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County: Town’s ‘half’ equals 27% if council wants to move alone with relief funds

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If the Town wants to play its own “I, Me, Mine” (with a songwriting nod to late Beatle George Harrison) economic recovery game with its “equitable” share of federal Coronavirus Relief money, it is likely to find it is playing with less than the $1 million to $1.5 million town staff said it is anticipating of the $3.5 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Securities) money Warren County received on June 1.

That is because in a population-based model upon which the CARES money is to be distributed to smaller municipalities within qualifying county’s, an 8-3 “unit” split, or 73% to 27% distribution of those funds has been estimated by county staff. Those numbers are based on the county population of about 40,000 and the town’s 15,000, that latter number who are also county residents, as Mayor Gene Tewalt explained to council on June 1st.

Some people just have a hard time learning to play well with others – is that a current trend among some elected officials inside Front Royal’s Town Hall? Some on the County side are beginning to wonder. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Those numbers equate to $946,000 the Town would get, with the County retaining roughly $2.5 million according to the government formula on “equitable” distribution of the CARES relief funds. The process and numbers were explained to county supervisors following Tuesday’s morning meeting, at an early Tuesday afternoon, June 2nd work session.

The topic was broached on the County side during a presentation by County Deputy Emergency Services Director Rick Farrall on the County’s receipt of the $3.5 million CARES money the previous day. As Front Royal Mayor Tewalt noted during council work session discussion of the same topic the previous evening, he and Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock met with county officials Monday afternoon to discuss a mutually acceptable distribution and relief plan.

However, as reported in our story “Money, money, money, EDAs and ongoing weekend downtown walking mall” council collectively did not appear initially receptive to the two-pronged plan Tewalt and Sealock brought them from the afternoon meeting with county officials. Contacted later, Farrall said in addition to him, Front Royal Mayor Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Sealock, present were County Board Chair Walt Mabe and County Administrator Doug Stanley. Farrall also later verified that the County received the CARES funding the day of that meeting, Monday, June 1. He noted it was applied for on May 20.

As summarized by the mayor Monday night, the County proposal was to divide the $3.5 million in half; have the County and Town jointly administer a relief package to qualifying businesses and/or citizens inside and outside the town limits with $1.75 million; and let each municipality use their share of the remaining $1.75 million, based on the 73% – 27% County-Town “equitable” population formula split, as they saw fit.

“I don’t think it went too well,” Farrall told the supervisors of the mayor’s presentation to council the previous night.

“According to the formula they’re going to get the big cut of it and we’re going to get the crumbs,” as we reported of Councilman Gary Gillespie’s reaction Monday night.

Pre-pandemic file photo of council and then Interim Mayor Tederick and Councilman Tewalt. Gary Gillespie, gray sportscoat left, led the negative response, joined by Chris Holloway, near right, and Vice-Mayor Sealock, far right, to a County-conceived, partial joint pandemic relief proposal at a still-virtually conducted June 1 town work session.

Even Sealock, who was involved in the meeting with county officials the day the money was received; and who told his colleagues the County as recipient of the grant was “100% responsible” for documentation and accounting that all the money was used as federally prescribed, seemed perturbed that the County had developed a plan without the involvement of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick.

“I’m just wondering why we weren’t consulted other than today of all days,” a frustrated Sealock said.

Despite the presence of county board Chair Mabe at the Monday meeting with the mayor and vice mayor, Chris Holloway wondered if the plan was formulated by the county administrator without county board authorization or approval.

Mayor Tewalt tried to derail the “we are being taken advantage of” train that was gathering momentum. “They want to take the $3.5 million and use half of it for economic recovery; and then take the populations and split it whatever that ratio would be of the other $1.7 million and use that the way we want to utilize that amount of money …

“But they just want to know if we would be agreeable tonight – just split the money, and use half of it for recovery and half of it to do the other (things) as far as the government’s concerned. So, we can pay whatever we have to pay and they can pay whatever they want to pay,” the mayor told council.

In response to Gillespie’s “They’re going to get the big cut … and we’re going to get the crumbs” remark, the mayor readdressed the population-based formula. “Yea, but … there’s 40,000 people in the county and we’re only 15,000. So, they should get the most of it,” Mayor Tewalt reasoned.

Vice-Mayor Sealock then explained the above-referenced “unit” split as based on a count of 5,000, with 5,000 divided into the town population three times and the county’s eight. Hence, the 8-3 “unit” or 73%-27% population-based divide of the money.

“Well, Mr. Mayor you asked us if we wanted yes or no on it – and my answer’s no,” Gillespie responded, unmoved by the numbers or the population-based distribution formula originating at the federal level with the CARES grant program.

Tederick said he believed the County had received the funding within the previous two weeks, but that Tewalt and Sealock’s presentation was the first he had heard of a distribution proposal developed on the County side.

“Well, I think they just put it together today,” the mayor replied.

As the “our money, our plan, our rules” momentum built on council, Lori Cockrell did voice a word of caution Monday night, telling her council colleagues, “I don’t want to say, no, we don’t want any money.”

