On Monday, November 30, County Emergency Management Deputy Director Rick Farrall released the latest COVID-19 novel Coronavirus pandemic statistics for Warren County, the Lord Fairfax Health District of which we are a part, as well as state and national numbers. Since our last published report of Friday, November 13, less than three weeks ago, Warren County had recorded 174 new cases (to 859 from 685) and one death (to 26 from 25) attributed to the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus. The lone fatality over the 18-day period reduced the county’s percentage of deaths-to-cases to 3.03%, from 3.65% on November 13. But that remains higher than the statewide ratio of deaths to cases that has hovered between 1.7% and 1.9% over the past month, or the national ratio of 2% to 2.3% over the same period.
Below are the county, health district, state and national numbers – nationally over 13.1 million cases (up 2.8 million from 10.3 million) and 265,166 deaths (up 24,097 from 241,069) dating to November 13. The U.S. has consistently registered around 20% to 23% of the world’s COVID-19 reported cases and deaths with 4% of the world’s population.
Warren County COVID-19 Update November 30, 2020:
- Lord Fairfax Health District: As of today (per the VDH website), there are 6,357 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 208, Frederick 2,228, Page 593, Shenandoah 1,403, Warren 859 (61 are/were hospitalized, 26 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.03% total cases), Winchester 1,066); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
- Commonwealth: 3,326,327 total people tested (PCR only); 237,835 total cases [7.5% positive rate (PCR only)]; 14,619 total hospitalized; 4,062 total deaths (1.71%total cases).
- United States: As of November 29, 2020 at 1:32 PM, there are 13,142,997 total cases and 265,166 total deaths (2.02%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.
Current VDH Social Gatherings, and Holiday COVID-19 Related Guidance:
Congregate Living Conference Call:
- There are currently three (3) COVID-19 outbreaks at County congregate living facilities.
- Expect the NEXT Congregate Living (Long Term care facilities, RSW Jail, and WCPS) teleconference call to be Tuesday (3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.), December 1, 2020; invites and “Zoom” call-in instructions are posted, agenda to follow on the invitation.
COVID-19 Information as of November 25, 2020, at 5 AM:
- Lord Fairfax Health District: As of today (per the VDH website), there are 5,652 confirmed COVID-19 cases: Clarke 187, Frederick 1,885, Page 565, Shenandoah 1,318, Warren 782 (57 are/were hospitalized, 25 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.20% total cases), Winchester 915); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
- Commonwealth: 3,213,866 total people tested (PCR only); 226,300 total cases [7.5% positive rate (PCR only)]; 14,312 total hospitalized; 4,008 total deaths (1.77%total cases).
- United States: As of November 24, 2020 at 12:16 PM, there are 12,333,452 total cases and 257,016 total deaths (2.08%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.
viii. RSW Jail – VDH reports an “outbreak” at the facility, effective 10/19/2020.
- As of 11/11: Currently, the last inmate to test positive/symptomatic was on 11/11. The unit the inmate is housed on is expected to clear on 12/9.
- Note – all inmates/staff recovered from the COVID facility outbreak Friday, June 12; PPS complete.
ix. Warren County Public Schools – NSTR.
- Currently, 65 students absent with symptoms and 59 in self-quarantine. Staff – 18 staff absent with symptoms; 15 self-quarantined. To date, 3 students and 8 staff tested positive.
COVID-19 Information, as of November 18, 2020, at 5:02 AM:
- Lord Fairfax Health District: As of today (per the VDH website), there are 5,115 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 167, Frederick 1,646, Page 535, Shenandoah 1,225, Warren 724 (53 are/were hospitalized, 24 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.32% total cases), Winchester 818); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
- Commonwealth: 2,983,430 total people tested (PCR only); 208,833 total cases [7.1% positive rate (PCR only)]; 13,707 total hospitalized; 3,860 total deaths (1.85%total cases).
- United States: As of November 18, 2020 at 1:07 PM, there are 11,300,635 total cases and 247,834 total deaths (2.19%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.
