Downtown business owners gathered for a third and final time Thursday evening, February 13, with Town staff and Envision Meeting Facilitator Chips Lickson to finalize recommendations on future guidelines for downtown events requiring the closing of portions of, or the entirety of, the East Main Street business corridor and Village Commons area. Majority consensuses had been established on preferred criteria at the previous meeting.
So, early Thursday evening at the Villa Avenue Community Center, as County Fire Fighters responded to a call at the Villa Avenue apartments across the street, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick led the 15 businessmen and women present through a review of those preferred criteria established January 30. Also present were Mayor Gene Tewalt and wife Juanita, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, Town Administrative Assistant Tina Presley, Town Police Chief Kahle Magalis, and toward the meeting’s end as her public-school event in an adjacent meeting room ended, Councilwoman Lori A. Cockrell.
Tederick found himself on the less contentious ground than three days earlier when 20 citizens heaped criticism and sometimes personally-pointed questions his and council’s way regarding the town government downsizing plan emanated from his office as part of the Town’s FY 2021 Budget process. But perhaps that’s what happens when you invite impacted citizens to participate in the process prior to its implementation, rather than simply spring sweeping changes their way unannounced and un-publicly commented on prior to the dropping of the municipal administrative hammer.
Other than several clarifications regarding the length of events related to partial area closings to vehicular traffic; methods of accessing crowd sizes and adjusting to unexpected influxes of people; funding splits related to Town-sponsored or co-sponsored events, those previously established criteria were verified without much discussion. It was established that during major festivals and events access to Main Street and its business community remained open to the public without charge; that tickets were purchased, for example, to facilitate the ability to participate in wine or beer purchases during the Wine & Crafts Festival or other events where alcohol was being served.
However, ticket distribution at entrance points was discussed as a way to establish accurate event headcounts of the crowd size.
Among the recommended criteria on the front end, or the “Application” process were:
1 – a 50/50 split in operational costs between the Town and the event organizer;
2 – provision of actual financial results compared to event budget projections and actual attendance versus what had been projected for the event;
3 – no restrictions on the closing of the Village Commons parking lot for necessary event space;
4 – no limit on the number of events a specific organization can have in a given year;
5 – applications may be submitted to the Town at any time during the year, and first-time events must give a substantive attendance estimate.
Responding to a question, Tederick appeared to agree that in the case of Town-sponsored events, the Town would be responsible for 100% of event costs. During the discussion of costs, it was established that the Warren Heritage Society, not the Town, was the sponsor of the Festival of the Leaves, and carried its own insurance for the event.
Attendance criteria for Main Street or Village Commons parking area closings, agreed upon by an “overwhelming majority” and the police chief on January 30:
1 – less than 750 people, Main Street and the parking lot stay open;
2 -750 to 1500 people, the full parking lot should be closed; and “between 1500 and 5000” people, Main Street can be closed.
There was additional discussion on how much of East Main Street might be closed for different sized events and how vendor booth placements should be regulated along Main Street so that certain businesses are not always the ones being blocked from view. It was also agreed that vendors should not be allowed to set up or store goods so that the sidewalk would be blocked. And it was agreed that the organizer should be responsible for vendor compliance with that condition.
As for the criteria for “Closures” once application and attendance criteria are met:
1 – Main Street may be closed all day providing all other criteria are met;
2 – 5000 was the “magic” attendance number to close Main Street all day;
3 – both Main Street events and full closure of the Village Commons parking lot is limited to twice a month;
4 – but there is no limit to the Town permitting partial closure of the Village Commons parking lot.
Another topic raised was how to balance date priority between regular events with what was termed “once a decade” or “once in a lifetime” events such as a bike race or other special events that might include a run through downtown Front Royal. It was observed that such special events were likely not to be last-minute applications, so there should be sufficient time to figure a way to accommodate conflicting events of that nature were they to occur. The likely outcome appearing to be which event could more easily accommodate a date change.
In response to a discussion of unexpected situations, like a larger than anticipated crowd developing or other situations impacting public safety, Tederick observed that the town manager “or his designee” should have “a certain amount of discretion” to deal with evolving situations.