Not so fast, cowboys – council’s newest member, appointed Lori Athey Cockrell who filled Tewalt’s seat after his election to mayor, urged caution against a blanket rejection of the County’s Coronavirus federal relief proposal.

“I understand the ask, I’m not offended by it; it makes sense why they’re asking. Maybe even the dollars could end up making sense when we see it spelled out,” Jacob Meza added. One repeated complaint voiced was the absence of more written documentation to accompany the mayor and vice-mayor’s explanation of the proposal, as well as the absence of a county official to answer questions.

Cutting nose off to spite …

Discussing the County proposal and an initially suspicious and negative reaction from several councilmen with Farrall later Tuesday afternoon, he reiterated a point to this reporter he made earlier to the county supervisors. That point was that the joint relief aspect of the County proposal could actually see an additional benefit to in-town businesses and/or citizens as recipients from both governments to whom they pay taxes as dual town-county citizens or commercial entities.

“You’ve got a 50/50 (split) with $1.75 million. I assume that could be more spent in-town,” Supervisor Tony Carter observed of the joint aspect of the county proposal.

A little quick calculating indicated that if the Town and its recipients were the potential beneficiaries of half of the jointly administered money ($870,000) and the Town got a flat 27% or three “units” of the other $1.75 million ($473,000) to do with as it pleased within documented CARES guidelines, their total take would be $1.34 million, some $400,000 more than taking their 27% share of the entire $3.5 million ($946,000).

Could a council rejection of the County’s CARES Coronavirus pandemic relief proposal actually cost town recipients as much as $400,000? It seems a possibility, several on the County side have stated.

“Logically, if the Town would think about it, town business might benefit better from this model … they may get more money for town business in a joint pot, than saying ‘give me my little slice and I’ll see you’,” Farrall replied to Carter’s observation.

Fifteen minutes into the work session that led to a discussion of the anticipated third party roles of the EDA (County) and Chamber of Commerce (Town) acting as distributors of funds to accommodate state prohibitions on charitable giving by municipal governments. That discussion included difficulties created by the Town’s choice of hostile, shoot-for-the-moon civil litigation, rather than good faith negotiations with the EDA.

‘Equitable’ – dueling perspectives

County Board Chairman Mabe also observed that while town officials might consider “equitable” a 50/50 down the middle split, giving each municipality roughly $1,752,000 million of the $3,504,164 federal CARES funding to the County, it wouldn’t be based in the reality of the program guidelines.

“That could be what they want,” Mabe warned his colleagues.

Who are those masked men & women? – County Board and Joint Coronavirus Emergency Management Team Chair Walt Mabe, hands extended bottom right, told his colleagues several councilmen’s complaints about a County relief distribution proposal appear based solely on a desire for unilateral control of a larger piece of the federal financial pie.

Farrall responded by noting such a perspective did not fit the definition of “equitable” as it applied to the County.

“I would dismiss any talk of saying 50% down the middle. Because that is in no way equitable to the County; nor is it how the funds were generated in the first place,” Farrall said drawing immediate agreement from Mabe and Supervisor Delores Oates.

Farrall continued to note that in counties with smaller town municipalities that rely on their county governments for essential services like schools, parks and recreation, and emergency services, the CARES “equitable” formula of sharing can go beyond population considerations alone.

“In a county that has these smaller towns, it’s not just a straight population (equation) because those smaller towns are dependent on the county for many things they don’t have to pay for. So, back to Jason’s point, this is where in the language of the CARES Act we have to determine an equitable distribution where it is not 100% population.”

“Jason’s point” was County Attorney Jason Ham’s earlier observation, “It depends on how you define the word ‘equitable’.”

Ham continued, “Warren County has agreed to equitably share with the Town, and so you could determine equitability to be based on population. But then you also have to consider that, you know, Rick here is going to save somebody’s life if they’re in a burning house in the Town of Front Royal,” Ham said of Farrall’s employer, the County Fire & Rescue Department that serves county residents both inside and out of the town limits (and a HEART-felt God Bless Them for that, seven-plus years down the road from one in-town medical emergency survivor).

“And his salary is paid by people who live in the Town of Front Royal, as well as those in Warren County. It’s however you define equitable, and that’s one way to do it,” Ham concluded of a population-and-services formula tied to the federal CARES Act money.

Not on immediate call to run into a burning building to save anyone, the County’s Deputy Emergency Manager continued, “So somewhere between the pure population split and (the cost of shared services) you could negotiate if you will. But at the end of the day it’s up to the County to determine that split. We’re just trying to be nice …”

At Tuesday work session, County Deputy Emergency Management Director Rick Farrall, standing to left, explained procedural aspects and financial responsibilities of the County’s receipt the previous day of $3.5 million in federal ‘CARES’ Coronavirus relief funding.

“At the end of the day we’re all at the benefit of something we didn’t have,” board Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers injected, adding, “I mean to fight over it at this point – you’ve got to do this a way it makes sense.”