COVID-19 Information, as of November 13, 2020:
- Lord Fairfax Health District: As of today (per the Va. Dpt. of Health website), there are 4,674 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 149, Frederick 1,427, Page 524, Shenandoah 1,144, Warren 685 (50 are/were hospitalized, 25 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.65% total cases), Winchester 745); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County). Royal Examiner Note: Since October 6 in Warren County that is an increase of 225 cases (from 460) and 12 deaths, up from 13 deaths over the first nine months of the pandemic, as what has been described as a “Third Wave” pandemic contamination progresses nationally.)
- Commonwealth: 2,864,009 total people tested (PCR only); 199,262 total cases (up 45,571 from 153,691 cases on Oct. 6); [6.5% positive rate compared to 4.8% positive rate Oct. 6 (PCR only)], 13,408 total hospitalized; 3,785 total deaths (up 482 since Oct. 6 – 1.90%of total cases).
- United States: As of November 12, 2020 at 12:16 PM, there are 10,314,254 total cases and 241,069 total deaths (2.34% total cases) attributed to COVID-19. (Royal Examiner Note: That compares to 7,436,278 cases (up over 2.8 million) and 209,560 deaths (up 31,509) since October 6.
Vice mayor appointment raises more partisan issues; mayor accuses EDA of ‘intentional’ delay of Afton Inn sale during January 11 meeting
Other than fend off angry public feedback on the appointment of Jacob Meza at their January 11 regular meeting, there were action items and other business for the Front Royal Town Council to address. One of those, the appointment of a vice-mayor reflected some of the same council dynamics displayed during the Meza comment and responses.
That dynamic was that if you’re not part of the political inner circle of the supposedly by Town Charter ‘non-partisan’ council majority, you are not likely to be favorably considered for elevation to positions of higher authority, as with vice mayor.
Straight out of national Republican political affairs and controversy into local, Scott Lloyd quickly nominated fellow county Republican Committee member Lori Athey Cockrell as vice mayor, seconded by Meza.
Letasha Thompson’s effort to nominate herself as the most senior remaining council person, as she noted was explained to her previously is a council ‘tradition’ for elevation to the vice-mayor’s seat, failed when Town Attorney Doug Napier told Mayor Chris Holloway that Cockrell’s initial nomination should be voted on prior to any other nominations. Cockrell’s appointment as vice mayor was then approved 4-2, with Joseph McFadden joining Thompson in casting dissenting votes.
The report of Mayor Chris Holloway was of particular interest as he accused the still legally Town-County Economic Development Authority (EDA) of having “intentionally delayed” the sale of the Afton Inn, which he continued to observe should either be re-developed or torn down soon.
Despite the fact the EDA has been trying to finalize the sale of the Afton Inn property to redevelopment group 2 East Main LLC for several months to allow further stabilization work and redevelopment to commence and has been blocked by the Town’s questionable claim of ownership that were it true, would still not net the Town any revenue from the sale, no one on council challenged the mayor’s description of the impasse. – Maybe it’s just that new member “knowledge gap” referenced by Councilman Meza, who had nothing to say on the matter either.
No EDA business was on the agenda, so there were no EDA staff or board members present to voice the EDA’s side of the story.
In another major agenda action item, council unanimously approved reducing the Town Planning Commission membership from seven to five. Cockrell asked for McFadden’s opinion, being the most recent planning commissioner elected to council. McFadden explained the commission has had a difficult time having full membership available for planning commission meetings. He added that the current commission membership “fully supported” the number reduction, leading to the unanimous vote of approval.
A one-item Consent Agenda was also approved unanimously. That item was approval of a $36,227 “sole source” contract with Applied Digital Solutions for an upgrade to the Front Royal Police Department’s call and radio recording equipment. The current equipment was installed in 2014. In the agenda summary Town IT Director Todd Jones explained the old equipment was on the verge of failing and was incompatible with new technologies linking all the department’s recording equipment.
With the contract coming in below the estimated $40,000 cost to upgrade, the contract was called a favorable one. There will be an annual maintenance cost of $3,400, staff noted.