Tederick said final copies of the Envision Report established from the three meetings would be available to the public through his office.
See the discussion of the recommendations that will be made through the town manager’s office to council regarding the application and operational criteria by which future downtown events and festivals will be judged and implemented, and any necessary town code changes guided, in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Liaison Committee ponders drug abuse committee logistics, solid waste disposal costs, and ongoing projects
Town and County officials reviewed a number of projects at the Front Royal-Warren County Liaison Committee meeting of Thursday, October 22nd. Those included early stages of formation of a joint municipality and law enforcement committee to work more proactively to stem the tide of drug, particularly heroin and opioid abuse in the county; adjustment of Town payments to the County on its solid-waste disposal to reflect current costs to the County; the status of implementation of Building Inspection software to facilitate online applications and payments; recent Development Review Committee discussion of Town and County projects; and two County projects ongoing inside the town limits.
Adjusting the name of the currently referenced “Drug Task Force Committee” to more accurately portray its joint civilian-law enforcement mission of education, prevention and rehabilitation of aspects of the community, particularly young people and other vulnerable groups, targeted by drug dealers was suggested. “Joint Substance Abuse Committee” was cited as a leading candidate for that renaming.
The committee by whatever name will meet at 8:30 a.m. this coming Thursday, October 29th at the Warren County Government Center in a room determined to be large enough to hold all involved parties.
The bulk of the Liaison Committee agenda packet – 16 of 20 pages – referenced background on the solid-waste agreement between the two municipalities dating to 2009. At issue is that the Town’s current $50.72 per-ton payment on the Commercial tipping fee on its commercial waste does not cover current costs incurred by the County under the old, agreed-upon 73.5% the Town pays on its waste.
Asked by Councilwoman Lori Cockrell what the bottom line of the dizzying array of numbers, various fees and percentages presented was, it was determined the Town needed to increase it’s per-ton payment by $1.28 per ton to $52 per ton. Cockrell then asked what the yearly tonnage of Town commercial waste handled by the County was.
The answer, 518 tons per year, meant that a year’s underpayment at the current rate equated to a County loss of $663.04 annually. It wasn’t clear if the rate adjustment would include compensating the County for any past losses, though as Cockrell observed, the annual total didn’t equate too much of the Town’s annual budget.
A County staff suggestion was that moving forward, the rates and any necessary adjustments be reviewed and made annually.
Among ongoing projects recently discussed by the Development Review Committee were a request for “60 apartments on East Main Street”, a proposed gas station-convenience store at the old Joe’s Steakhouse location on the town’s Southside at South Royal and Criser Road intersection; and the November 1st reopening of the thermal shelters offered to the community’s homeless through the cold weather at the County’s Health and Human Services complex on 15th Street in the old middle school building.
Cockrell, representing the Town with Mayor Tewalt and Gary Gillespie, pointed out that an inquiry had been made about the potential of adding locker space where homeless could keep their possessions during the day.
Interim County Administrator Ed Daley also observed that it was believed the 18 to 24 maximum thermal shelter accommodation at the site might not be enough for the anticipated number of homeless needing winter accommodations in the coming years. The possibility of establishing an alternate site that could both accommodate increasing numbers and provide lockable space for their possessions might be necessary long-term was discussed without a pinning down of a potential location.
See these discussions and others in this exclusive Royal Examiner Liaison Committee meeting video:
Baugh Drive warehouse rental lease approved; EDA looks toward a ‘Strategically’ consistent future
The EDA Board of Directors met for their regular monthly board meeting, Friday, October 23. Following a one-and-a-half-hour Closed Meeting the Board approved the following motions:
- Approved a 3-month lease agreement with Dollar Tree Distribution Inc. for parking lot space at 426 Baugh Dr. at $2,100/month;
- Approved a $90,000 settlement agreement with the heirs of Daniel McEathron;
- Approved giving board Secretary Greg Harold authority to review and award a contract for mold remediation of the Avtex Building, as Executive Director Doug Parsons is away on personal leave/vacation.