“Well, the County’s not fighting it. The decision just has to be made between the Town and County. And what it amounts to now is just the split. We’ll work out the details, we’ll have to,” Mabe observed.

Noting the earlier observation that the mayor’s presentation of the county proposal to council “didn’t go well” Oates asked, “What were the objections, I’d like to understand that.”

“Just, they want more money. It’s as simple as that. They don’t agree,” Mabe replied, as Oates finished his sentence, “With the equitable solution we’ve come to.

“Okay,” Oates added of her developing understanding of the situation.

For now, listen to and watch the above-described County business in this virtual recording courtesy of Warren County Board of Supervisors:

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County Emergency Services and Sheriff talk equipment and personnel costs

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Money, law enforcement, and emergency services were at the forefront of an eight-item work session agenda of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, Tuesday night, August 11.

First up was good news from County Fire & Rescue. That news was the receipt of a federal FEMA grant in the amount of $725,454.55 to achieve a total of $854,427 for state-of-the-art breathing apparatuses for department personnel responding to fire and other emergency situations where not only smoke, but contaminated air may be an issue.

And while a local match of $128,972.47 will be required for the full purchase of 114 SCBA units and a total of what appeared to be 428 associated pieces of associated equipment, as noted in earlier discussion of the grant application process, the department was facing the necessity of acquiring the equipment in order to maintain certified safety standards to replace now obsolete and dysfunctional equipment with an approximate million-dollar price tag on it.

So Emergency Services Chief Richard Mabie and Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico, along with the supervisors, gave a BIG shout out to County Grant Facilitator Brandi Rosser for her work in acquiring the grant funding for the County.

Above, with the assistance of Fire Marshal Maiatico, Board Vice-Chair Cullers tries on one of the apparatus backpack assemblies prior to Tuesday’s meeting. Below, a sampling of the new equipment awaiting presentation to the board Tuesday night. Royal Examiner photos by Roger Bianchini, video by Mark Williams.

The variety of equipment, some of which was on display before and during the work session, and financial variables were dizzying as outlined in a power-point handout. However, the bottom line was simple as Board Vice-Chair and expenditure “conscience” Cheryl Cullers pointed out in citing the difference between $128,000 and a million dollars to become industry-standard compliant in equipping the County’s emergency service personnel adequately to perform their crucial function to this community.

“I just want to say thank you again to Ms. Rosser and you guys … for all the work. This is a big relief,” Cullers said.

To accommodate an August 30 deadline for official acceptance of the grant, the matter was placed on the August 18th meeting agenda for board approval.

Zoning Administrator Joe Petty explains the requested ordinance amendments.

Following two reports by Zoning Administrator Joe Petty on suggested adjustments to county codes on first, storage of inoperable recreational vehicles and other equipment and then on regulations of signage, including political, to accommodate a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning signage content, it was Sheriff Mark Butler’s turn to address operational costs, but this time without the assistance of federal money.

Sheriff Butler implored the supervisors to provide the necessary funding, cited at a total of $130,000, to allow his communications staff to be expanded by two positions and that his existing staff be given a two-step pay increase.

It would be an increase that would allow communications or dispatch, staff to be paid at least as well as Butler noted recent local classified ads indicated, a “Sheetz clerk with no experience” at clerking, much less at the crucial law enforcement job of fielding citizen calls in often stressful situations and directing field officers into potentially volatile or life-saving situations.

The sheriff also pointed to impacts on his communications department, which he noted handles all 911 calls for the county, from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

Sheriff Butler makes his case that communications/dispatch officers should be paid more than convenience store clerks.

“COVID has definitely changed the way we do things. The problem with communications is you have an area where so many people are sitting right on top of each other. So, if one person comes in ah, symptomatic, they’re gone for three days because we don’t do tests. So that really shook us so bad that we can’t man our staff, that we took deputies off the street to man communications,” the sheriff noted of a personnel juggling act that ensued.

As for existing communications staff salaries, Sheriff Butler said, “These individuals are trained to actually handle these calls. So, we want the best communications officers we can find. Well, if I go through the pay scale it would shock you to hear that someone with six years in our agency and considered one of our best communications officers, makes about $33,000 a year.”

The agenda summary accompanying Butler’s request stated that “the average dispatcher makes $15 an hour which is the same as minimum wage in most states”. Butler asked the board to raise the pay step for dispatch officers from 5 to 7 at a maximum annual budget hike of $30,000 per year. Butler said that increase would make his department competitive with surrounding jurisdictions, most prominently Front Royal and Fauquier County.

The two additional, full-time positions were requested at a maximum annual budget increase of $100,000.

“I’d love to have four, but I need two,” Butler told the supervisors of the request for additional staffing. “I’m not asking you to break the bank – I’m saying pay them more than the starting salary at Sheetz,” the sheriff reasoned.

With an already packed, 10-public hearing August 18 meeting agenda, the board agrees to forward the request to its September 1st agenda.