And speaking of the police department, near the meeting’s outset Chief Kahle Magalis was present to present the department’s officer and civilian employee of the year recipients to council.
However, only one, Civilian Employee of the Year Hillary Wilfong, was present to receive the honor. Chief Magalis explained that Officer of the Year Sgt. Brian Whited was still on site of a major traffic incident that occurred earlier in the day.
That incident was the accident-strewn conclusion of the high-speed chase that went from the Riverton Area onto I-66 eastbound and back down John Marshall Highway to Leach Run Parkway and ending on Sixth Street near Manassas Avenue with about seven total cars involved in the accident that ended the pursuit of a juvenile driver arrested at the scene.
See all of these meeting actions unfold, including approval of next week’s Town-County Liaison Committee agenda and the report of Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission Director Brandon Davis, as well as Mayor Holloway’s report referenced above.
County Supervisors review VDOT issues, contracts, coming FY-2022 outside agency requests and public comment rules
On Tuesday afternoon beginning at 4 p.m. and continuing after a brief adjournment at 6 p.m., the Warren County Board of Supervisors held a work session to discuss, first VDOT issues entering the new year and later early FY 2022 budget items. Those items were requests of partner agencies, including Samuels Public Library, Northwestern Community Services, the Economic Development Authority, and County Health Department.
The EDA discussion included some reference to the ongoing $20-million legal dispute with the Town of Front Royal and how to approach any future work for the Town, should the Town desire it.
There was also discussion of meeting rules regarding the length of time devoted to public comments and how that should be addressed in the future, by code or meeting decisions by board members.
Also, on the agenda was a review of the parameters of several renewable contracts tabled for supervisors unaware of those contract dynamics and use and value to the county government.
New year, same public disconnect from their elected town officials
Negative public reaction to the appointment and seating of Jacob Meza by his four fellow county Republican Committee council members and council’s response to that reaction dominated the Front Royal Town Council’s first regular meeting of 2021. And while there was other business conducted, including acknowledgement of FRPD employees of the year and election of a vice mayor, that will be covered in another story.
Nine of 13 public speakers, 10 of 14 if you include one read into the record by Councilwoman Letasha Thompson from a citizen not present, took a hard line in criticizing, not only Meza’s change of heart in continuing his service on council after declining to run for re-election in November, but also at the four council members who voted for the appointment. Council’s lone non-Republican Committee member Letasha Thompson, cast the lone dissenting vote against Meza’s appointment, citing a preference for “a new face” to take the appointment.
And while one of those Meza supporting councilmen, Joseph McFadden, has posted on social media that he would not have made Meza’s nomination or voted for it had Town staff informed him of the Charter question concerning its legality, council’s overall reaction was unrepentant for the appointment. And even McFadden stood by his assessment that Meza was the best qualified candidate who applied, while the Town refuses to divulge the identities of those other candidates as protected from FOIA as a personnel matter.
But if McFadden, Scott Lloyd, Gary Gillespie and Lori Athey Cockrell see Meza as a “most qualified” candidate, the majority public perception expressed Monday night appeared to be “qualified at what”? The answer for many, including some who were or identified themselves as fellow Catholics or Christendom College alumni of Meza’s, was as a hypocritical agent of his employer Valley Health and a major player in other council initiatives that ran afoul of public opinion in recent years.
At the point of much of that negativity is Meza’s alienating much of his base, particularly in the huge local Catholic community, by his reversal of recusing himself from earlier votes or even work session discussion of approval of a past EDA board-facilitated loan to his employer Valley Health to help finance a maternity ward-less new Warren Memorial Hospital. That reversal came in front of several Valley Health executives as Meza’s vote was required to achieve the necessary majority for the required Town approval.
Of that vote, one speaker, Christa Marie Adanitsch, who noted she was a fellow Christendom College graduate, observed, “I noticed that you got a nice, big promotion after your vote that you did not recuse yourself in the big Valley Health vote. And I’m wondering if this is one of those shenanigan deals again where we’re coming up on,” at which point Mayor Chris Holloway intervened to halt the speaker as making a “personal attack” on the councilman, which is forbidden by meeting rules.
