundant North Corridor water line project that opened Thursday’s work session; and the status of the Town Manager interview process being spearheaded by the contracted executive search firm of Baker Tilly that has narrowed 47 applicants down to 9, going on 5 candidates under council’s consideration, in the linked Royal Examiner recording:
Holiday weekend downtown walking mall closures okayed by council
While it wasn’t the most entertaining – as in WWF “Cage Match” entertainment – portion of Thursday’s Front Royal Town Council work session (see related story) the discussion and decision to move forward with the closing of portions of East Main and Chester Streets in Historic Downtown Front Royal to vehicular traffic this coming Memorial Day weekend has the most immediate impacts.
Those impacts will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday and conclude at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning. They include allowing the area’s multiple restaurants to have outdoor seating to facilitate broader, Governor’s Executive Order 61 Phase One openings, including allowing alcohol to be served with food in prescribed outdoor seating areas. Contacted later, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick explained that individual restaurants must contact their ABC representative to receive authorization to serve alcohol in the designated outdoor areas over the holiday weekend.
“This is not a festival,” Tederick observed, noting that roaming downtown with alcoholic beverages in hand as during the Wine & Crafts or Blues & Brews Festivals will not be allowed.
However sitting outside, properly socially distanced of course as Tederick indicated the Town would encourage per the Governor’s Executive Order 61, under forecast 70 to 80 degree, partly sunny, partly cloudy weather with good food and something to wash it down within the wake of two months of mandated business closures and stay at home for fun orders, might just work for most.
Tederick also confirmed that Royal Cinemas’ owner Rick Novak will utilize the outdoor summer Town movie night broadcast equipment to play movies and sell concessions outside his Park Theater this weekend, as well.
As for the closure of portions of East Main and Chester Streets, Tederick said the Town parking lots in the Gazebo-Village Commons and Crescent Street areas would be open for parking. East Main Street will be blocked from North Royal to Blue Ridge Avenue, and Chester Street will be closed from East Main to just beyond the Chester Street entrance to the Gazebo-Village Commons parking lot.
While discussion of the future of joint County-Town Tourism marketing was also part of Thursday night’s agenda, as reported below, there was no reference to specific efforts to draw Northern Virginia/D.C. Metro area citizens still living under “Phase Zero” non-opening restrictions to the Town’s expanded Historic Downtown Memorial Day weekend activities.
Our colleague and local Memorial Day ceremony organizer Malcolm Barr told us those activities will include a paired-back Memorial Day laying of the wreath ceremony Monday at noon, at the Warren County Courthouse lawn. Rather than the normal Dogs of War-referenced ceremony at the Gazebo featuring school bands, citizens and their dogs parading in memory of a nation’s fallen and their loved ones who have sacrificed so much, Barr estimated a brief, perhaps 10-minute ceremony led by Barr’s Husky rescue dog Diva, and wreath placers Mayor Eugene Tewalt and County Board Chair Walter Mabe.
The Memorial Day ceremony in honor of our fallen and their families will be viewable in an exclusive Royal Examiner video; as will the entirety of Thursday’s occasionally volatile Town work session linked to both this and our related story on that volatility surrounding appointments to a County-requested four-person committee on the future of tourism marketing here.
Warren County Government Center soft reopening
On Tuesday, May 26th, the Warren County Government Center will conduct a “soft reopening” for the Treasurer’s and Commissioner of the Revenue’s Offices. All other offices in the Government Center will remain closed to the public with services still available via telephone, email, or by appointment.
Citizens are encouraged to continue utilizing alternative payment methods for the first half of 2020 taxes, including:
- Regular mail
- Outdoor dropbox
- Online eCheck payments with NO convenience fee
- Online credit/debit card payments with 1.99% convenience fee
For those citizens who must visit in person, they will be directed via signate to come in the building through the secondary entrance door marked “Building Inspections” at the center of the building. An automatic hand sanitizer station will be at the entrance for public use. The flow of foot traffic will be in one direction with social distancing decals placed at proper intervals on the floor down the length of the hallway. Once citizens have completed their business in the Treasurer/ Commissioner suite, they will be directed to exit through the door on the north side of the building towards the drive-thru. Cones will be placed on the sidewalk alongside the drive-thru to ensure the safety of the pedestrians exiting the building.
This is a rapidly changing situation, and the most current information is available on the following websites: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus or www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus. Please consult www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus for the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia. Additionally, you can find local information on the Warren County COVID-19 website, the County of Warren, VA Facebook page, or the Town of Front Royal COVID-19 website.