Two additional actions were bookkeeping items introduced in the report of the Finance Chair Jorie Martin. Both motions were unanimously approved: a/ to eliminate the EDA Rent account at Atlantic Union and transfer all monies to the EDA Cash-Operational account. b/ To recode specific payments made by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission as Note Receivable payments, as they were previously recorded and deposited incorrectly to the EDA Rent account at Atlantic Union. These payments will be deposited in the EDA Cash/Operational account.
The remaining portion of the meeting was devoted to Director Jim Wolfe and his review of the results of the Strategic Planning conference held October 9-10. He appreciated all of the conversations and involvement by all of the attendees which led to the development of draft goals for the EDA. He reported that he’ll be assigning specific topics for further research to the other Directors with the goal of having a draft Strategic Plan at the next regular board meeting on December 4.
EDA settles civil claim against McEathron estate for $90,000
Following an hour-and-thirty-five-minute closed session on a variety of topics that opened its monthly meeting of October 23, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors approved a motion agreeing to a settlement with the estate of late Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron.
The settlement amount agreed upon between the EDA and McEathron’s widow and two adult children is $90,000. McEathron was linked to the EDA financial scandal due to his partnership in former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s DaBoyz LLC real estate company. In the EDA’s civil litigation initially filed in March 2019, McDonald is accused, among other things, of unauthorized moving of EDA assets to her own benefit through her real estate companies DaBoyz and MoveOn8. Still Sheriff at the time, McEathron along with McDonald and the two real estate companies, were on the initial list of civil case defendants.
After taking early retirement effective May 1, 2019, just over a month after being named a co-defendant in the EDA civil litigation, the county’s long-time sheriff was found dead on his Bentonville property 28 days later, May 28, from an apparent suicide. Some questions about the death arose after Sheriff’s Office personnel, ostensibly alerted by McEathron to his planned suicide by phone, removed the body from the scene where it was discovered in proximity to an expended firearm before the Virginia State Police, the EDA criminal case investigating agency, was notified of the death.
On Friday, EDA Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, who made the motion to approve, addressed the McEathron Estate settlement prior to the vote.
“Mr. Chairman, I want the community to know that the EDA has negotiated in good faith for this settlement for a long time. This is something that we’ve taken very seriously; this is something that we have called back and forth with, with our attorneys and the estate’s attorneys. While we feel there are certain risks and rewards with these situations, I think the EDA is comfortable at this time that we have done the best that we can for the community and that it’s time to put this matter behind us as the motion is written,” Harold said.
Thank you for that,” Board Chairman Jeff Browne responded. There was no other comment prior to the vote on Harold’s motion, seconded by James Wolfe, which then passed by a 4-0 margin of the members remaining after the closed session, the above three and Tom Pattison. Jorie Martin and Melissa Gordon were present for the 8 a.m. convening of the meeting into closed session but had left to other commitments prior to the closed session’s 9:45 a.m. conclusion.
The motion on approval of the settlement read into the record by EDA Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson states in part, “Whereas the Front Royal-Warren County EDA has certain claims against Daniel McEathron; Whereas the EDA and McEathron’s heirs desire to resolve any claims that may exist between them; Now therefore be it resolved the chairman and the secretary of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA Board are authorized to enter into an agreement … (with those heirs) for the purposes set forth in this resolution which agreement shall provide for the payment of $90,000 dollars to the EDA …”
The motion adds that if any FOIA request are received by the EDA related to the settlement, McEathron’s widow or her attorneys will receive notice of those requests having been made.
As initially reported by former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw, McEathron and McDonald’s first transaction in DaBoyz dated to October 2016 and the pair purchased a total of $2.8 million of real estate between then and 2019. The LLC was involved in a number of transactions cited in the EDA civil litigation filed to recover allegedly misdirected assets, including a mysterious one in which a property was bought and sold back to the owner a month later at a loss of $600,000.
A number of McDonald and her two LLC’s existing properties were frozen by the court early in the civil case process. However, civil claims against McDonald assets have been complicated by her recent filing of bankruptcy, which put her assets under control of the Harrisonburg-based bankruptcy court.