Adanitsch regrouped, attempting to make her point in a less direct manner.
“You did not recuse yourself in the deciding vote for the Valley Health deal when you had recused yourself every other single time. Okay, and now we’re coming up on the issue of the PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes fee) for Valley Health. And you were placed in this position, which was an unethical placement. So, I’m just wondering with your track record for gutting the things going on in this town, what you’re doing up here.”
Adanitsch explained her perception of Meza’s appointment as “unethical” due to a perceived conflict with the Town Charter’s one-year Chapter 6, Section 47 prohibition on the appointment of former council members back to council. And while that interpretation is in dispute by Town Attorney Doug Napier, non-attorney public opinion appears to agree with the conflicting legal opinion that it does apply because there has been no clear explanation why town legal staff believes council is not under its own “jurisdiction” since its appointment and Conflict of Interest investigative power would clearly seem to indicate such “jurisdictional” authority.
And as reported by Royal Examiner yesterday, a legal challenge of Meza’s appointment was filed in Warren County Circuit Court on behalf of one of the other candidates for that council seat Monday morning.
In the wake of Meza’s appointment, the evening’s first speaker Gary Kushner suggested Front Royal’s longstanding nickname of “Helltown” be changed to “Clowntown”. While noting he was not a town resident, Kushner said he chose to address the issue due to “sympathy” for the level of citizen concern about the appointment issue.
“There was much citizen concern about the chaos and divisiveness associated with the last council. And there was hope there’d be relief with a new majority. But alas, the new year just seems to be the continuation of controversies,” Kushner said, citing Meza’s appointment by his inner circle of council allies.
Kushner wondered at Meza’s decision not to run for re-election a bare two months earlier, exposing himself to the same level of public scrutiny other candidates did, including at least two, if not more, who applied for the vacant seat Meza now occupies.
“The councilman could have filed an application and run a campaign and been subjected to the same scrutiny as other legitimate candidates. But that didn’t occur. Instead, the prior councilman is again on the council via a slimy back door,” Kushner observed, adding, “I wonder how long ago that plan was hatched, and to what degree the infamous past interim town manager was involved.”
Lyrics to the 1960’s-‘70’s classic rock band The Who’s song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – “New boss, same as the old boss” – popped into at least one observer’s mind as Kushner’s, and subsequent public comments were forthcoming.
During his member report Meza presented a defense of his appointment, and his colleagues all referenced the issue at some point in their respective reports.
“I did want to say, first and foremost, thank you for the vote of confidence of council. And I was happy to fill the appointment seat and will continue to serve in that capacity as I have in years past,” Meza said in opening his remarks, before continuing to address some of the negative public comments he had heard.
One comment Meza did not address was Adanitsch’s assertion of his “big promotion” in the wake of his recusal reversal for the decisive vote of approval of Valley Health’s $60 million-plus hospital construction loan.
He began with a timeline related to his seeking the appointment. Referencing one public comment, Meza did note there was a December 2 legal opinion on the Town Charter’s relevant section to council appointments and the year’s delay sought. However, he pointed out that he did not submit his “Letter of Interest” in the appointment until December 18, over two weeks after that opinion was sought.
Of his interest in the appointment, Meza stated he wrote in his application letter that, “I was offering it as assistance to bridge the gap (till a November 2021 Special Election to fill the seat) for council, some of the knowledge gap that would be on council. But to feel no pressure in appointing me to council and pick the best person as they saw fit.”
And once the Charter issue was re-raised, Meza noted that following his January 4 appointment by council he had delayed his swearing in until earlier in the day Monday, so he could take his seat the evening of January 11.
On January 7, during that interim before he was sworn in, Meza said, “I wrote a comment to council in response to other emails. In an effort to demonstrate that I had, have no ulterior motives, if a majority of council regrets their decision to appoint me for another year, I’d be more than willing to decline the appointment. But I will not decline because of people lashing out false accusations against my character,” Meza said. He noted that a majority had not asked for his resignation, that only one member request had been submitted to him.