See these discussions, as well as Zoning Administrator Petty’s two ordinance amendment summaries and end of meeting board discussions of a list of 40 “goals” and creation of a committee to deal with countywide broadband communications issues in this Royal Examiner video:

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Redundant or not, council moves toward approval of new gun carrying resolution

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At Monday’s work session following its August 10th regular meeting, council, the mayor and staff went round and round, not over the advisability of approving a new 2nd Amendment Resolution that would essentially continue a generally unknown lack of any ordinance ban on the carrying of firearms in municipal buildings, offices or public spaces utilized for special events or festivals, but over its redundancy.

According to a summary by Town Attorney Doug Napier, that redundancy is two-fold: first, in that there is no current town code prohibiting such legal concealed or open carrying of firearms into Town public spaces; and second, that following County approval in December 2019, in February the Town passed a “2nd Amendment Sanctuary Resolution” indicating the intent of not prohibiting a very broad interpretation of the 2nd Amendment right to not only own guns without a background check and red flag law prohibitions, but to bear firearms as a gun owner sees fit to.

Mayor Tewalt, foreground, and FRPD Chief Magalis listen as Town Attorney Doug Napier explains what currently exists and doesn’t exist concerning the carrying of firearms into local government facilities in Virginia. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mark Williams

The impetus for the new resolution request submitted by Paul Aldrich last month was the enactment of new state legislation passed by the Democratic Virginia General Assembly majority, that went into effect July 1. As previously reported, that legislation for the most part bans the carrying of firearms into state government facilities, offices, meetings, and spaces and allows municipalities to follow suit if they see fit.

“Before then, they never really said what localities could do other than that localities can’t pass laws other than what the General Assembly told them they could do – they didn’t really tell localities what they could or couldn’t do,” Napier explained of the nuances of a Dillon Rule state where local governmental entities cannot enact laws not enabled by existing state law.

However, he continued to describe a previous “mish-mash of laws all around the state” further noting that he and Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis, who was present as meeting security, recalled that some time ago both Warren County and Front Royal had posted “No Firearms Allowed” signs in their government buildings – “But that was quite a while ago,” Napier observed.

During previous council discussion Napier had observed that most people locally believed a firearms ban in local government facilities still existed, as they do at the Warren County Courthouse which has a heavy security-check presence of Sheriff’s Office bailiffs at a metal-detecting single building entrance with no weapons of any kind being allowed in.

No question was raised whether that ongoing courthouse ban could be considered a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, a seemingly logical conclusion of the stance there can be no legal state or municipal limiting of that federal Constitutional right to own and bear arms.

Firearms are not allowed in courthouses – is that a violation of our 2nd Amendment rights?

There was also no discussion of the potential such firearms reinforcing action might negatively impact community tourism if it becomes widely known among citizens with public safety concerns about random or directed mass shooting violence, that the Town of Front Royal has endorsed the carrying of firearms in public spaces and at events without any regulation. – But who wants those worrisome, liberal Northern Virginia tourists anyway, right?

Be that as it may, the issue was raised why pass a resolution of legislative intent, that Napier explained carries no legal weight, that essentially reinforces an existing situation?

Councilman Gary Gillespie asked if approved, would this council’s resolution limit the ability of future councils to take a different stance.

The answer was “no”.

Gillespie then observed that he believed the initially approved resolution from February was “stronger” than the one now on the table.

Queried on redundancy or the relative merits of the previously approved and newly submitted 2nd Amendment resolutions, Aldrich replied, “The resolution I put forward to you was brought forth by the lawyers at the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL). It was brought forth to prevent, not only current, but future,” here Aldrich hesitated before observing his awareness of the changing face of elected bodies, before trying to draw a line between his previous, now approved resolution, and the one on the table about carrying in government spaces.

“The 2nd Amendment Sanctuary Resolution assures us that you will not enforce unconstitutional laws. This resolution puts forward that you will not enact any laws within the town that restricts.

It’s slightly different … enforcement versus enactment,” Aldrich assured the town’s elected officials.

Paul Aldrich, above, explains that Virginia Citizen Defense League (VCDL) attorneys wrote the resolution he presented to council ‘with the intent of challenging anything that goes through the state legislature’ on gun control while Democrats control the state legislature. Below, the council turns to listen to Aldrich’s explanation of why a non-legally binding resolution to change something that doesn’t currently exist is necessary.

While Aldrich admitted a future council as may be seated next year after the November election, could overturn this council’s action on the resolution, but still urged it be moved forward as suggested by VCDL attorneys.

“It was put forth with the intent of challenging anything that goes through the state legislature,” Aldrich explained of the adversarial relationship that has grown between the Democratic-controlled legislature and the VCDL and its membership.

“Our problem is we have an attorney and chief of police who say we really don’t need it,” Mayor Tewalt pointed out.

“I don’t think it would hurt to pass it anyway – why don’t we just go ahead and put it on the agenda and vote on it. It’s not going to hurt anything,” council’s man who would be mayor-elect as of the November election, Chris Holloway, offered.