The EDA civil litigation has grown to 24 human and business entity co-defendants, with total claims, actual and punitive, of about $25 million dollars. And as previously reported, the Harrisonburg Special Prosecutor’s Office has turned the criminal investigation into the EDA financial scandal over to the U.S. Western District of Virginia federal prosecutor’s office.
A non-agenda topic dominates the supervisors’ attention – is it too late for compromise on Confederate statue?
What appeared to be a fairly routine agenda of the Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, October 20th ended up being anything but. The first sign that something might be up was a nearly full Warren County Government Center parking lot with perhaps 15 people talking and scattered about outside 15 minutes prior to the open meeting’s scheduled 7 p.m. start.
While there were six public hearings scheduled, none appeared to be of a contentious or controversial nature that might draw such a crowd. And a six o’clock closed session to discuss committee, board, and EDA personnel matters; personal property assessments; and even the Front Royal Golf Club management contract, wouldn’t likely be pulling such numbers in.
“Just waiting for the meeting to start,” was the response to a “what’s going on” query by this reporter. And about three minutes after that meeting start as the 60-minute opening public comments portion of the meeting began, it quickly became apparent what the crowd was there for – the courthouse grounds Confederate soldier statue debate.
To the caucus room front side of the meeting room, a four-person contingent was seated with Front Royal Unites principal Samuel Porter, who was a day or so off a social media spat with Front Royal Unites co-founding member and original organization president Stevi Hubbard’s 13-year-old daughter over her and her mother’s separation from the group.
Scattered throughout the public seating were some of those who had been outside, including at least one centrally located, colorful MAGA hat-sporting member, some familiar faces from recent Warren County Militia events including organizer Sam Haun, as well as two past public commenters in favor of leaving the statue in place, Richard Hoover and Gary Kushner.
Sixty-two minutes and 22 public speakers later, 17 of whom addressed the statue issue with a 13-4 split in favor of it remaining where it is, the meeting agenda moved past public comments to those six public hearing matters, before finishing up with board and staff reports, and approval of past meeting minutes, accounts, appropriations and fund transfers.
But it was the increasingly divisive expression of conflicting attitudes on the necessity or lack thereof for the removal of a memorial to the county’s citizens who went to war on the side of the Confederacy, some to die, all likely to be changed in some way forever, that put an imprint on the supervisors’ evening of October 20, 2020.
For that conversation, sometimes reasoned, sometimes not; occasionally reaching toward communication and compromise, at other times expressing deafness to any opinion other than one’s own; and at times even ominously threatening as to unrealized “consequences” of demanding what certainly that evening was the minority opinion for removal, was a reflection of where we are as, not only a county but as a nation divided as Election Day 2020 approaches.
Perhaps the most reasoned thing said on the statue topic was by fifth speaker Richard Hoover’s suggestion that the statue remain with other war memorials on the courthouse grounds, but that a statue to the county’s black citizens who were enslaved be added to memorialize their sacrifice next to the county’s memorials to those who sacrificed by going to war on the right or wrong side of history.
But as Hoover reached his point of reasoned compromise following an exploration of the nuances of local and national history, the strictly enforced three-minute time limit bell went off, cutting his reasoned compromise idea off as it was leaving his mouth.
Another speaker who appeared to be with the leave the Confederate soldier statue where it is contingent, Craig Anderson, failed to mention the statue at the podium, targeting what he called the “COVID mask thing” as a political hoax or “political fear thing” orchestrated, apparently by Democrats. Anderson asserted that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has “told us” that rather than the 220,000-plus deaths now attributed to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., the actual number was only 10,000 fatalities that the virus has been responsible for nationally.
But the statue wasn’t the only topic of controversy addressed during public comments. Perhaps the most aggressively personal comments delivered the supervisors’ way came from Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District management critic Nancy Winn. Winn railed at the supervisors by first names for a lack of attention to her submissions and expenditure on a lawyer to assemble evidence of what she feels were misappropriations of Sanitary District funds by the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF).