See the sometimes-volatile opinions expressed between the public and council over the Meza appointment in the video from the Town website recording of the meeting.
Complaint against Meza’s council appointment filed in Circuit Court
Acting on behalf of one of what is believed to be three other candidates than the one appointed to fill the vacated Front Royal Town Council seat of now Mayor Chris Holloway, attorney David Downes filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgement Monday morning, January 11, in Warren County Circuit Court.
The Complaint and accompanying Petition for Injunctive Relief filed by Downes for Paul Lauritz Aldridge lists the Front Royal Town Council and Jacob Louis Meza as defendants, with service to Town Attorney Doug Napier at Town Hall and Meza at a private address. The grounds for the filing echo the points made by Downes in a response to Napier’s Town Press Release opinion Town Charter Section 47 (Chapter 6) did not prevent Meza’s appointment, published last week in the Royal Examiner along with an accompanying story exploring the legal points at issue.
The complaint states, “This Plaintiff seeks to nullify the appointment of Meza, a former town councilman, as town councilman on January 4, 2021, as ultra virus (beyond the authority of) and unconstitutional, stay any and all (activities) in his official capacity as “councilman” by issuing a writ of mandamus to prohibit any appointments to him under the jurisdiction of the Town Council until after January 1, 2022.”
Asked about the legal weight of the Town Charter in the conduct of Town business earlier, Downes had equated it with the U.S. or State Constitutions that set the basis of legal codes at those levels of government.
Contacted by email Monday, Downes said he would pursue a judicial stay on Meza’s seating and participation in council business pending resolution of the case but was not sure such a court ruling could be achieved prior to tonight’s 7 p.m. town council meeting.
That meeting will be held at the Warren County Government Center under public seating and number restrictions due to the Phase 3 jump in COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic cases and fatalities nationwide and in Warren County and the Lord Fairfax Health District. It will be broadcast live on the Town website.
Perhaps if seated tonight Meza will have the opportunity to address what changed in his desire to continue serving on council between his fall decision not to run for re-election and the turn of the new year when time constraint and length of public service issues seem to have evaporated.
Also, on tonight’s council agenda is a move to reduce the number of town planning commission members from seven to five. Joseph McFadden’s election to council created a vacancy and recent work session discussion has indicated difficulty in achieving full participation of a seven-member commission. McFadden told Royal Examiner he had considered trying to serve on both town bodies to help fill the planning commission numbers, but had decided against it as stretching him to thin time-wise.
A full reading of the basis of the Complaint filed against Meza’s appointment is posted in the Royal Examiner OPINION section, other linked stories are listed below:
- The Question at Root of Legal Dispute over Meza Council Appointment
- Second attorney disagrees with town attorney interpretation of Town Charter on council appointments
- Meza appointment legality – it’s 2 to 2 as Town finds supporting opinion
- Attorney request Council’s consideration of memorandum regarding appointment of Jacob Meza
- Complaint Filed
Meza appointment legality – it’s 2 to 2 as Town finds supporting opinion
Front Royal, VA (January 11, 2021) – Monday, January 4, 2021 – Town Council appointed former Councilman Jacob Meza to fill the unexpired term of newly elected Mayor Chris Holloway. Soon after, concerns were raised that the appointment of Mr. Meza was in violation of the Town Charter Chapter 6 Section § 47. The Town Attorney, Doug Napier, Esq, and staff had previously researched the issue extensively and found the appointment not to be in violation of Town Charter.
“I heard the questions of the press, public, and council, and in the interest of complete transparency, I asked our Town Attorney, Doug Napier to get a second legal opinion on the matter” said Mayor Chris Holloway. Napier reached out to Attorney Robert Mitchell, Esq, to review the Town Charter, Virginia State Code, and the Town Council appointment.