Others agreed and the consensus was to move toward a vote at the upcoming council meeting.

Watch the Royal Examiner video of this discussion in its entirety, and other work session discussion, including agreeing to remove the electric car charger in the Village Commons/Town Gazebo area, which is experiencing software issues and appears to be down to one regular customer at taxpayer expense with other chargers now available in the community, Electric Department Director David Jenkins explained to council; Finance Director B. J. Wilson’s FY-21 Revenue report update; and the makeup of and a vacancy on the planning commission, prior to council’s adjournment to closed session to discuss its pending litigation with the EDA:

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Wait, where am I? A radical change of Town tone and focus 2 weeks later

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Following Town Attorney Doug Napier’s reading of the Roberts Rules of Order conditions on public and member conduct in critiquing proposed municipal business and actions, the August 10th Public Comments period and consequent staff and board reports went surprisingly smoothly. Gone was the staff report political posturing of July 27th and mayoral-council infighting over that posturing. In fact, one member, Thompson, would later apologize for her role in the previous meeting’s back and forth.

But even more surprising was council Virginia Beer Museum “family values” critic Jacob Meza’s expression of common ground with Beer Museum proprietor and local attorney David Downes’ remarks to council. Of course, those remarks did not involve events at the Beer Museum, but rather Downes plea that the Town partner with him as a local criminal defense attorney, as well as with Town and County law enforcement and the judicial system in creating a more proactive safety net for opioid drug addiction in this community.

Local defense attorney David Downes was before council Monday with a plea for proactive action to address the opioid epidemic he said has claimed nearly twice the county lives as the COVID-19 virus this year. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mark Williams

“We are dying in this town – I’m not referring to COVID where we’ve lost seven members of the community; I’m referring to at least 13 drug overdose deaths in Warren County this year alone,” Downes began, pointing to a total of 68 overdose calls reported to the regional joint drug task force, “20 in April alone,” he added, citing 25 defendants and over half a local court docket devoted to “drug-related charges”.

Downes bemoaned that fact that unlike the governmental COVID-19 pandemic reaction of emergency response planning, direction and precautionary guidelines at the state and local levels, no such commitment has been made in this community to an epidemic that has claimed twice the number of lives as the 2019 strain of Coronavirus for which millions of dollars of federal, state-administered aid is being made available.

Noting the current public focus on “marches, protests, petitions, referendums” Downes continued, “So, I must ask, do drug addict’s lives matter?

“I am here asking for your help before another 13 families” he hesitated, choking back emotion momentarily before continuing, “lose a loved one.”

Pointing to the closest drug detox center he said was in Galax, 250 miles away, Downes urged a commitment to bring such professionally administered treatment options to our community. Pretending the issue can’t or won’t ever reach you or your family or friend circles is no longer an option, Downes told council.

And some 20 minutes later, the meeting microphone went to Councilman Meza’s member’s report.

“I’d like to thank Mr. Downes for bringing up the drug epidemic. You know I’ve been on the planning commission and town council now for almost five-and-a-half years, and it’s something that I’ve heard discussion about but have yet to see any major initiatives taken, undertaken (stick with the first one in this context, Jake) in this community between both governing bodies and our law enforcement and community members. And I think there is a real opportunity for such committees to exist – 250 miles away is a long way, in addition to the drug epidemic and finding the resources available for those individuals.

“Behavioral health is another issue that our community faces and it faces the same statistical challenge of being about 200, 250 miles away for major centers of help. These are very important things that cripple citizens of our community,” the Valley Health administrative professional observed. “And I would be happy to have those discussions, with Mr. Downes and our law enforcement leaders on how we can work together and figure out a way to establish resources. Because it is an epidemic and it’s something that’s going to be tearing apart this town slowly but surely if we don’t get a handle on it.”

Okay, I am in “The Twilight Zone” right?

Previous philosophical and policy adversaries David Downes, above, and Jacob Meza, below, found common ground in a desire to improve this community’s services for citizens victimized by the opioid epidemic.

Setting an example

Talk about “Front Royal Unites”!! – Common cause between David Downes and Jacob Meza to a common good for this community? – Slap me hard (figuratively, not literally), and not with the butt of that gun council appears poised to resolve publicly that you are now going to be told you can openly carry into any Town office, meeting or public property festivals or events (see coming related story on Monday’s work session 2nd Amendment Resolution discussion).

Maybe there actually is the hope of compromises to positive community-wide ends in Front Royal and Warren County. If Jacob Meza and David Downes can substantively cooperate toward a common good – don’t drop the ball, guys – why can’t the rest of us on other issues of import to us all?

Watch this unexpected meeting of the minds on a crucial issue to this community – perhaps even more crucial than bikini-clad girls washing motorcycles behind the Virginia Beer Museum’s 6-foot Biergarten privacy fence and about nine parking spaces therein – in this Royal Examiner video of the business conducted at Monday’s meeting.