As the bell and Chairman Mabe noted her three minutes at the podium were expired, she continued to complain on what she sees as inaction by the board, again calling the chairman out by his first name as she returned to her front-row seat.
“Don’t tell me to shut up,” she said loudly, apparently directed her husband Dale Orlowske’s way before he approached the podium to support his wife’s assertions that Sanitary District money was spent in places it should not have been under POSF management.
POSF official Ralph Rinaldi later rose to tell the board that he and the POSF were prepared to present their side of the story at a date of the supervisors choosing. Board Chairman Mabe informed Rinaldi that he had been sent information that day on a date for the POSF presentation in response to Winn and Orlowske’s allegations.
If POSF critic Winn is there, that should be MUST SEE Royal Examiner TV.
This writer could continue to quote from the above-described exchanges but will just suggest you “get the popcorn” or a preferred snack and settle in for the hour-and-three-minute show as it transpired in this Royal Examiner video.
Then there is the rest of the meeting – erosion and sediment control ordinance updates to align with state law changes; Conditional Use Permit applications for flower-arranging classes at an Ag District farm (vote postponed to Nov. 4); a short-term tourist rental application; and two zoning modification requests by Frank Barnett Jr. and the Warren County Fair Association/Frank Brugh; and establishment of a small 14-lot Sanitary District at the Shannon Woods subdivision (public hearing recessed to Nov. 4) – but what an anti-climax, unless one of those applications was yours.
Council approves budget transfer on FRPD construction; remaining CARES Act distribution plan
In other business at its October 19 meeting, by a 5-0 vote, Meza absent, the Front Royal Town Council approved a Fiscal Year-2021 Budget Amendment allowing an “Interfund Budget Transfer” of $8,483,001.15 to facilitate payment on the United Bank loan on the construction of the new Town Police Headquarters. During the public hearing on the budget amendment, Paul Gabbert rose to tell council it was a transfer long overdue.
Gabbert also questioned council’s congratulatory “back slapping” on alleged savings of “millions of dollars” noting that with an unknown interest rate in 10 years when an estimated $4.78-million-dollar balance will have to be refinanced, exactly how much money will be saved or lost remains a long-term unknown. Gabbert also told town officials they should calculate contracted attorney’s fees related to the Town’s litigation against the EDA against those publicly bragged about savings.
“There are no back pats from the public,” Gabbert asserted of council’s choices of litigation with the recovering from financial scandal EDA and the two-year impasse over assuming financing on its police headquarters construction project.
Also, by a 5-0 vote, council approved “Option 1” of two options on the distribution of a remaining $309,058 in Phase 1 CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities) Act relief funds. The Town’s share of that first $3.5 million received by the County from the federal-enabled, state-distributed money was $1,276,558.
One apparent difference between the two options was a small percentage change in the “Additional Payout” category from 31.4% in Option 1, to 30% in Option 2 that appeared to reduce the “Estimated Chamber of Commerce Administration Fee” from $18,808 in Option 2 to $5,000 in Option 1. Contacted on those numbers, Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson said Option 1 would result in a lesser payment to the Chamber for its administrative work on the CARES distribution. He noted that the Chamber had offered to do the work at no charge, but that council felt some compensation was in order, choosing the $5,000 compensation on the Phase 1 work.
Consideration of a transfer of Contingency funds was removed from the agenda on a motion by Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock. Sealock indicated some questions about involved resources remained to be clarified. And council agreed to table consideration of the transfer pending more information.
Also, during the Interim Town Manager’s Report, FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis came forward for a promotion ceremony of Officer Zachary King to sergeant in the patrol division. His wife Jess, two children River and Tyler, and mother Dot were present for the brief ceremony during which Jess successfully pinned her husband’s new rank on his chest.
One local businessperson, Holly Leach, thanked the Town for its efforts on behalf of downtown businesses in the opening public comments period.
During his report, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick presented social media statistics, views, and “likes” from the past weekend’s Fall leaf season during which a promotional effort by the contracted Tourism marketing company Strategic Solutions by Trish brought what Tederick called “influencers” or people with social media posting sites and followers related to travel and tourism, to Town.