Mr. Mitchell’s opinion found that that Mr. Napier’s interpretation of Town Charter Chapter 6 was appropriate. “I have reviewed the concerns of the appointment of Mr. Meza and my legal opinion is that Council can appoint Meza to fill the vacancy on Council until the next election in November 2021. Section §47 of the Town Charter does not preclude the appointment, as I do not believe council members are “under the jurisdiction of the council.” The provision would not make sense to be read to prohibit council from appointing a member of council to be a member of council,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell is widely acknowledged as one of the most accomplished and experienced attorneys in the Commonwealth of Virginia, with over 50 years of experience. He is the County Attorney for Clarke County, the Commissioner of Accounts for Frederick County and the City of Winchester and is selected as one of the approved attorneys for the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties to represent local government. Mr. Mitchell is very familiar with Municipal’s Charters and Codes, and the Code of Virginia. He holds an AV Preeminent rating for legal ability and ethical standard of 5.0 of 5.0, the highest possible peer ranking on Martindale-Hubbell.
Meza’s appointment will expire in November 2021 after a special election is held for the Town Council position.
If any member of the public or press has any further questions, please contact Todd C. Jones, Town Public Information Officer.
Second attorney disagrees with town attorney interpretation of Town Charter on council appointments
Since publishing the conflicting opinions of Town Attorney Doug Napier and local attorney David Downes, as well as a story looking at the root issue in dispute of Jacob Meza’s appointment to the council he had just left, Royal Examiner has acquired the opinion of a third attorney, this one with no dog in the fight. That attorney is Berryville-based Timothy Johnson, who has done past legal work for Royal Examiner parent company National Media.
Shown the published material during a mid-week visit to Front Royal, Johnson wrote Royal Examiner Publisher Mike McCool this (with bold in context) on January 7: “It was a pleasure to see you yesterday and was fortuitous that I was in Front Royal. I had a chance to look at the Meza issue: the charter itself; Virginia code; Napier’s press release; and David’s reply. I agree with David that Meza should not have been allowed to be appointed by the Town Council to the Town Council for most of the same reasons he presented, but I noticed something else that gives the argument further weight.
“Section § 47: No member of the council of the Town of Front Royal shall be appointed or elected to any office under the jurisdiction of the council while he is a member of the council, or for one year thereafter, except that the council may appoint one of the members of the council as town treasurer with all or any part of the duties, powers, obligations, and responsibilities of the town treasurer provided by this act. (1937, c. 44).
“I found that reference strange as I couldn’t help but wonder what other positions are ‘under the jurisdiction of the council’ that are electable positions. I went through the rest of the charter and the only other non-council position that I can see a person being elected to is the mayor. It’s clear that the mayor must be subject to the jurisdiction of the council as Section 8 provides in part: ‘In time of public danger or emergency, he may take command of the police, maintain order and enforce the law. Such course of action shall be subject to review by the council.’ Besides the mayor’s position, which is clearly under jurisdiction of the council, the only other electable position are council members – thus they too should be subject to themselves.
“Which brings up the other question of jurisdictional power: If town council is not under jurisdiction of itself, does that mean that if there were a conflict of interest or other problem involving a town council member that affects the town’s interests, that town council would be unable to exercise its powers under Section § 69?
“Section § 69: The council, mayor, and any officer, board, or commission authorized by the council, shall have power to make investigations as to town affairs and for that purpose to subpoena witnesses, administer oaths and compel the production of books and papers.
“Theoretically, a town council member who owns a business that engages in a transaction with the local government could trigger a conflict of interests. – There is public concern about such a transaction, but the council member refuses to address the issue and provide information about what occurred. Would town council recognize that it cannot establish a commission to investigate that councilor’s actions because such an investigation would inevitably require investigating the councilor who is not under the jurisdiction of the town council? I don’t think anyone would acknowledge that limitation of authority.
“So, yes, I agree with David that Meza should not have been allowed to be appointed to any public position in the Town of Front Royal for one year after his term ended,” other than the specifically cited treasurer’s position.
However, without a legal challenge that might bring the issue before a judge for a ruling, it appears that as of Monday, January 11, Jacob Meza will be back in the council club he chose not to seek re-election to, if we recall correctly, citing the time his family and Valley Health job were requiring of him leaving insufficient time for the responsibilities of council in the conduct of Town business and policies.