In addition to approval of a non-exclusive, 5-year contract on pole use for a fiber optics telecommunications system with LUMOS NETWORKS, Inc.; approval of a dedication agreement with First Bank on 594-feet of dedicated space to accommodate a “slip lane” at West 17th Street related to the Sheetz property access; and approval of a COVID-19 preparedness plan, that business included two other public comments speakers, Kelly Walker and Ina Kolesnik, raising the issue of whether the weekend walking mall idea has outlived its usefulness for the majority of Historic Downtown Front Royal businesses;

FR Unites Samuel Porter addressed his relationship to the Black Lives Matter movement and his organization’s activities locally.

also Front Royal Unites’ Samuel Porter’s update on his relationship to the Black Lives Matter movement and a seeming response to Downes’ earlier “focus on marches, protests, petitions, referendums” comment; and a familiar final speaker, Tom Sayre, promising to bring some “levity” I’m still waiting for the punch line to, to “what’s going on in our country and community”, including FOIA inquiries on local Town-County “back-channel” meetings on the Town-EDA dispute over the FRPD headquarters debt service payments.


Setting an example – David Downes and Jacob Meza


Front Royal Town Council Meeting – August 10, 2020

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Mayor takes aim at restoring order and discipline to council meetings

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The cover sheet for Monday evening’s (Aug. 10) Front Royal Town Council meeting contains an addition in BOLD text under item number 5, “Petitions and/or Correspondence from the Public”.

Referencing Robert’s Rules of Order by which many municipalities including the Town, conduct meetings, is printed: “Public speakers and Council Members must use the same civility, decorum, orderly behavior, relevancy of comments to subject at hand, and appropriate language in addressing Town Council as they would in addressing a Judge in a Court of Law. No profanity, vulgar, or sexist language, or irrelevant commentary, is allowed.”

It is followed by a notation that “Further Details found page 2 of this agenda.” Page two in its entirety elaborates with 6 bullet points on the guidelines referenced on the agenda cover sheet.

Mayor Tewalt has sought legal clarification on the rules of order governing tone and topic of public, member, and staff comments during town council meetings. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

Those points include acknowledgment of the mayor as presiding officer of council meetings, with authority to enforce the rules of behavior on both the public and council members; further noting that council members must address the mayor before speaking and confine their subsequent remarks “to the question before the body” avoiding “all personal or indecorous language.”

Bullet point 4 begins, “There can be no personal attacks,” adding that, “A speaker can condemn the nature or likely consequences of a proposed measure in strong terms, but under no circumstances can he attack or question the personalities or the motives of another member. The measure, but not the man, is the subject of debate.”

The thin political line

That’s drawing a very fine line, I thought, because often isn’t the motive of “the man”, the source of the measure at hand, as one might argue was the case in Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick turning his July 27th report on town business into a personal attack on Royal Examiner publisher and mayoral candidate Mike McCool? It was a report that essentially turned the manager’s report and council meeting into a perhaps subtle Chris Holloway mayoral campaign rally. And it was a “rally” that a council majority of fellow Tederick and Holloway County Republican Committee members, save Vice-Mayor Sealock, and even the one (Thompson) who isn’t, seemed perfectly happy to join, in attacking Mayor Tewalt’s efforts to stymie the political tone Tederick’s report and the meeting had taken on.

It appears while the staff is not specifically mentioned in the referenced Roberts Rules of Order, the mayor would be the presiding authority to control staff behavior in the same regard as public and council members.

However, bullet point 6 does elaborate, “Governmental bodies may enforce policies against personal attacks … so long as they do not use the personal attack policy as a pretext to squelch a particular substantive viewpoint.”

Elsewhere, bullet point 6 adds that “Federal court decisions have established” that to ensure the efficient conduct of governmental business and “to maximize citizen participation in the discussion” that “public policy” in this regard “override the speaker’s First Amendment rights of free speech.”

Well, this will be a fun one to see the enforcement-of debate in the likely not too distant future.

I found myself wondering at the impetus for this precautionary note on public and council behavior. Was it made in anticipation of a McCool reply to what had been said about him by Tederick on July 27, and how council had jumped on board with, as previously reported in the above-referenced story, that unfounded personal attack?

Will he want to respond to what was said about him by the interim town manager at the July 27th meeting? – Be polite, Mike.

Or perhaps was the mayor trying to head off a “Part 2” of any further in-house politicization of coming meetings?

I called Mayor Eugene Tewalt over the weekend to shed some light on the addition of the Roberts Rules of Order guidelines on public and council member behavior to Monday’s agenda.

“After the ruckus at the last meeting I asked Matt and the town attorney to put something together for me to read before the public comments,” the mayor explained.

I noticed the referenced Roberts Rules focus on public and council member behavior, but doesn’t reference staff, I told the mayor. So, would you as the meeting’s presiding officer, make the judgment call on staff behavior in this regard, I asked Mayor Tewalt.

The mayor replied that that was his belief, but he would check with Town Attorney Doug Napier for further elaboration on the staff adhering to the same behavioral standards as applied to the public and council members.

Town Attorney Doug Napier worked with Interim Town Manager Tederick in responding to Mayor Tewalt’s request for written guidelines on meeting conduct and behavior.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode of “As the Council Turns” in the coming Royal Examiner video and report on Monday’s meeting, as well as work session discussion of the 2nd Amendment Resolution before council seeking a commitment the Town will not follow the State General Assembly in limiting the carrying of firearms into governmental buildings, spaces, office and meeting rooms.

Mayor, council erupt over politicized interim town manager’s report

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How’d graduation go? Decreasing COVID deaths? And removal petition expense draw supervisors attention

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Board comments and questions revolving around a variety of financial issues were heard at the August 4th Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting, as was one apology concerning a previous complaint about pandemic-altered high school graduation plans.

“When I’m wrong I’ll admit I was wrong – and I was wrong on graduation,” North River Supervisor Delores Oates said during her member’s report after attending the Skyline High School graduation the morning of Saturday, August 1st, one day after Warren County High’s somewhat wetter one.

Oates said the football stadium parking lot-centered event utilizing the new Hawk tunnel and allowing family members to accompany their graduates for photographs was a rousing success and would likely lead to some permanent changes in the future, post-pandemic graduations – changes she called in some ways an improvement over traditional graduation ceremonies.

Delores Oates gave a shout out to Warren County Public Schools for their pandemic-altered graduation plan – ‘I was wrong’ she said of earlier complaints about a plan she was pleasantly surprised by. Royal Examiner Photos and Video/Mark Williams

“I have a senior. And I was disappointed that we were going to do drive-in graduation. I had no idea, however, of what they had planned to accommodate our family so that we could get up-close and personal graduation with our senior,” Oates began, adding, “In fact, it was better than conventional graduation. And I have to take my hat off to everybody involved with the planning and execution of the graduation.”

She then observed, “The irony of COVID is that through social distancing, we were able to get closer to our graduate. And, so I agree with Ms. Cullers that graduation likely will change because parents enjoy close-up and personal graduation. So, I would like to thank the school system for what they did to make it a memorable day.”

GO Public School Administrators – let’s give them a run through that Hawk tunnel too.

Have they risen?

Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter then began with a question revolving around another COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) impact on the community, an apparent statistical anomaly indicating a reduction in the reported number of COVID-19 deaths in Warren County.

“One of the questions I’ve seen – why have the numbers kind of gone down? I think at one point there were 8 deaths, then it was 7 and now it’s 6,” Carter noted of a decrease in fatality numbers.

And while Carter directed his question at Deputy County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall, present for a number of COVID-19 related agenda item reports, Board Chairman and
County Pandemic Emergency Response Team Chair Walt Mabe stepped in.

Board and Pandemic Emergency Management Team Chair Walt Mabe explained the county’s decreasing COVID-19 death totals. – No, it is not a supernatural phenomenon, just a point-of-residence statistical adjustment.

“I can do that,” Mabe said of shedding light on the reverse trend in fatalities. “When we have a death that’s actually reported, that death is reported in Warren County. After a period of time, we come to find out that, that person that died is really from Shenandoah County or from Page County or wherever. And when that’s found out, we adjust the numbers – ours goes down, theirs go up.
And it could work the opposite way,” Mabe explained of the nation’s nearly 160,000 pandemic deaths being tabulated by the home community, not the place where the pandemic victim died.

Queried by Mabe, Farrall concurred with this explanation.

We are still seated – at what cost?

Carter then segued into another item of personal and political interest to him, the June 23rd court order of dismissal of all portions of the grassroots citizen county board Removal Petition spearheaded by Bonnie Gabbert and others against the supervisors seated through 2019. Carter and Fork District incumbent Archie Fox, whose seats were not up for re-election in 2019, are the only two targeted supervisors over the EDA financial scandal still seated after the 2019 election.

Two of the targeted supervisors, former Chairman Dan Murray and South River’s Linda Glavis did not run for reelection in 2019, and a third, Shenandoah District’s Tom Sayre was defeated by new Chairman Walt Mabe.

During his member report Tuesday morning, Carter queried Interim County Attorney Jason Ham on the case status and total costs to the County and its taxpayers of defending board members against that recall petition. That cost was $48,500, Ham replied.

And as he explained in a June 24th letter informing the current and past board members of the court action of the previous day, Ham noted that the portion of the suit against the no-longer seated members had been “dismissed with prejudice” meaning it could not be re-filed. And while the “Order of non-suit” and “Dismissal without Prejudice” against Carter and Fox would allow it to be re-filed in six months, Ham wrote that from the conversation with Harrisonburg Special Prosecutor Michael Parker, “I don’t think that is very likely.”

Carter noted that such a removal petition based around what is thus far considered unintentional lapses of oversight allowing alleged criminal behavior of others has rarely if ever been upheld in Virginia. The courts have indicated a preference to let such non-criminal legislative matters be resolved by impacted citizens at the ballot box, rather in another governmental branch’s courtroom.

Supervisor Carter noted that he and colleague Archie Fox are no longer under the gun of a citizen Recall Petition, though at some cost to the county’s taxpayers.

Somewhat playfully perhaps, Carter wondered if a bill for the County Recall Petition legal defense expenses could be added up to be divided among the citizens who signed it seeking a judicial removal of local legislators for non-criminal behavior.

“And I assume there’s not a way … that the people who signed the petition, to send them a bill for 50 dollars each?” Carter asked.

Ham’s answer appeared to be that such a plan was not currently under consideration by him or his co-counsel on the matter.

“Anyway, I just thought I’d pass that information on,” Carter said in concluding that little legal-budgetary foray and notice of ALL those targeted by the Recall Petition’s survival of it.

View the Board of Supervisor meeting of August 4, 2020, in this related story.

Rockland area residents seek shooting ban for their neighborhood

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Rockland area residents seek shooting ban for their neighborhood

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Other than the Confederate soldier statue debate, the other primary topic during the opening public comments portion of Tuesday morning, August 4th, Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting was a proposed ban on recreational shooting in the Clearback subdivision off Rockland Road near the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club. The matter had been scheduled for a work session following the meeting and a closed session.

However, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter suggested adding advertisement for a public hearing on the matter to the meeting’s Consent Agenda to speed up movement on the issue. His motion to add the matter to the meeting agenda was unanimously approved. Consequently, four people urged the supervisors to approve the recreational shooting prohibition for their neighborhood. They, along with others they presented supporting signatures of, called what they are experiencing, not only a public nuisance but also a reckless and potentially dangerous one.

Speaking on the matter were James Harper, Jean Isner, Robert Aylor, and Bruce Benzie. While not present due to family health concerns, our contributing writer Malcolm Barr Sr. sent an email in support of the requested ban to the board through Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi.

With no parameters on public speaking time, the Board of Supervisors got an earful on two issues added to their August 4th agenda at the meeting’s outset. Thirteen of 14 speakers addressed either a requested shooting prohibition in Rockland (4) and the Confederate soldier monument relocation issue (9). With 14th speaker, Gary Kushner’s critique of COVID-19 CARES Act funding parameters and advice that the supervisors “not look to the Town for guidance on how to govern” the meeting’s opening public comments period lasted 80 minutes. Royal Examiner Photo/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mark Williams

“I compliment and support Mr. James Harper in his efforts to obtain relief from a long-standing irritant that has been thrust upon residents of the Rockland Historic Area of the county for several years – that of irresponsible target shooting on at least two properties on Rockland Road, one of them specifically affecting residents of the Clearback subdivision, the other detrimental to the operators and users of Shenandoah Valley Golf Club. I secured, as a matter of record, the signature of Richard Runyon, owner, and operator of the SVGC who joined most Clearback Subdivision residents in seeking relief from the incessant noise and possible danger that is imposed on us. Almost daily, the sound of rifle fire beginning as early as 10 a.m. can continue up to 90 minutes to 2 hours, then begin again in the late afternoon,” Barr wrote the board.

Harper opened the Public Comments telling the supervisors, “Several weeks ago on a Saturday we all heard automatic gunfire for over 5-1/2 hours. This was non-stop gunfire,” Harper said of one obtrusive example of what has become a regular situation for area residents.

“Years ago this was farmland, now it’s a neighborhood. Is it fair for two houses to disrupt the neighborhood?” Harper asked the board before presenting a list of signatures in support of the shooting ban for the subdivision area, including from former supervisor Ben Weddle, former town councilman Kermit Nichols, and as Barr noted in his email, SVGC principal Richard Runyon. Harper told a story told him by Runyon when Harper first arrived in the area to introduce him to the shooting issue.

“He told me they were hosting a wedding, and they went across the street to ask them to stop shooting while the wedding was going on because it was an outdoor wedding. And they said ‘No’ and kept on shooting. That’s what we’re dealing with,” Harper told the supervisors.

“I ask you to put yourselves in our shoes during this discussion,” Aylor added, “The pop-pop-pop-pop-pop is loud, it’s annoying and it’s disrespectful … Some of us have pets and it’s annoying to them as well.”

Of one neighbor’s nearby pasture land, Benzie said, “Her cattle go absolutely ballistic when they hear that weapons fire. It’s just amazing.”

Of the potential of danger to neighboring properties, Benzie referenced a report he had heard about a “six-year-old child” being wounded under similar shooting circumstances in Middletown over the past weekend.

During his opening remarks, Harper said inquiries to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office indicated there was nothing law enforcement could do until a County code change added the neighborhood to those where such shooting is prohibited as a public nuisance and danger in a residential area.

That puts the ball in the Supervisors’ court just as both the County and Town have been approached about passing resolutions not to join the state government in imposing restrictions on firearms being carried into government offices, properties, and meetings. Maybe the cited Rockland offenders will bring their “automatic” or semi-automatic weapons to the coming public hearing to illustrate why their use shouldn’t be restricted.

The Royal Examiner video of the August 4, 2020 meeting is in two parts:


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