However, there were no numbers presented that indicated a direct correlation between revenue generation and the social media “influencers” posts, responses, and “likes” compared to past Fall season Tourism numbers. Though such statistics may only be known over time, when and if “likes” translate into visits, not only to our national and state parks but downtown and other tourism-related businesses as well.
And those results in hard business revenue numbers will have to be judged against past tourist season revenues for a final judgment on the “influencer’s” influence on tourism destinations.
Watch these discussions, ceremonies, and public comments in this Royal Examiner video:
Town Council urges Valley Health and Anthem to resolve cost impasse
In a final agenda item before adjourning to closed session Monday night, October 19, the Front Royal Town Council passed a Resolution urging regional medical provider Valley Health and insurance giant Anthem/Blue Cross Blue Shield to continue to negotiate to a mutually acceptable resolution on the existing impasse on costs associated with renewing their contract which expires at the end of the 2020 calendar year, December 31st.
The resolution on a motion by Lori Cockrell, seconded by Letasha Thompson, was approved by a 5-0 vote, with Valley Health employee Jake Meza who likely would have recused himself from voting, absent. There was no council comment prior to the vote, as there is an apparent community-wide consensus the two private sector health care entities need to resolve their new contract cost dispute.
As first reported by Royal Examiner contributing writer Malcolm Barr Sr. on September 28, (“Major health insurance carrier may quit Valley Health; health care costs may rise for many in 2021”) were the Anthem/Valley Health contract allowed to lapse it would impact as many as 70% of Valley Health patients, including government retirees and employees. The Front Royal Town Council resolution estimates an impact on “about 40,000 people in the Valley Health regional health care monopoly region” including those utilizing Warren Memorial Hospital in town.
Perhaps unhappily now for local governments, Valley Health is currently building a new Warren Memorial Hospital (WMH) enabled by a Town and County-approved $60-million-dollar loan through the County-Town Economic Development Authority covering a significant portion of the new facility off Leach Run Parkway’s estimated cost. The new hospital was already controversial due to the planned elimination of some services, most prominently a maternity/birthing unit.
Perhaps ironically, Meza’s reversal of previous recusals on the matter due to his employment status with Valley Health, enabled June 11, 2018, 3-1 vote (John Connolly dissenting) adding the Town’s approval of the EDA hospital financing to the County’s. With two councilmen, Morrison and Gillespie absent had Meza continued his previous recusals council would not have had a necessary voting quorum to proceed on the matter, at least at that June 11, 2018 meeting (“Birth Local’s last stand nets one ‘no’ vote on finalizing hospital financing”).
But back to the present, Monday’s resolution notes that many people carry Anthem as their medical insurance provider through their employers, locally including public school and local government employees.
The resolution also points to the ongoing threat from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic which it observes, “continues to threaten the livelihood and well-being of the Front Royal and indeed, the greater Warren County community … and would only be exasperated by the dissolution of the currently-existing Valley Health and Anthem partnership to provide quality, affordable, and in-network healthcare services to the residents and citizens of the Front Royal and Warren County community of many thousands of people.”
The resolution makes several references to Valley Health’s “de facto monopoly on many vital life-saving and critical health care provisions” in the region and cites “a moral, if not legal, fiduciary responsibility” to continue to provide its services “to residents within this geographic region” and place those Anthem-covered service costs “above the profits and pecuniary interests of Valley Health”.
The County is also considering its options should the impasse not be resolved as reported in our story “County considers options as Valley Health and Anthem insurance split” – and the supervisors have expressed a distinct preference for a resolution of the Anthem-Valley Health dispute to changes to its employee insurance packages estimated to see costs at least double.
So, will public pressure and municipal resolutions have a positive impact on what may be a high-stakes poker game between the Northern Shenandoah Valley regional health care provider and the national health care insurance giant?
Stay tuned – it’s only our health and sometimes lives on the line versus corporate and executive compensation bottom lines.
See the motion, vote, and other business and public comments to council that will be summarized in a related story, in this Royal Examiner video of Monday’s 29-minute open meeting: